, , , ,

My (rising) 8th grade son, Thomas, asked a brilliant question the other day: who’s the antagonist of Ender’s Game. One of the reasons I love this question is that he asked this on a book he’s reading for his personal interest using tools he’s learned in school. It’s always great to see “school learning” applied in real life. Even better, if you’re pedagogical view is that it’s better to provide students tools of learning than to tell them what something means, it’s fabulous to see it in use.

Ender's Game


The other reason it’s brilliant is that this simple question goes to the heart of Ender’s Game. As you examine each potential antagonist, you come to grips with the role each plays in this mess of war and near xenocide. Everyone is culpable to some degree, even Ender Wiggin.  Let’s go down the list of the most obvious suspects:

  • the “buggers” – of course, we learn, they didn’t think they attacked sentient beings the first time and certainly weren’t planning to attack again. They presumed that if you didn’t have a hive mind, your weren’t sentient. Obvious lesson: don’t presume those who are different are thereby less. The buggers did.
  • Mazer Rackham – while he misled Ender, he thought he did so as the only way he thought he could save humanity.
  • Colonel Graff – ditto
  • Peter Wiggin – Used the situation for his own political gain.
  • Valentine Wiggin – OK, I admit, it’s hard to find much fault here, but she does love being Demosthenes with Peter’s Locke and pushes their agenda even while not trusting Peter.
  • Ender Wiggin – took much at face value although he was trained from his childhood experience to do otherwise; wanted to be the best to the point that he didn’t reflect as well as he could. I believe that with his greatness, he could have discovered the truth.

We could go on; the point is, that all sin, all fall short of the glory of God even while none are as evil as they possibly could be.

Now this brings us to the next point – is a preemptive strike ever justified? If so, what are the criteria that must be met for it to be just? Traditionally, just war criteria are:

  • the cause must be just – you are fighting for something that it morally good or right,
  • war must be a last resort; all other avenues have been explored
  • it must be declared by a proper authority; this means it’s declared (which suggests no preemptive strikes) and done by a sovereign country’s appropriate office,
  • it must be executed with the right intention,
  • you must have a reasonable chance of success, and
  • the end being proportional to the means used; don’t declare war over a small loss. (For more on this, see http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/)

Now, I do think there is a case for a preemptive strike. For example, I would think that if you have utterly stark evidence that you can prevent much harm by doing so, it would be justified. If I have irrefutable evidence in October of the Japanese plans for Pearl Harbor, I had the means to successfully prevent it and by doing so kill fewer people and possibly reduce the length of a potentially long war, then I would be justified. Indeed, in that case, you could argue I’m obligated to prevent or mitigate the furor of war. However, the evidence would have to be incredibly strong. No “Weapons of Mass Destruction” oops. So, it would be inordinately rare that one could justly initiate battle. Indeed, we could determine, even before the battle, that the preemptive strike in Ender’s Game is not just. We don’t have evidence that the “buggers” are massing for attach again. Moreover, we’re not sure we can win and do less harm than a battle that would ensue. By the way, this is very different from the question of the preemptive strike being reasonable. Based on the stakes at hand (human kind wiped out), the power of the enemy (if we wait it will be too late) and the previously unprovoked attack, a preemptive strike was a reasonable, albeit, unjust move.

As Ender says to himself in his recurring dream, “…everything was combat and puzzles to solve–defeat the enemy before he kills you, or figure out how to get past the obstacle. Now, though, no one attacked, there was no war, and wherever he went, there was no obstacle at all.” (p. 140 Kindle Edition) . Ender was in the mood for war. In this context, war was a forgone conclusion.

So, through a series of choices, some larger, some smaller, we build the path to our future and the way in which events will go. The antagonist, then, is whom or what? Is it the “military-industrial complex”? Is it an idea? Human preservation at all costs (even when we’re prepping to go to war with ourselves immediately upon vanquishing the alien?) Is it our fear of the unknown or foreign? Is it simply sin itself? I argue that the issues in this story show the depravity of man against which we may not battle and win. One where we need an external savior; someone wholly other than ourselves. Thus we are saved from ourselves and others, but not by our own ability. Even the very best of Ender’s, and humanity’s efforts, is flawed since we are wholly depraved. Not that every aspect of ourselves is as wicked as it can be but that all aspects of us are under the cloud of sin. So that our motives and thinking are flawed through sin. We are unable, without outside grace, to respond appropriately to what appears to be a threat to our existence. We need to Jesus to substitute his life for ours, pay for our sin, free us to follow him and eradicate sin. Reasonable decisions failed Joshua and the Israelites when the Gibeonites deceived them, failed the spies when they investigated the promised land and failed the people of Jericho when they trusted strong walls. Do we abandon reason? No. We simply make it subservient to Christ and his word.

Now, one of my other theologically astute sons, Logan, points out that you could say sin is the root of all conflict and evil. Sure enough. So what’s different here? There is no clear proximate cause of the battle with the buggers, barring the original attack from the buggers. This novel brings out clearly the myriad of forms by which sin insinuates itself in our thinking and lives; how we are misled. Without a smoking gun catalyst, we are in a position to see the subtly of sin weaved in our decision making.

So, with a simple question, based on tools passed on in school, my son initiates some fairly reflective thinking on Ender and war. Thanks to Mr. Card, we have an opportunity to reflect on the just use of preemptive strikes, the process that leads us to immoral war and its consequences (in Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide).