Call to Action: Ender’s Game

Since the creation of the Commandant’s Professional Reading List in 1988, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card book has been required reading for all Marines.  At the time, the book was considered a primary tool to illustrate many of the principles of Maneuver Warfare.  In addition, the book presented visionary ideas about wargames, and realistic force-on-force “free-play” training. 

Much has changed in the last 31 years.  Is Ender’s Game still important enough to be required reading for all Marines?

How does Ender employ trust tactics, commander’s intent and mission orders in training the Dragon Army and when fighting the Formics (aka buggers)?

Have the books ideas on the importance of wargames in training tactical decision makers become reality in the Marine Corps?  Why or why not?

What message does the book convey to Marines about ethical leadership?  Is Ender a positive example of an ethical leader?

In 2013 Ender’s Game was released as a movie.  Is the film as thought provoking as the book?  How do they differ?  Should the movie be on the Commandant’s Watch List, if such a thing existed?  Refer to the May 2019 edition of the Gazette: “The Commandants’ Watch List” by 1st Lt Isaac Caughran.

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Comments
  1. Author’s note: this post contains plot spoilers regarding the novel Ender’s Game.

    Ender’s Game is a relevant and accessible work of fiction that still deserves a spot on the Commandant’s Professional Reading List. However, the selection should be expanded to include at least two of Orson Scott Card’s follow-up novels, Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide. The expanded selection should offset the dominant theme of most discussions of Ender’s Game within the Marine Corps, which center on the Battle Room and the efficacy of adopting similar training tactics and facilities for Marines. Granted, the training centers and Ender’s growth as a leader are important topics, but too often the focus on them comes at the expense of omitting the larger strategic and moral questions posed in Card’s writing.
    The July 2019 Observation Post (OP) article in the Gazette (How Ender Wiggin Became a MEU Commander) is emblematic of a tactical, technical view of Ender’s Game. A fictional vignette is presented where a future Marine officer version of Ender Wiggin reflects on the data-driven, repeated combat simulations he has used to progress throughout his career, culminating in his crushing a war game simulation to screen for O-6 MEU command. The largely positive depiction of Col Wiggin’s training and career in this OP vignette is myopic, insofar as it shares none of the introspection and guilt that characterizes Card’s Ender.
    A better PME reading of Ender’s Game must consider Card’s insights to moral and strategic-level questions about war. The fact that Ender was a child-soldier (albeit, a precocious one) and that later generations of humanity perceived him as a psychotic war-criminal for eliminating the Formic species should temper any overenthusiasm about adopting a Wiggin-esque approach to training. A moral/strategic reading of Card’s work, tailored to the Marine Corps, might pose the following questions:
    -Did the human species have a morally-sound strategy in their fight against the Formics?
    -What were the assumptions that went into this strategy (i.e. did the Formics actually pose an existential threat to humanity)?
    -At what point are the costs of victory too high (i.e. are there scenarios in a potential future conflict where the U.S. would find it morally acceptable to train child-soldiers)?
    -Two of the Marine Corps’ 11 leadership principles are to “know your Marines and look out for their welfare” and “keep your Marines informed.” Ender had to use lethal force to kill a classmate and was not informed that he was destroying the Formic home-world until after the action was complete, so arguably his leaders violated both leadership principles in pursuit of strategic aims. Are there similar situations where Marine Corps leaders may feel compelled to violate leadership principles in the pursuit of strategic endstates, and is that justified? Why or why not?
    There are numerous other questions that could be posed, but the ones above are meant to drive a deeper discussion about Card’s work and how it relates to the strategic and moral actions of the Marine Corps. The actual fighting against the Formics is a small part of Ender’s Game, but much of the plot for the next two novels stems from Ender’s attempt to undo the damage of nearly eliminating the Formics as a species (à la, xenocide) and the burden of guilt he carries, fairly or unfairly, as a Speaker for the Dead. Marines reading Ender’s Game as part of their professional PME would be remiss if they did not reflect on the moral and strategic questions posed by the end of the novel and Card’s follow-on works.