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Why Ender isn't a Pacifist

(Spoiler warning: This post contains the ending and other plot details of Orson Scott Card’s "Ender’s Game.")

Ender, the eponymous hero of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, has a mantra: “I am not a killer.” His older brother Peter is a cruel bully who tortures small animals. “I am not Peter,” Ender tells himself.

I have bad news for you, Ender. You are killer. You want to be a pacifist but you aren't. You say you don't want to kill but you do, at least three times. Actions define us more than our beliefs, and your actions make you a killer. (A repentant killer is still a killer.)

Despite the author's intentions, the real theme of Ender’s Game is Ender's refusal to work for peace, to take himself outside of mankind's system of violence. Ironically, it is the one paradigm his mind can’t break.

Pre-Battle School

Before Ender even leaves for his military training academy, he kills. When confronted by bullies on the way home, Ender kicks the lead bully to death as he lays prone on the ground. From this description, Ender sounds like a psychotic.

Like much of the novel, it seems as if Ender has no peaceful way out, but this is an illusion. If Ender was so smart, why didn’t he find a way to avoid the bullies? Why doesn’t he see them coming? Why doesn’t he just take his beating--like most pacifists--and then appeal to an higher authority when he got home? Why not kick the boy down, and run? Ender, the smartest being on the planet, doesn’t even try to think of a peaceful way out of the conflict.

A final appeal. Bullies don't deserve to be punished, but not killed. Bullying is not a crime worthy of the death penalty. Especially six year old bullies.

Battle School

Once at Battle School--his military training academy--Ender repeatedly faces moments of intense violence, coordinated by his teachers. First, when Ender runs practice sessions, older boys attack him. Later, a fellow student attacks Ender when he is alone and naked in the shower and Ender kills him.

While the first instance of Violence could have been taken as a surprise, the second attack Ender knew was coming. Why didn’t Ender try and prevent it? Why didn’t Ender talk to Graff, demand that he protect him? Why didn’t his impossibly brilliant mind find a peaceful solution?

Ender kills no matter what he does. Even in a computer game, Ender kills his enemies, even in places where no one has killed before.

The Buggers

The central problem of Ender’s Game is an "us vs. them" problem. Either the buggers--enemy aliens--live and kill all humanity, or humanity kills all of the buggers and lives. Ender unintentionally goes ahead and kills the bugger's home world, and their entire race.

This is, of course, the perfect pacifist parable because, as the last chapter states, the buggers never wanted to fight us. The entire problem never existed. As the bugger queen states, “We did not mean to murder. And when we understood, we did not come again.” But humans did keep attacking without looking for a peaceful solution, just like Ender does throughout the book.

In closing...

If you only look for violent solutions, they will be the only solutions you will find. Just like Ender.

nine comments

Are you guys familiar with the Kenny Rogers’ song, “Coward of the County”

I always found it interesting that Ender is portrayed as the pinnicle of genius and the path he follows, the outlet for his intellect is war. Not medical advancement, technological innovation, but strategy. That always bothered me.

@ Will – I just listened to the song and read the lyrics. It leads me to two conclusions: 1) Rape is illegal last I checked, the police should have put the Gatlin boys in jail. (Unless rape is legal in the south. 2) Kenny Rogers thinks Jesus is an idiot.

I’ll put it on my future posts lists to respond to it in the future with a more detailed response. Good find.

@ Matty p – I totally agree.

Environment is certainly a factor. As matty P said he is raised in a very militaristic environment where he studies strategy and tactics. He doesn´t develop social skills and he isn´t encouraged to study art, culture, science, engineering, anthropology etc. There is that quote: “To a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail”.

Sorry Will, but I have more. I was thinking about that song today at work and it just pisses me off that people hijack Jesus for easy stuff.

Maybe I just hate the fact that Hip Hop gets so much crap and Country doesn’t, and so many people say they are one thing and act another way. I wish I could make Bill o’reilly listen to this song.

Chris, I completely agree. To a child raised and taught to be vicious, the smallest act of mercy or compassion is a moral triumph. Just as a moral lapse is all the more disappointing when enacted by one perceived to have the benefit of a moral upbringing.

I agree with Chris’s analogy about the hammers and the nails. Same goes for bringing an army to an insurgency. If you just bring the Army you can expect plenty of solutions that include the Army. Ender was only given a limited solution set.

u guys do realise that all his actions where created by Orson? he isn’t a real person, just a script….

@ James – Yes, I realized that. Honestly, I’m trying hard not to respond sarcastically to your comment, but what is the larger point you are trying to make by writing the above?