Monday, August 5, 2013

"Ender's Game" and the Militarization of Youth: Can We Talk About This?

I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to be reading Ender's Game in the next several months -- and not all of them will be teenagers.

As I discussed in an earlier post -- Stop Playing "Ender's Game" With Chicago's Young People -- a big Hollywood production of Ender's Game is scheduled for release in November. This promises to produce at least four categories of (new) readers for the book:
  • kids who read the book in connection with school assignments, timed to coincide with, and benefit from the excitement surrounding, the film release
  • teachers of those kids, who need to really understand what they are recommending
  • kids excited about the film release who decide to read the book on their own
  • parents of all those kids, who want to know what their kids are reading
. . . not to mention all the existing Ender fans who will be going back to the book for second, third, fourth, etc. readings in anticipation of the film release.

But the most important category of all new reader is a fifth one: people who are opposed to the militarization of our society and the recruitment of our youth.

I've been reading the very helpful article by John Kessel, "Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality ". It is a breath of fresh air to anyone who is slogging through Ender's Game and struggling to process its relentlessly violence-glorifying and childhood-bashing worldview.

I haven't finished thinking through Ender's Game, and the Kessel essay, but for those who are similarly getting pulled into the gravitational field of the book, I offer here several questions for reflection, and several recommendations of books that can productively accompany a reading of Ender's Game -- by adults as well as young people.


(1) Why is it necessary for children in Ender's Game to fight the battles? Do you think the author offers a convincing point of view on this question?

(2) How does the violence in the book make you feel? (What do you notice about the way the author describes the violent incidents? Does that make a difference in how you feel about them?)

(3) In Ender's Game, grown-ups lie to and manipulate children. Do you think the book suggests that being lied to and manipulated is a necessary condition of being a child? Or that it is a necessary condition of growing up?

(4) The reason(s) for the impending mega-battle in Ender's Game are quite obscure. Does that limit your enjoyment of the book?

(5) In Ender's Game, the world of adulthood outside of the military is barely glimpsed. What impression (if any) were you able to form of the author's conception of civil society?

(6) Is Ender's Game insightful about the nature of games?


Alien Invasion 101. Model warrior does battle, saves civilization.
Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
What battle is really like. What really happens to dreams of valor.
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
An honest reaction to abusive adult treatment of children.
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
What a real child confronting invasion sounds like.
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
A proto-Ender view of boy society.
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
An omnicompetent adventurer child to give Ender a run for his money.
Jerry Kramer, Instant Replay
"Battle school" as conducted by a professional football coach. (Genius? Sadism? Both)
Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird
A child's view of the ravages of war and the ravages of human society.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Hunting the monster, in the clutches of a madman.
Wilfred Owen, Complete Poems and Fragments
Every thing thing they told you about how important it was to fight this war was a lie.
Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
The perfect idyll of battle.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
Lies and manipulation, and through it all the kid figures it out.
H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds
A proto-Ender view of alien invasion.

Related posts

What are the 2 or 3 -- or 5, or 10 -- biggest lessons about "collaborating in peaceful mode" that we might be able to witness if we were to seek the answers in Minecraft worlds?

(See Go dig up the solution to world peace in a video game environment )

Leveling Up is the creative work that demonstrates just how thoroughly America's new ways of warfare have become intertwined with the other dominant strands in our culture.

(See Level Up, Step Up, Grow Up, Man Up . . . Wake Up)

The hardest thing for me to understand about the whole effort to militarize Ames is, why would anyone want to go into a place that is dedicated to community involvement, creativity, and leadership development, and change the focus to "following orders"?

(See Military at Ames? No Sirree Bub!)

Other related links

October 16, 2014 - I was chagrined to read this quote from Groupon CEO Ted Leonsis in the Chicago Tribune:  

"When I was co-CEO of Groupon, I was in Chicago a few days a week. Friday afternoon was the Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade right here. A million people went to the park. I was stunned and I had goosebumps. Everybody was wearing a Blackhawks hat and jersey. What else could activate a million people at 2 p.m. on a Friday and bring them all together like that? That's the unique thing about sports programming, that it's unbelievably great live, and it's unbelievably great presented on television and digital formats." (emphasis added)

That's it? That's what captures your imagination, Ted?

If leaders who work at the cutting edge of technology have this kind of reaction to our modern gladiatorial ethos, is it any wonder our young people are confused?