Ender’s Game, Card’s Gun

There was once an animated online series that I watched as a child, that bore a few similarities to Ender’s Game (such as being set in a science-fiction genre, with human soldiers fighting aliens in a tried-and-true narrative trope), that had a quote which I found incredibly memorable, and found myself recalling while I was reading Ender’s Game this time around:

“Tell me, who is more deserving of your hate? The man who makes the gun, the man who fires the gun, or the gun?”

In Orson Scott Card’s most famous work, Ender Wiggins is humanity’s best weapon against an impending alien threat threatening mankind’s existence, and who is trained and compelled to use any and all means necessary to achieve victory in his battle simulations. Ender is a gun of the finest model and craftsmanship, molded and refined by Colonel Graff and the International Fleet’s competitive Battle School, and used and made to apply his skills against a disguised actual threat by Mazer Rackham.

So who is truly accountable for Ender’s actions? Is Ender right to accept total blame?

It is true that Ender is directly responsible for the deaths of nearly an entire fleets’ worth of human lives, as well as that of an entire alien race – save one. Is it forgivable to claim ignorance upon such a revelation? Ender doesn’t think so, and bears this monumental burden upon his shoulders willingly, as the tragic hero he is. His military genius only undercuts the gravity of his sins. The manner in which he carelessly sacrifices ships’ worth of lives to not just win the game, but to do so in such a conscientiously ruthless manner in his greatest “act” of rebellion against his makers, and the subsequent genocide of a species he never truly understood, is as horrific as it is heartbreaking. Even if Ender only believed he was only playing a game, this does not justify or negate the consequences of his actions, and in this way Ender can never truly be absolved of his crimes, had the story ended there.

And yet it is Colonel Graff that saw his potential and recruited him, giving Ender only the illusion of choice at every turn that Ender hesitates at or wants to reverse from. The only freedom Ender attains during his training is within the simulation, where he can exercise his creative strategic mind and organize his toons. In this sense, Ender’s agency and control is bred and refined for the simple purpose of destroying an enemy, and it is these strings that he is tied to by the man who ultimately shapes and directs this child weapon. And the deception employed most directly by Mazer Rackham to convince him that Ender was facing him as an opponent rather than the actual alien armada is just as appalling and reprehensible. Systems and states will always find ways to justify their policies and decisions as “necessity”, ascribing it to this very general and ambiguous rationale, accepting credit for its success and pinning it on a scapegoat for its failure. No one wants to take the gun when it goes off in the wrong direction.

Ender is in many ways, despite the veil of science fiction and simulation, a true child soldier. Bred to conduct warfare, and used to take lives. And ultimately, he is used and discarded by Graff and Rackham just like all child soldiers are by their warlord abusers, and that institution they find themselves trapped in, once they have achieved their results. An intertext I would suggest is A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, the memoir of a child soldier who explores the before and after of such a defining and horrific human experience, as well as the possibility of rehabilitation and reparation. It would be interesting to analyze the depth of awareness by children in both texts, and how knowing affects one’s actions and experiences when one is broken down and rebuilt as a weapon for some greater cause.

That is not to say the International Fleet did not provide Ender passage or accommodations post-victory, so that he can return to the home, the one he so “heroically” saved. And yet it is unsurprising that Ender has no desire to reintegrate into human society – how bleak a realization it must be, that he committed the ultimate unknowing sacrifice in order to save a planet that had plunged into a war with itself during his crusade, and even worse, that should he return to Earth, he would spend his days with Peter and other politicians who will try to use him for their own goals. I am incredibly sympathetic to Ender’s character as someone who has only been seen as and used as a tool rather than a person and a child. In a lifetime of being used, only his sister Valentine views him as a real person, and perhaps that is the key reason he was able to come back and find renewed purpose in life. A system of dehumanization and exploitation, or rather the internalized mind that accepts it, can only be undone through simple, genuine compassion and empathy, to understand another in terms of who they are, rather than what they are. In a world of increasingly interconnected systems and roles, where everyone fulfills a function, it is important to keep in mind the humanity behind policies, and when there are transgressions against it.

There are never easy answers, and if answers are shown, they are never provided by the greater system, but must be actively sought out. In the end, Ender seeks redemption by taking the last unborn Hive Queen off into deep space to become the speaker for the dead, and provide a voice on behalf of the alien race he had all-but-exterminated. Perhaps Card is also of the mind that there are certain actions that one cannot take back, and the only hope one has after being repentant about atrocities committed is to dedicate the rest of one’s life to making a positive difference to those one’s wronged.

In this way, Card can be read in a more optimistic light, that it is possible for one to pay back for one’s actions. But the debt is large indeed, and that the cost of genocide is likely a lifetime of servitude to this better cause. Ender’s Game suggests that one’s lived experience is most meaningful when it is devoted to something greater than oneself, and that in one way or another, you will always be understood as a means for this cause. The difference lies in whether or not you have the luxury of choice about what you sacrifice yourself for, and your own internal rationalization of why you play this game, and how you understand yourself when you do so.

Seasons of Migration to the South: The Power of Narrative

Salih’s story is about how the influence of a mysterious and alluring man’s past can take a toll in another’s present, and how the power of narrative can dominate one’s life. Narrative is the way in which people reconcile their own identities with what the world demands of them. In this way, narrative seems like an inescapable and pivotal aspect of how people understand themselves.

The seemingly mysterious character of Mustafa Sa’eed was only able to accept his own identity and past as a product of colonization by imperial European powers, through taking advantage of and “conquering” white women in Europe. His love affairs were asymmetrical and poisonous by their very nature of his intent, as he never shows true affection for the women, only using them to empower his own internal narrative, even in one instance engaging in a slave-master role reversal fantasy. Salih also uses a lot of battlefield and warfare imagery to describe these sexual encounters, both for Mustafa and the Narrator whom he subsequently influences. It is in this way that Salih conveys a deeper struggle between the past colonial hegemon represented by the European woman, and the colonized Sudanese man as a never-ending battle of self-assertion, a conflict which Mustafa actively instigates as part of his vengeful initiative on behalf of his country and for himself.

In our discussion, it was suggested that Mustafa’s unreliable narrative hides the fact that based on the sample size given, it is likely that only fragile women were receptive to Mustafa’s advances, or rather he only targeted unstable women with self-esteem issues, to fulfill his own fixating narrative tale of empowerment, playing to Orientalist stereotypes that he was this irresistible exotic figure that could attain and conquer any women he wanted. In this way, Mustafa clouds his own belief of victory and domination, and thereby only further damages his own self-understanding. Mustafa’s final attempts at reconciling his past with the ego of his self is a dramatic reinvention, a self-transformation to become greater than the individual, and instead become a mystery to be puzzled over and deciphered, as a method of preserving his own character so that it lives on even after death, so that his narrative reaches near-mythical levels among his village and the wider world.

In these various narratives, these characters take the approach of decolonizing the self, in an attempt to reconcile and liberate themselves but their colonial roots. But this approach of introspection in itself seems self-defeating in the Salih’s story. Mustafa’s campaign against white women ultimately fails, as he finds himself driven mad by the untamable Jean Morris, who represents how the colonial dominance can never be shaken. Even in the obsessive inward struggle of the Narrator to rid himself of Mustafa’s infectious influence, the Narrator submits himself to a binary self-narrative: either live and forget his past, or embrace it and allow it to consume him. In the final scene of the novel,  the Narrator tells himself that “I choose life”, in defiance of what he believes to be Mustafa’s self-destructive imperative. It is his own self-rationalized way of exercising agency, to decide to live and forget rather than perish in the way Mustafa did, to be death but remembered in a certain, predetermined manner. And yet even then, there is an implicit acceptance on the part of the Narrator that there is no third option, that one’s life will always and forever be defined by your cultural legacy of subjugation, and an unwillingness to attempt to understand one’s life beyond that of race and power.

The title of Salih’s novel is also worth looking into, especially since at first glance it seems like a fairly innocuous and unrelated to the main story. The simplest understanding lies in how the narrative in itself switches back and forth between Europe and Sudan, this can be interpreted as a reflection of the back-and-forth migrations that came to shape the Narrator and Mustafa’s lives. But “Seasons of Migration to the South” almost seems like an intentionally misleading title as well, as the term “seasons of migration” indicates only a passing, an ephemeral state of change and an eventual return. Yet the story itself feels like there were many points of irrevocability, and finality at various parts of the story, from Mustafa’s cathartic killing of Jean Morris to the Bint Mahmoud’s solemn murder-suicide declaration, actions that, once taken out into the world, cannot be returned.

Narratives are often punctuated by such moments of no return, pivotal scenes in one’s life that we allow to define how we understand ourselves, and often it is these moments of personal crisis from which we develop the often-problematic mechanisms through which we understand our positions in the world, and survive the unfair legacy that frames one’s existence. This message is what, I believe, is at the core of Salih’s narrative, which in and of itself is a meta-example of how powerful narrative is as a method of understanding the dynamic between society and self.

An obvious intertexts to Seasons of Migration to the South is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in an inversion of this story, where Kurtz succumbs to his own inner demons deep in the African Congo, as opposed to how Mustafa finds his in the heart of European civilization. It would be interesting to explore and compare the different dynamics of colonizer and colonized in these two novels, and search for whether or not it is possible to ever break free of the disenfranchising colonial narrative that so defines the backgrounds of many ordinary colonized peoples.

“Love” in Ender’s Game, and How to Be a Good Soldier

Ender’s Game was the first science fiction book I’ve ever read. It was overall a very fun read – very different than most of the novels I’ve read that focus on culture and overall existential topics; I could tell that this was really directed at video game-loving young boys.

When Ender gets sick and overwhelmed with battling toward the end of the book, I definitely felt some of his frustration with the never-ending pushing of the school, his lack of breaks, the pressure on him to perform perfectly, and his ultimate apathy toward everything as a result. Weariness and despair, as Card describes it. But yet, he continues to pile on the details about the battles. (This is the only part of the book that made me sigh and put the book down for a break.)

The novel is obsessed with “love.” But Card never really directly delves into what it means or why it means so much to Ender.

And it seems to be this concept, love – maybe better defined as friendship, companionship, solidarity, or trust – that runs Ender’s mind and seems to be the thread that is supposed to make the reader feel pity for Ender. The novel goes on talking about battleship strategies and nifty video game details until Ender remembers his detachment from his family, his one actual friend (his sister), his separation from his would-be-friends in Battle School (Alai, etc), and his love for humanity, which ultimately gets him back in the game. Love (or solidarity, trust) is Ender’s purpose.

On the reverse side, it is comfort with the lack of trust/camaraderie/love that allows for Ender’s success in soldier school. The Battle School officials manipulate him via isolation and his ability to treat other people as tools is what allows him to soar through Battle School. Ender remarks that “if there was love or pity for him, it was only in his dreams.” (288) From the start, Ender learns that competition is the only way that he can succeed among other students. He recognizes the government’s manipulation (oops, I mean “teachers’”) in turning the students against each other and not actually supporting any of them. When he faced a threat, Ender kills the threat instead of negotiating peace. (What kind of a international relations war strategy is that?) Additionally, while a normal child might miss his parents, Ender markedly doesn’t because he doesn’t believe that his parents love him and gives respect to the idea that they gave up their loving him when he was taken away from their family. Hating his brother – which we find out is actually rooted in his desperation for his brother to love him – is the only true thing that fuels Ender’s anger and self-motivation. We all have to fight to be better than each other, eh Orson Scott Card? Is that the lesson here?

Would I recommend this read to someone required by his or her state to be a soldier?

A pattern throughout the novel is in what people get in return for achievements and individual motivations for doing something. As a soldier by law, it doesn’t matter whether or not the cadet wants to save his country, protect humanity, kill the buggers, whatever – he is assigned to training and he is required to complete it. I’ve never trained for the military, but I’ve heard that training forces soldiers to get used to pressure, to strain through uncomfortable situations, to forget about their families and commit themselves to the brotherhood of the army. As a soldier, your achievements are recognized afterwards, and you don’t get praised for doing what you’re told. In this way, Ender’s experience might reflect that and his self-motivation for pursuing the seemingly arbitrary challenges he is assigned might be inspirational to a soldier – risking yourself and pushing yourself for the sake of your country at home. Ender kills the entire planet without even knowing he was going to, and kills his two friends without knowing either. This teaches responsibility, accountability, and a crucial element of current laws of war: proportion.

Side note: This book is not a how-to-approach-war book, but rather a how-to-crush-your-enemies book. The biggest problem for me was that the soldiers were not taught to understand or express compassion for their enemy. There is no talk of negotiations or any sort of attempt at peace.

However, I’d be careful not to ONLY recommend this book. War is different now. Well-trained foot soldiers aren’t going to win wars anymore, and neither will drill sergeants who aren’t in touch with the humanity of both their trainees and their enemies.

Back in the USSR?

Sitting down to read Ender’s Game for this week was a pleasant return to my childhood. It had been nearly eleven years since I last read the book, and I was fascinated by what I remembered and picked up on as a child and what stood out to me this time around. In some ways I think this also helped me see these characters as children: as a ten-year-old reading about children my age I did not see anything in their actions, particularly under the extreme stress they experienced, that required any massive suspension of disbelief, so then returning as an adult I brought with me those prior affirmations of the age of these characters.

That being said, while I remember being focused on the social relationships of the children before, altogether not too dissimilar from the schoolyard alliances, enemies, and bullies I could see in my own life, this time around I was struck by the influence of political situations of the 70s and 80s on the book.

On page 126 Peter argues, “When the bugger wars are over, all that power will vanish, because it’s all built on fear of the buggers. And suddenly we’ll look around and discover that all the old alliances are gone, dead and gone, except one, the Warsaw Pact.” I’ve always found it fascinating what a dystopia reveals about the fears of the society that it comes from, and I see something similar in Ender’s Game. Yes, it was revised in the 90s to reflect some changes in history, but there’s no rewriting or removing the Red Scare mentality that pervades all the Earth-level  politics in the novel. In some ways I wonder if this picture of Earth that Card gives us is indeed rather bleak. The only thing keeping Earth from dissolving into its own factions seems to be its uniting goal to assure the survival of the human race, but once that is no longer a concern, the natural progression is for the world to fall into chaos and power-struggles. It’s not terribly difficult to justify the preemptive strike on the buggers in the extenuating circumstances of complete lack of communication abilities and the understanding that a preemptive strike is the only way to save humanity against the thousand-to-one odds of the buggers. If it’s us or them, us always wins.

But then how do you determine extenuating circumstances? In the Cold War tensions, nuclear disaster was absolutely an us or them scenario. I feel less comfortable justifying this not only through the 20/20 lens of history but also because methods of communication were not out of the picture. Certainly, as many of us learned in Intro to International Politics, communication does not prevent a war. Countries and factions have incentives to misrepresent their situation and by the same token have reason to distrust their adversary, so I cannot argue against the fact that many people under Cold War tensions would have considered themselves to be in extenuating circumstances, with the only barrier to preemptive strike being the threat of mutually assured destruction.

Returning to my earlier confusion regarding Card’s stance in support of preemptive striking while showing in the end that the buggers meant no harm and even felt deep grief for what they had caused, I wonder if Card means to make the point that, even if this is the case, there’s no way the humans could have known that. It really does become a prisoner’s dilemma, where self-defense is the dominant strategy in the absence of collusion.

That being said, I can’t extrapolate this situation to any modern conflicts in which the US could be justified in a preemptive strike. The presence of information and communication channels, at least for me, throws preemptive striking out the proverbial window in terms of justifiability. But this isn’t an old matter. Preemptive striking remains within the realm of strategic possibility. Professor Brown, I know I shared this in my reading list proposal, but in case anyone else is scrolling through these, this joke petition for a preemptive nuclear strike against Russia highlights this rather salient matter. Certainly (and thankfully), the average beachgoer in my lovely hometown (imagine how proud I must be) isn’t making US foreign policy decisions, and this petition is a prank along the lines of similar ones that show you can get people to sign or agree to just about anything on paper, but the appeal of a preemptive strike against a threat, be it real or perceived, is strong. Pressure and extenuating circumstances can be argued in a range of cases, and justifying extreme action on such a basis is a slippery slope to systematically dehumanizing an enemy in a paranoia to maintain power and safety of a group rather than working towards prosperity of the world as a whole.  Ender’s Game is visibly a product of its time, but it has not lost its relevance to our world order today.

Cultures of Paranoia in Ender’s Game and the War on Terror

In class yesterday , the question arose as to whether or not our present situation with ISIS is in any way comparable to the war between humanity and buggers in Ender’s Game. While I agree with the rest of the class that there are very concrete differences in the kind of warfare, there is no denying the shared culture of paranoia.

One of the scariest aspects of terrorism is not the fact that it is impossible to pinpoint the enemy on sight (though that is definitely a cause for discomfort), but the fact that, by default, it relies on the element of surprise. In other words, whereas a traditional war involves maneuvers, strategy and more or less expected movements of the enemy, terrorist attacks are random; and nine times out of ten, they target civilians more than soldiers. This translates easily into its primary function of creating mass panic, because not only do people react to the initial random attack but also the threat of future ones that are equally unpredictable.

This looming threat — and the inability to substantially combat it — has resulted in what I would consider a culture of paranoia, a culture in which we become obsessed with and act according to what-if’s which are at times the most extreme worst case scenario. We’re seeing it right here and now, as America in particular reacts to the attacks in Paris. From over twenty governors proclaiming they will no longer accept Syrian refugees to Donald Trump citing a need to keep tabs on all Muslims living in our country, the shock of what happened in Paris paired with the belief that something similar could happen here has lead to bigotry bred in paranoia, pre-emptive action that makes enemies out of innocent people to help these lawmakers — and those that think like them — cope with a difficult threat.

Even the rhetoric we use to talk about the terrorism issue plays into this culture. In calling the conflict “The War on Terror”, we make terror our enemy and, given the explicitly ambitious nature of ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’, fear and paranoia an inevitable bedfellow. After all, the only way we’ve ever related with terror as a concept is through fear and when the war is presented as us versus terror and terrorism, it is difficult to pull away from that visceral and at times destructive reaction.

This same culture of paranoia exists even more clearly in Ender’s Game. Pre-emptive attacks are, in general, an understandable tactical move; but that isn’t to say that it is always justifiable and, furthermore, logical. It is mentioned multiple times in the novel that the buggers haven’t been an actual threat to humanity for decades and yet, all discussion about them whether it be culturally (‘buggers and astronauts’) or in the military context assigns them an air of absolute urgency. The clearest indication of this extreme culture is the very existence of Ender himself — his parents had received permission from the government to have him only because their other two children were lacking and couldn’t contribute to the “war” efforts. In other words, Ender is outright bred to be a weapon against an enemy that might attack and might be plotting even after decades of no activity.

For me, that was easily the most fascinating but also unsettling aspects of the novel: the way that paranoia not only guides those in authority but also allows the citizenry to be guided. The circumstances of Ender’s birth reveal a dystopian-esque relationship between the government and its people; yet it’s painted as logical — and sometimes even justified — because of the bugger threat or, more specifically, the military’s obsession with it.

Indeed, by the end of the novel, we learn that any threat the buggers posed at that point was imagined and amplified by the paranoia that had come to define the culture. And while that isn’t to say that ISIS and other terrorist groups are only as bad as our paranoia is making them, it does call into question the way that we relate to the War on Terror and the collateral damage our paranoia-based pre-emptive attacks can cause.

Science Fiction? Still Relevant – Contemporary Takeaways in Ender’s Game

Although Ender’s Game was set in a completely science fictional context and also was written in 1991 (with parts of the story in conception even before that), I found that this novel had a lot more resonance with contemporary issues and debates than some of the other novels we have read (even though those were ostensibly grounded in “real-life” world issues). In my post, I’m just going to go through some of the quotes that I found that, for me, really addressed some of the issues America, and the world, grapples with today.

Manipulating Citizenry Fear: GOP Power Grabs and Islamic Fundamentalism 

On page 110, Dink, when discussing the I.F. manipulation of First and Second Invasion propaganda with Ender, says: “Because as long as people are afraid of the buggers, the I.F. can stay in power, and as long as the I.F. is in power, certain countries [i.e., America] can keep their hegemony.” For me, this echoed both George W. Bush-era policies and some of the fear-mongering rhetoric we see in the GOP debates today. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush very openly played on the fears of his citizenry and the need to keep “our nation” safe in order to justify previously unheard of Presidential power grabs and control (i.e., the Patriot Act). Even as support for the War on Terror and seemingly never-ending interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan waned throughout his time in office, President Bush continued to draw on the rhetoric of fear and needing to protect our nation from the specter of terrorism in order to maintain power and some semblance of an approval rating. Nearly eight years after the conclusion of the Bush presidency, we see the same rhetoric utilized by GOP presidential candidates in order to garner support from potential voters. Donald Trump doesn’t have tolerance for ISIS, and has openly advocated to water board members of the Islamic State in order to protect American’s from further harm. If he were president, Ben Carson would not let Syrian refugees into the country because one of them could be a “rabid dog” that would hurt us. Furthermore, President Obama and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton have come under fire for not being fearful enough of the incoming deluge of Syrian refugees, and putting our nation in jeopardy.

By playing on the fears of  the American citizenry, these presidential candidates have been able to claim that they are protecting the interests and people of America while simultaneously advocating for  things that are wholly against American values (i.e., waterboarding, painting an entire swathe of the American population with a broad brush, anti-refugee policy, etc.) Through these tactics, candidates like Trump, Cruz, and Carson have been able to either garner more support for their presidential races or hold onto their strong position in the pack.

Humans vs. Computers Debate: Why Computers Aren’t Overtaking Humans Anytime Soon 

On page 271, Mazer talks to Ender about the advantages that humans did have over the “group-think” buggers, saying: “They have great response time and a lot of firepower, but we have a few advantages, too. Every single one of or ships contains an intelligent human being who’s thinking on his own. Every one of us is capable of coming up with a brilliant solution to a problem…The buggers think fast, but they aren’t smart all over.”

I’m friends with a lot of Computer Science concentrators here, and one of the things that always comes up in our debates is the fact that one day artificial intelligence (AI) will take the place of all human jobs and humans will eventually become obsolete. This quote, for me, gets at the crux of why I disagree with that statement. Like this article by Nick Jankel, humans will always have a greater innovate/creative capacity than computers (although computers and AI may have faster processing times and act with greater precision and accuracy). Because we have the ability to think as an individual and can innovate/create on the spot, we will always be more flexible and adaptable when it comes to problem solving than computers. Accordingly, while computers may replace humans on many fronts, they will never ultimately make humans obsolete or the “lesser” of the two.

The Reality About Growing Up: Adults Don’t Always Tell the Truth

On page 82, Petra tells Ender: “the adults are the enemy, not the other armies. They do not tell us the truth.”

This was one of the toughest things I had to break out of when I came to Brown — my partially Southern background and the fact that, growing up, my parents hadn’t always told me things that were correct. In some cases, these lies were benign and harmless, such as Santa Claus (which I cracked long before I got to college, luckily). However, in some cases, the lies that we learn growing up are because parents and adults do not want to face an ugly truth themselves or they want to maintain the social status quo (i.e., why Columbus is still seen as a hero in many history books). In other cases, the lie, in a strangely twisted sense, is a way to protect children from the “real world,” such as why parents are so unwilling to talk to their children about sex. In the case of the I.F. and its lies to children, my personal stance is that their reasoning lies with the former (the desire to keep the status quo by not having to explain the way gravity works in the Battle School). Of course, the I.F.’s need to remain in power by manipulating fear responses also plays into the I.F.’s approach towards its child trainees, which I think does make Ender’s situation a bit more severe than a parent’s lie to their child.

The Government: Population Growth and Religion

Throughout our discussion, yesterday, we mainly focused on the relationship between the protagonist’s world and the buggers’ world, but I would like to focus on how government played a major role in controlling its citizens’ personal lives. Although the majority of the novel consists of the citizen’s subjugation to government surveillance and the government having the control to take the “children” away from families, I would like to focus on the government’s ability to control the size of family and the role of religion in the novel.

To begin, in the novel, the government has control over how many children a couple can have. Gaff says at the beginning of the novel, “only the first two children had a free education” (22). After this, with each additional child “taxes steadily rose” (22). This policy was a disincentive for families to have more than two children. The reason this was a theme throughout the novel is because Ender, the protagonist, was a “Third” (5). This meant he was the third child in his family and experienced negative stigma and bulling as a result. Ender was called “Third,” “turd,” “bugger,” and “strong as a fart” (5, 7). “Thirds” in this book are seen as an “other” between people who were first and second born in their family. This is probably why he was also called “bugger,” since these are the “others” that are trying to be destructed throughout the book.

In his particular case though, it was the government’s idea for the family to have a third child. But normally, the government has to authorize it, the proper forms have to be signed and certified in order for the birth of a third child to occur (5). Even though it was the case that the government wanted them to have a third child, the family was still seen by others as not “complying” with the rules.

Furthermore, the government could control the size of family as it pleased because when they took the monitor off of Ender, his father said “it was such a wonderful surprise, they had such fantastic children that the government told them to have three, and now the government didn’t want to take any of them after all,” but very quickly they realized Ender’s intelligence and once he was cleared by the the I.F. Selective Service, he was forced to go to the Battle School (15).  Also Graff did not give them the option because he said “of course, we already have your consent” in writing and he has been the government’s since he was conceived (20).

As I was reading and thinking about the role of the government in family planning, I immediately thought about the one-child policy in China. They have though recently announced to relax the one-child policy and allow two children per family which is very similar to Ender’s society. Similar to Ender’s society, individuals received fines to disincentive couples from having more than two children. China now has decided to relax the policy, according to Gretchen Livingston because of urbanization and the aging population What I found particularly interesting about this article was whether or not couples will want to have two children since living in urban environments in China is so expensive. Also, according to this author, the gender imbalance of males to females in China is 116 males to 100 females and in the world it is 107 males to every 100 girls. According to this author, there is a very strong cultural preference for males and that will not change from one day to the next with the relaxation of this policy. (Website: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/20/will-the-end-of-chinas-one-child-policy-shift-its-boy-girl-ratio/)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, when I visited Estonia in 2006, we discussed with our guide the policy of paying women a certain amount of money to help increase the rate of population growth. In Estonia, women received “the equivalent of $1,560 a month from her government for over a year, a lot of money in a country where the average monthly salary is $650.” Two years after this began (2006), the fertility rate increased from 1.3 to 1.5, but that is below the “2.1 children needed to stop the population from shrinking.” (Website: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB116128123297297938)

The next aspect of the government’s involvement in the lives of its citizens I would like to focus on is the role of religion in the book. Only in the beginning, do we see how religion explicitly ties to the characters of the novel. Ender’s parents were both born into a religious family. His father was born Catholic and baptized with the name John Paul Wieczorek and was one of nine children. According to Graff, this is “unthinkable. Criminal” (22). As a result, when his father turned sixteen, he filled out the Noncomplying Families Act to separate himself from his family in order to decrease the stigmatization against him. Similar to his father who denies his Polish ancestry, his Mother, who was born Mormon, “refuses to admit that she was born in Utah” (22). They both renounced their religion, and did this because they did not want all the shame and stigmatization they experienced to be experienced by their children. For this reason, Ender being a “Third,” undoes everything they had been trying to do.

One of the only other scenes we see religion being referenced is when Alai and Ender will no longer be battling together. Alai tells Ender that he was at practice but Ender’s army is located elsewhere because he is “big time now,” and Alai says “Has God been telling you to built a boat or something?” and then Ender tells him “Salaam, Alai” which means “peace unto you” and Alai says it will not be peaceful anymore between them. “Salaam” although not a specific religious reference is used as a greeting in predominately Muslim countries (171).

The idea of the government being involved in individual’s religious freedom reminded me the contentious debates in France and Europe regarding the burqa. In April 2011, the French government banned the burqa in France.


A French-woman took the case to the European rights court because she believed the ban did not allow her to live according to her religious faith and culture. The European rights court though in 2014 ruled in favor of the burqa ban. The critiques of the ban argue the “the government has no business telling people what clothes to wear or how to practice their religion” and the government imposes a fine of 150 euros for wearing the items. (Website: http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/01/world/europe/france-burqa-ban/)

In Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Game, the government is very involved in the lives of its citizens. This involvement parallels various modern governments that attempt to control population growth and try to manage the way religion can be expressed publicly.

Was the Third Invasion just?

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is without a doubt my favourite book we have read so far in class. It is completely unlike any other book I have read. Though I am a bit ashamed to admit it, until this point, I have avoided science fiction novels in part because I have always struggled with science as a discipline and was intimidated by the genre and also because I naively believed science fiction novels were meant for people with a firm understanding of and intense fascination with outer space. However, Ender’s Game proved that not only could science fiction novels be very readable, –– thereby negating my hesitation because of possible challenging science concepts ­­–– but science fiction, and Ender’s Game specifically, is also highly applicable to other disciplines.

As an International Relations scholar, while I read Ender’s Game, I constantly found myself trying to discern whether or not the Third Invasion was just, in accordance with the Just War Tradition. To do so, I have decided to focus on three important criteria for a so-called ‘just war’, namely, discrimination, just cause, and proportionality. I have chosen to look at just cause because it serves as the primary motivating factor in the decision to go to war, while I have chosen to evaluate proportionality and discrimination because they are both essential to ensuring that the war stay just once it has begun and limit ‘collateral damage’. Certainly in blowing up the bugger’s planet, the Third Invasion did not discriminate between combatants and innocent civilians. However, it is more difficult to asses whether or not the Third Invasion had just cause or if it was a proportional response. On the one hand, it could be argued that the First and Second Invasions served as just cause for a pre-emptive Third Invasion and because the I.F. was likely to be extremely outnumbered, in order to succeed, it had to attack first. But, on the other hand, it could also be argued that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the buggers would wage a third war after 80 years had passed since the Second Invasion. As we discussed in class, the ‘justness’ of the Third Invasion seems to be a matter of perspective. From the I.F.’s perspective, they were just in their actions because they knew the buggers would be difficult, if not impossible, to defeat if the I.F. waited for the buggers to attack first and so were noble in their efforts to protect humanity. Contrarily, the buggers likely saw the I.F. as an aggressor that lacked just cause, proportionality, and discrimination.

Still, I do not believe that the I.F. was inherently wrong in launching a pre-emptive attack. Of course, destroying the buggers planet and essentially committing an act of genocide is despicable for many different reasons, but I do not believe that the simple act of capitalizing on an opportunity and attacking first is in and of itself unjust. The fact of the matter is that technology and warfare is very different in Ender’s Game than warfare was when the Just War Tradition first became popular. In Ender’s Game, losing a war against the buggers means the destruction of the human race. The stakes are high. Furthermore, though Ender’s Game is set in the future and war is fought in outer space, the principle of the ‘justness’ of the Third Invasion is analogous to drone warfare in the War on Terror today. Both instances eliminate the human element of war, which can pose a serious threat to any likelihood of a ‘just’ war. With this in mind, is it even possible for a war to be ‘just’ either today or in the future?

The Death of the Author and Science Fiction as Metaphor

In class today, we asked a number of times whether a particular reading of Ender’s Game could be inferred to be intended by Orson Scott Card, given our knowledge of the author’s religious and political background. Obviously, with a discussion centered around the IR implications of narrative fiction, this question feels wholly relevant. With each novel we’ve read this semester, we have set up our discussions by first acknowledging basic facts of the author’s biography, and always at some point asking what the author’s real world goals with the novel might have been and who their intended audience was. Again, if the goal is historical context (you can’t for example know how prescient Card’s prediction of the “nets” influencing global politics was without knowing how long ago it was published), these are valid questions.

But as a literary arts concentrator, I struggle to detach myself from the notions of the “Death of the Author” so often called upon in modern literary criticism. While early literary criticism followed the same lines of questioning as we have, literary critic Roland Barthes published an essay in 1967, wherein he argued that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” When critiquing a literary work, Barthes argues, the author’s intent and biography should not hold weight. The text must stand alone as interpreted by the reader. Modern criticism therefore distinguishes from the author (the actual individual who put ink to paper, with all his biases and foibles), and the “implied author” (the imagined puppet master, whose goals and intentions may be derived only from what’s presented in the text). The implied author, as invented through interpretation, is the only author that matters to literary criticism.

Ender’s Game is the first book we’ve read this semester where I struggled so strongly with whether to embrace or resist Barthes’ notion of the death of the author. This is the first novel where in my reading I could not escape my foreknowledge of the author’s biography, and how at odds his publicly stated views are with my interpretation of the text. The epilogue of The Ugly Americans detailing the authors’ experiences with foreign service aligned with my understanding of the text. Adichie’s TED Talk about avoiding the single-story felt perfectly complementary to the goals of Americanah as I interpreted them. I didn’t need the authors to die, because knowledge of them did not seem to sway me. But in rereading Ender’s Game this week, armed with the knowledge of Card’s strong stance on the War on Terror and his devotion to Mormon beliefs, it was hard not to reconsider my instinctive interpretations of the moral ambiguities felt in Ender’s story and, instead of viewing them through my own worldview, attempt to consider Card’s intentions.

From a literary perspective, this conflict should be quashed, and interpretation should stay in the text. But in a book with political impact, perhaps there is an imperative to keep the author “alive,” in order to consider the ways in which his construction of the narrative might be insidiously pushing you toward his intended morals, so as to avoid manipulation. The political “facts” of Ender’s universe might lead a reader to conclude that a preemptive strike on the buggers was the best course of action. But before storing away this new knowledge of “Some circumstances require preemptive strikes,” it might be useful to asterisk that conclusion with the fact that the “some circumstances” were fictional ones possibly specifically engineered towards such a conclusion, and therefore not as useful for extrapolating into your worldview as a conclusion reached in more random circumstances.

This necessary caution I believe is somewhat unique to science fiction, because there is a strong tendency to read science fiction as nothing more than an extended metaphor. When science fiction authors incorporate real-world elements into their fictional societies, it can certainly be sometimes to propel political ends, but sometimes it can simply be to give readers footing in an unfamiliar world that can be hard to connect with otherwise. When, for example, an author writes a dystopian novel where the last remnants of human society are settled in Long Island, and the last remnants of the robot race have set up residence in downtown Manhattan (as happens in Dan Wells’s YA series Partials), there does not necessarily have to be a political motive behind the choice. If you are driven to read all science fiction as political metaphor, you might consider the current class structure of the U.S., and try to project the Wall Street mentality onto the robots and the struggling middle class onto the humans. But when such a metaphor finds little support in the surrounding narrative, it becomes clear that was more likely just a choice made by the author to save himself from having to explain geographies. He knows that most of his readers know the location of New York, the distance between Manhattan and Long Island, and the general landscapes of each, and it will therefore be easier for his readers to visualize  the events with minimal description than if he had invented a fictional future city.

This is to say that while science fiction is certainly a powerful tool for political interpretation, and loose metaphors can be made, there is a constant danger of taking it too far. You risk over-simplifying a complex issue of global importance by assigning major players to literary tropes, and ignoring the details that don’t fit the contrived symmetry, particularly when attempting to recontextualize an older work of fiction for a modern issue the author could not possibly have had in mind. And you risk losing out on the richness of the narrative, by ignoring the complexities of its characters in favor of seeking a theory or philosophy for them to embody, especially when you force the characters to align with the author’s known views, which they may have outgrown.

Ender’s Game: Fighting a War or Struggling for Power?

As I read this book, I thoroughly enjoy the author’s use of paradoxes and ironies. They truly get my mind gears turning, and posit numerous questions about the nature and desires of humanity. Specifically, I am able to derive a lot of commentaries and interpretations on the notion of power, and its role within human civilizations. In the beginning, the Ender’s Game seems like another compelling sci-fi story about humanity’s fight for survival against invading aliens. Yet, as we continue to read it, the readers discover how much deeper the book really is; it deals not just with military confrontations between two warring races, but also with the daily manifestations of power struggles.

As Colonel Graff picks up Ender for enrollment at the Battle School, I realize that the seeds of conflict have long begun to sprout. Peter’s contempt and envy towards Ender create an ongoing conflict that persist from the very beginning of the novel until the end of it. This kind of envy-driven conflicts also occurs within the Battle School, as Ender’s jealous peers isolate him and even bully him. A stark irony immediately surfaces, as humanity isolates and attacks its own hero for the sake of individual interests and gains. Furthermore, Ender is continuously finding himself in a position in which the only way for him to progress as humanity’s hero is by turning against his own peers and superiors, as exemplified by Ender’s conflicts with Bonzo. In other words, humanity’s hero is not a beloved hero who everyone roots for; humanity’s hero must abandon his own humanity, and become more powerful than the rest of humanity. Humanity’s hero is not of humanity.

This paradox then raises the question of what exactly is the main objective of this war? If the objective is to survive and win the war, then why is humanity not rallying under one banner and unanimously support its own champion? Why is the book focusing so much more on the regular internal conflicts within the academy and military ranks, as supposed to the battles with the buggers? This is when I synthesize that humanity’s collective survival and victory in the war is not the end goal; instead, the end goal very much pertains to individual gains and interests.  Humanity is not trying to find a hero to save itself; humans are racing to become the ultimately powerful hero. What matters is not winning the war, but where will the individual actors place within the power ranking after the war.

This kind of commentary and synthesis become very relevant to the way I perceive conflicts, even within today’s modern era. Often times, war is neither about fighting dangerous extremism and terrorism, nor is it about ensuring survivability through self-defense, despite many politicians claiming these as the reasons for military engagements. War is just a game that one plays in order to attain a prize outside of the game, similar to how we play games in an arcade in order to trade in the coupons for real prizes. That is also why we select certain games that we want to play, correlating them to the kind of prizes that we want. This translates into the realm of international conflicts, as countries and international communities focus on certain conflicts more than others based on what personal gains they can derive out of them.

To conclude, I want to bring up a very interesting quote from the novel: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.” A similar theme can also be found within The Ugly American, as Deong decided to frame his old friend Colvin for “poisoning” milk supply, despite Colvin’s genuine attempt to actually understand and help the Sarkhanese people. If one actually becomes capable of understanding the adversary, should diplomatic negotiations not have been the next obvious step for conflict resolution? In the realm of international relations, why is ‘understanding to defeat’ still a more prevalent norm in comparison to ‘understanding to co-exist.’ As displayed by Ender’s Game, the reason is actually quite simple: conflict serves as a faster means towards power struggles and power reorientations, and ‘more’ power is the ultimate destination. Wars and conflicts are not agencies for surviving; they are agencies for thriving. Wars and conflicts are not agencies of ideologies; they are agencies of political plays. Wars and conflicts are not about black vs white; they are about portraying things as black and white in order to get more gold and silver.

Wars and conflicts are the crane game, and power is the toy prizes that we desperately want. Once we understand how to pick up the prizes, then surely we will play the game.