The Treasure Lost in Its Protection

A Spartan helmet rests on rocks with a blurry background.

Ender’s Game is a novel about a young tactical prodigy in a world under the threat of attack by aliens. Ender is young when he is sent to a training school in space to train to be humanity’s last hope against the aliens, called the bugger race, which nearly destroys him. This near destruction of body, mind, and spirit raises questions about the validity of sacrificing one life for the good of all and the true value of human life when this concept of sacrifice is used often enough.

Ender is put through more than any human being should endure. By the time he is twelve, Ender has killed two people in self-defense because the commanders watching him refuse to defend him, teaching him to rely on himself in conflict. These commanders isolate Ender from every person he is close to in order to teach him how to be a leader (inspiring and respectable, but not a friend to his soldiers). Finally, the novel ends when Ender unknowingly commits mass genocide of the bugger race, believing his actions to be training exercises.

It is a difficult book to read with frighteningly reasonable implications. The implication is that if one, or a hundred, or a thousand lives must be sacrificed to preserve a greater number of casualties, then that is for the best. This mentality is a utilitarian one and a reasonable default in difficult political decisions. However, this harsh answer raises an accompanying question: if one life is worth so little in comparison to the lives of multiple lives, how much are the lives of the majority truly worth?

Many other children are put through similar experiences to Ender in hopes that they will accomplish what Ender does. One by one, each of them fails and one by one, they are all replaced by another prospective, but eventual, failure. The more boys sacrificed to this furnace in order to forge a strong enough sword, the farther commanders are willing to go. Now, one could argue that these commanders are sacrificing relatively few lives in exchange for the entire population of Earth. The difficulty, however, lies in their desensitization to life and death: the more lives these men sacrifice, the less life as a concept is worth to them. Each sacrifice they make destroys their original belief that life has meaning and deserves to be protected. Though these men save lives in the end, they do so at the cost of valuing their existence, which is their humanity.

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