Spoiler Alert: if you haven't read the book/seen the movie, I highly recommend both [in that order!]. My thoughts below will give away some of the key plot points.
The first time I read the book, the carefully woven plot of the story and it's characters, the fantasy world of the space station, the descriptions of the battles and the ingenuity of their strategies, sucked me in to turning page after page in voracious excitement and curiosity at what would happen next. The surprise revelation at the climax struck me with a considerable amount of force.
After months of anticipation, I had a chance to watch the movie Sunday night, on the eve of Remembrance Day. The movie, while well done and fairly true to the book, does more than just entertain. It is a stark reminder that war is hell, as it has been for millennia. Interestingly enough, as a reader/viewer, we are told that the bugs/aliens are the enemy, but they are otherwise portrayed in a largely sympathetic light. However it takes the entire story for Ender to come to the realization that "the aliens are people too"! (There's no "Us vs. Them" … "There's ONLY us"). The point of the game is to teach the children to win, not just this war, but win so that there are no more wars! (Where have I heard that before? "The war to end all wars")
Gamification is a big buzz word in education right now… it's in the title of this movie! is the only way to get through something unpleasant to make it a game? Why the deviousness? Why can't we do things for their own sake? Why did children need to be pawns in this war against the aliens? The reason given is that they are more creative and able to deal with complex pieces of information [like is suggested in the Sir Ken Robinson creativity video]. Is it also though because by gamifying this intergalactic struggle they have devised an effective plan to insulate Ender and the others against the moral quandaries of annihilating an entire civilization?
When Ender realizes that the Adults have ulterior motives for the final games, that they are in fact NOT games but the REAL thing, he feels betrayed. In the end, Ender decides to devote the rest of his life to the Remembrance of the Civilization that he destroyed. While not mentioned in the movie, in the book we are told how Ender becomes the "Speaker for the dead", telling a whole and unapologetic story of the aliens, and this becomes a standard funeral procedure for humans too.
From a teaching standpoint, it is telling that one of the major focal points of the story (which is somewhat glossed over in the movie, likely because of time constraints) is the battle games. Students are taught in traditional manners, but this is balanced by practical experience designed to teach children on their own terms the strategies and skills required for success as a military leader: collaboration, creative thinking, discipline, and responsibility among other things. The child soldiers learn by doing, by trying and experimenting. (I'm going to put aside the problematic issue of child soldiers for another day)
Especially poignant throughout the story is the internal struggles of Ender:
- The struggle between violence and love. Knowing ones enemy so well that you come to love them, but are then able to destroy them.
- The struggle of a family torn apart by the larger obligations to society made by those family members.
- The overwhelming sense of loss and sadness Ender feels at the end when he comes to understand that he did not realize the enemy was trying to communicate with him, until after it was too late.
- The certainty of a lifelong struggle with inner turmoil, as he tries to find peace with himself for what he has done.
This brings us to Remembrance Day. Where soldiers are told to go, and what they are told to do can be awful, horrible, and at times perhaps even morally repugnant. But I think most soldiers do what they do as an unrepayable service to the people they serve, in the belief that what they are doing must be done for the greater good. And look at the great cost to many of these men and women in uniform. All too often these costs are visible in broken families, strained relationships, or lost limbs. Then there's the hidden cost of things like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and addictions.
This year, as I reflect on Enders Game, I'm brought back to a section of Flanders Fields:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die…
Let us not break faith with the dead. As Ender spent the rest of his life in service to those who died, both human and alien, we too must face this Day of Remembrance faithfully, with sombre respect. War is nothing to glorify, yet we MUST honour the great cost of those who have gone before. With all my heart I pray "Never Again".
We MUST remember them.
We will remember them. I will remember them.
I WILL remember.
There is nothing I can do that will ever repay. So all I can say…
is "Thank you".
Edward Swift Burford - Grammas uncle, killed at Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917
With Thanks to:
Grandpa John Hulsemann
Uncle Eric Hulsemann
Thomas Edward Peters III
and ALL the others...