The Psychology of War: A Review of Ender's Game

ender's game

I'm not big on violence. I cover my eyes when the movie moves toward that final battle and my squeamish tummy detects the inevitability of gore. But I love this book.

In the postscript of the fantastically produced and acted audio book version of Ender's Game, author Orson Scott Card muses about how he is accused of writing "graphic" scenes of violence.  He points out that, strictly speaking, this is not true; his depictions of violent acts are clinical and clean, and any graphic images are only in readers' minds.

Ender's Game and the subsequent books in the series are about war. No mistaking it. But they are about what happens when you put human beings into a setting of war. Unlike war movies (and superhero movies, for that matter), this series examines the deep, dark psychological effects of living in a world where violence is necessary but not desired.  

As a protagonist, young Ender is so appealing because his greatest struggle is not to defeat his enemies, but to defeat the monster within.

Ender is born as a "third" in a futuristic America in which overpopulation has led to a law prohibiting parents from having more than two children. Already at a disadvantage, Ender is further challenged by his great intelligence, which makes him the target of cynical and cruel bullies, among these, his elder brother Peter.

When Ender is selected to join the elite Battle School that prepares soldiers to fight alien invaders who decades-ago first ravaged Earth's armies, his troubles are far from over. At every turn, Ender must contend with the jealousy of other students that plays out as rage and violence. He is intentionally isolated at every turn, as the adults at the school manipulate him with unfair and constant changes. In the midst of all of this, how can Ender hold onto his essential kindness and compassion?

An enduring work of science fiction, Ender's Game features compelling scenes of battles in zero gravity and intelligent video games that deconstruct the human mind. But it also helps readers connect to important questions, such as how far we, as a society, can go in order to create the soldiers who will save us from external threats. Can we destroy individuals in order to save the human race?

I recommend this book to sci-fi and psychologically-inclined readers in 9th - 11th grades.