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September 19, 2013

Orson Scott Card’s unconscionable defense of genocide

Noah Berlatsky is writing for Salon now and his first outing is a doozy. Orson Scott Card’s unconscionable defense of genocide - Salon.com
“Ender’s Game” separates itself from other genocide narratives, though, because it in many ways presents these justifications as insufficient. At the end of the book, it is revealed that the bugs were not actually out to kill humans; the first two invasions of earth, and the murders that resulted, were the result of a failure of communication. The bugs didn’t realize they were killing sentient creatures. The earth attack on the bugger homeworld, and the subsequent genocide, were therefore unnecessary. Genes and/or paranoia led humankind to perpetrate an unprovoked, massive slaughter dwarfing the Holocaust by several orders of magnitude. For many writers — like, say, Joe Haldeman —”Ender’s Game” would, therefore, be an anti-war parable. After all, it’s a story that shows the cruelty, the stupidity, and the ultimate pointlessness of war. The case seems open and shut. Not for Card, though. “Ender’s Game” is not anti-war. The book does not condemn war through a vision of unnecessary genocide. Rather, it suggests that even in the case of unnecessary genocide, war is righteous and ennobling. Card’s justification of the destruction of the buggers is twofold. First, he carefully constructs the story so that the genocide is innocent; no one is responsible for it. Ender, who remotely commands the human invasion fleet, is eleven years old, and his subcommanders are all also children. Card provides a couple of reasons for this. There’s some suggestion that the individuals who are the best fighters (like Ender) just happen not to be fully grown up yet. Graff also argues that children are more adaptable and quicker to follow orders — which is, in fact, one reason that real armies have sometimes used real child soldiers, though Card does not mention the historical precedents. Beyond this, though, the thematic reason that Card uses children is clear: they aren’t morally culpable. The genocide, therefore, is performed by innocents. Card tilts the scale further; not only are the children innocent by virtue of being children, but they don’t even know what they’re doing. Ender does not realize that he is commanding an invasion fleet; instead, he believes that he is playing a computer simulation (thus the title, “Ender’s Game”). After he unleashes a futuristic weapon of mass destruction on the bugger homeworld, reducing it to slag, one of the adult onlookers enthuses, “You made the hard choice boy. End them or end us.” The fact that Ender didn’t realize he was making that choice, and didn’t know he was killing anyone, doesn’t render his choice ethically moot for Card. Rather, it makes the choice all the more moral. The decision for genocide is made by an ignorant innocent, free of all constraint; it is genocide as pure choice, outside the ethical — and therefore in some sense transcendentally ethical.