Orson Scott Card has become the latest icon in the culture war. DC hired Card to write Superman comics. The Left protested Card’s right-wing views (especially his anti-gay stance). DC fired Card. Conservatives protest this economic sanction due to non-job-related personal opinions (like Scientific American firing a writer for his Christian views). See the details here. Such things are outside our purview on the FM website, but two posts in September 2010 called attention to Card’s worldview. The first looks at what the popularity of Ender’s Game tells us about our senior military leaders; the second what its popularity says about us.
Summary: Today’s post comes from the youngest member of the FM website’s staff, a Marine Corporal. He’s completed one tour in Afghanistan and will deploy again in early 2011. Here he describes a dark side to one of the most popular science fiction books of the past 20 years, widely read by members of the US military. Ender’s Game contains inspiration for both the best and worst leadership philosophies in today’s USMC.
The USMC professional reading program includes Ender’s Game, perhaps science fiction writer Orson Scott Card’s greatest work. It contains a powerful dramatization of current Corps doctrine, but it also holds a hidden vision for many Generals. See Wikipedia for a summary of the book. Go here for to see the original short story (Analog, August 1977); the book-length version was published in 1985. It won the Nebula and Hugo awards.
… Unfortunately some Generals would like to be Ender, directing battles at their desks. Commanding ships with a keyboard, instantly seeing “every enemy ship and weapons it carried.” Perfect information in the hands of a brilliant chessmaster, supported by his brilliant staff sitting before their screens — moving drones at the other end of the wire. Logic, order, planning, victory. The opposite of real war. Scharnhorst, Clauswitz, or von Moltke (either one) would laugh at such folly.
General Screwtape (USMC) describes the dream in the first of his enlightening series of letters …
- Why is Ender’s Game popular?
- It’s powerful, weird dynamics
- Ender as an appealing Hitler-like figure
(1) Why is Ender’s Game popular?
One aspect of its mass appeal: it tells the story of modern America. The world’s superpower — bigger, richer, stronger than any other nation — but we see ourselves as victims. Forced to invade our Latin neighbors, repeatedly, to see that our businessmen get a fair deal. Pearl Harbor and 9/11, forcing us to bomb nations into oblivion (the total weight of bombs dropped on Vietnam was 3x what we used in WWII, aprox 1,000/person). But we remain pure in our own eyes because our motives are pure.
Others see its appeal in the personal history of its readers: “Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender’s Game, Intention, and Morality“, John Kessel, update of an article originally published in Foundation – the International Review of Science Fiction, Spring 2004 — Excerpt:
Ender gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean. Nothing is his fault. Stilson already lies defeated on the ground, yet Ender can kick him in the face until he dies, and still remain the good guy. Ender can drive bone fragments into Bonzo’s brain and then kick his dying body in the crotch, yet the entire focus is on Ender’s suffering. For an adolescent ridden with rage and self-pity, who feels himself abused (and what adolescent doesn’t?), what’s not to like about this scenario?
An even more pointed answer comes from “Ender’s Game: fascist revenge fantasy? Nah, geek revenge fantasy.“, posted at Wax Banks, 21 August 2006:
Needless to say most of the people I know who Really Love the book aren’t soldiers, they’re socially-malformed geeks who’re attracted to the ‘meritocratic’ vision of the genius freak, ‘precociously’ outwitting everyone around him, morally pure though his thoughts are bloody and selfish, who wins battles with his brain but secretly is almost superhumanly effective at physical tasks – which you’d never guess to look at him.
Card’s writing comes, I think, from a more plainly geeky wish-fulfillment urge, and is a way of placing the misunderstood genius/asshole at the center of the moral universe. It’s no wonder that Ender spends most of his time lecturing his peers (moral/intellectual inferiors) and playing video games, and it’s no wonder so many people at (e.g.) MIT, where Ender’s Game is a kind of shared keystone text, live identical or very similarly narcissistic lives. The dominant social pathologies at MIT line up neatly with Ender’s own.