A lot of pacifist friends of mine refuse to give their children guns and war toys to play with. And other parents object to the films, TV shows, and now video games that glamourize killing and war.

Are we past war?

When young boys see films that glamourize killing in war, or see gangs in the streets as a glamourous way to live, there is a problem with the culture.

Yet traditionally stories of “good vs evil” and inculturating the idea of controlled violence by knights or policemen or soldiers can be a good thing if it is to keep civilians and the innocent safe. In a culture that increasingly refuses to point fingers on what is right and what is wrong, such stories are probably the best way to bring up boys.

Yet the Hunger Games brought up the question: Should we encourage our children to think it’s normal for them to fight?

Actually, Katniss is a heroine for girls, since she is open at showing compassion and rebelling against the system that forces her to kill, so the film is probably positive for older children and teens. And it goes beyond the “shoot ’em up” type films, since it shows her not only helping Rue to survive, but not willing to kill her friend Peta to save her life at the end.

Another film is now coming that might bring up similar nuances about war and children: the upcoming movie based on the classic science fiction book Ender’s Game… LINK

Image Credit: Richard Foreman Jr

the original short story can be found HERE.

The novel has even more nuances, and it will be interesting to see how many of the nuances are put into the film.

The book brings up a lot of issues, not just on child soldiers.

Ender is taken from his family to train to learn to fight “the bugs”.

“The Bugs” are an alien life form best known to sci fi fans from Heinlein’s story “Starship Troopers”. But Orson Scott Card remakes the fight into one where children are learning to do the fighting.

Ender is the best, but resents the training even while he helps his group.

So we confront the questions: When is taking a child from his family to train him justified? This has parallels on child athletes and musicians who sacrifice their childhood joys for a higher cause.

Ender and his friends are trained not only in combat fighting but in computerized simulations. And in today’s world, when killing is done by UAV/drones similar to computer games, who is the one who is guilty of killing: the one who orders the strike, or the man behind the console who never sees the dead, but only a “game” like scene on his computer screen?

Finally, a subplot questions conformity to the all seeing all knowing state.

Ender, of course, got his name because he was the “forbidden” third child: a child who never should have been allowed to be born. In some ways, his parents are both “rebels” to the system, including the fact that although his parents are non believers, they both come from religious families prosecuted for refusing to comply with population laws.

So although his parents now conform, Ender has inherited from them a non conformist streak. He also is smart enough to learn fighting, but wise and empathic enough to be able to lead others: much of the novel is about how he builds his squad around him using less than conventional ways. Again, one wonders how much of this nuance about the military will end up in the film.

Ironically, at the end he saves the earth, not out of hatred, but to get out of the terrible situation in his school. And his squad obeys him, not out of fear, but out of love for him.

And, unlike “starship troopers”, he does it not by shoot-’em-outs but by a Kobiashi Maru type ploy…

Since the short story has expanded into a series of books,  one has to note that Ender later rescues a bug pod so that the Bug’s civilization is not completely destroyed. And he manages to communicate with the species, who is surprised to find that there could exist a sentient species who are so different in the ways they live and even communicate.

So all is well that ends well, but again, whether or not this will be in the film is a big question.

The real question, however, is: Do such films minimize the evil of forcing children to fight?

In a time when human rights folks are trying to eliminate child soldiers, do films like Hunger Games and Ender’s Game seem to justify using children in war?

This chilling paragraph from the short story explains why terrorists and “insurgents” are so eager to kidnap and reprogram children to fight:

Maezr smiled. “A hundred years ago, Ender, we found out some things.
That when a commander’s life is in danger he becomes afraid, and fear slows down his thinking. When a commander knows that he’s killing people, he becomes cautious or insane, and neither of those help him do well. And when he’s mature, when he has responsibilities and an understanding of the world, he becomes cautious and sluggish and can’t do his job. So we trained children, who didn’t know anything but the game, and never knew when it would become real.
That was the theory, and you proved that the theory worked.”

ah yes.

And that is precisely why child soldiers are so valuable to terrorist groups and various “insurgents” in the third world: Because you can train them to do anything, and they never think of either dying or that those they kill are dead.

And, alas, that is also the reason that American criminal gangs recruit young boys.

So, will Ender’s Game, like the Hunger Games, make people sit up and notice the theme of using children in combat? Or will they ignore the subplots and nuances of the film and just cheer for killing bugs?

The short story became a long complicated series, but Ender ends up saving a single egg sac, and eventually is able to communicate with the species for a lasting peace.

Wonder if that’s in the film.

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