This is a post that has been in the works for a while. It concerns the movie Ender’s Game. Besides being a cool sci-fi film, I thought it raised some interesting ideas. In college, I took a course on international relations. When we watched the movie, the course was fresh in my mind, and I got to thinking about elements of IR in the movie. Here are some of my thoughts 🙂
To start, Ender’s Game is set in a futuristic world in which there has recently been a battle between the Humans and the (intelligent) Bugs. The ever-expanding Bug colony wanted to take over the Humans’ world but the Humans beat the Bugs back, at great cost. The movie opens with a conundrum on how to deal with the factions of Humans vs. Bugs, as the former suspect the latter of an uprising.
There are a few main ways to look at the international system and what goes on in it, whether it be wars, trade, treaties, or the Olympics—two of the most famous are realism and liberalism. Realism sees each nation in the world system as looking out for its own interests first. This can include wars but does not have to; whatever best helps the country will be pursued. Liberalism would like the nations of the world to work together. Cooperation and not war is its preference.
There are elements of both realism and liberalism in “Ender’s Game.” The two extremes are demonstrated in Ender’s siblings. His older brother Peter is aggressive and mean, and his younger sister Valentine is loving and peaceful. Neither is accepted into the training academy. When it is Ender’s turn to go the academy, he must find a balance between these two extremes.
Ender has a good character; he does not seek fights but looks for the diplomatic or peaceful solution. He tries to find win-win situations. However, when forced into fights, he will fight back. When attacked by a gang of bitter boys at the academy, Ender tries to walk away at first, but the leader forces him to fight. When he gets the upper hand, he kicks the leader repeatedly, hoping to beat him so badly he will lose the desire to bully him, thus preventing any future attacks. However, Ender does not enjoy doing this. I like how this illustrates the Proverb “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5). If all they understand is violence, a lesson must be taught that they will actually learn.
There is also a bit on leading by love vs. fear, another issue in IR. The kids are arranged into squads. Because of Ender’s goodness, fairness, strength of character, and likability, he becomes popular with most of the other trainees, but there’s one squad leader, Bonzo, who prefers to rule by fear. Bonzo quickly drops in popularity and seeks to hurt Ender. When Ender acts in self-defense, Bonzo is badly hurt, and Ender is devastated for what he unintentionally did. Even though I think Ender didn’t have to be so upset over the situation that wasn’t his fault, this further demonstrates his gentle character and raises him in favor with the other trainees.
The mantra of the adult in charge of the training academy, Colonel Graff, is realism. His goal is to protect the world from the bugs at all costs. It’s “us vs. them” and he’s determined to win. He sees potential in Ender and wants to develop him into a decisive, skilled leader. He has no problems playing games to do that. He puts Ender in situations to see how he’ll react. He observes Ender’s way of either beating up bullies or cleverly turning them to his side with great interest and approval. Unfortunately Col. Graff also has no problems with lying to Ender and keeping secrets from him in order to make Ender behave the way he wants, all the while showering him with praise. Ender does not appreciate the way the system is set up to mold these kids into military leaders. He also does not like the secrecy and lies that permeate the academy. But who would? Col. Graff wants to make Ender a great military leader, but doesn’t trust him enough to tell him the whole truth of the situation and let him figure it out. Graff still wants to be in control.
There is also a mystery that surrounds the Bugs themselves. They are the enemy, obviously. But most in the leadership of the training academy leave it at that. It’s “us vs. them.” Ender prefers to understand his enemy. He does this in simulations as he returns to the games and analyzes them, wanting to go deeper than just what appears on the surface. Then, once he understands the opposition, he usually ends up sympathizing with them. “When you really know your enemy, then you love him” he says. This is generally a good principle, but we must be careful not to go too far or act unwisely.
Ender’s final test is a battle simulation. He comes on the enemy and sees they are just sitting there, waiting. Wondering at this, but wanting to gain victory, he and his team strike first and destroy the enemy, though at a great cost to his own fleet. However, the situation turns out to not be a simulation—that is, or was, the entire enemy fleet, and Ender has just decimated them. He is hailed a hero, but instead of celebrating he is crushed, exclaiming, “I will bear the shame of this genocide forever!” Through visions, he finds the lair of the Queen bug, and finds her sick and weak and only wanting to care for her baby. The movie ends with him going to find a new home for the bugs, who were not planning to wipe out humanity after all.
Ender was firm that the liberalist way was best in this case. And I agree with him there. The enemy turned out to NOT be all ready to attack, as Col. Graff and the top brass kept insisting. And if Ender had been told the truth at that point about that situation, he would have sent people to reconnoiter and see what the enemy was doing. Once it was ascertained that an invasion was not imminent, parleys could be held, and/or peace terms could have been worked out. This is the liberalist way of doing things. Not that avoiding war at all costs is smart. But “if it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18). If there are alternatives to war, it’s best to take them. These are real human lives that are being dealt with. Also, you have to look at the big picture—the long term impacts. And, the fleet’s avoidance or at least postponement of attacking the bugs in this instance would have been a smart thing to do. The enemy’s off-guard position should have been noted, and more effort should have been put out to find out what they were actually doing. Lives on both sides would have been saved.
Demonstrated are interesting cases where a strong stand is better, and the ending demonstrates that war isn’t always the best solution.
So, those are some thoughts of mine on the movie Ender’s Game. I really liked it, not only as a cool sci-fi film, but also for the thought-provoking issues it raised. Have you seen the movie? What do you think?