I only know the Ender's Game movie, so please use the movie as context.

One of the first things we see about Ender is him defending himself against bullies. He wins, but keeps kicking the bully for way more than would be necessary for self-defence. In his own words he does this to not only win this conflict, but also to prevent any further ones.

In the end of the book,

we have the genocide, with the question whether there was ever a threat to begin with. I think the message is that this whole campaign and especially the genocide, are on very questionable moral grounds. I think this is made very explicit by the reaction Ender shows. However, I can't help but notice that this reaction (genociding an entire race to prevent them ever harming humanity again) is very much in line with what we see Ender doing in the beginning (keep kicking the bully).

Is the intended message supposed to be that this behavior was wrong? Or that Ender's solution was right? Or do the authors just want to open the debate? Or does it show something about the character Ender? If yes, what?

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    The moral of the story is that when right-minded people fail to communicate, trouble happens. Ultimately Ender is merely a child and the tool of those around him, used as he's intended to be used.
    – Valorum
    Mar 20, 2020 at 14:40
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    I'm not sure a good answer can be made based on the movie and ignoring the much richer and directly related content from the book.
    – gowenfawr
    Mar 20, 2020 at 15:03
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    Just a note to say—please read the book. It’s so much better.
    – Preston
    Mar 21, 2020 at 5:38
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    Never judge a book by its movie.
    – EvilSnack
    Mar 21, 2020 at 13:04
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    The movie is nothing more than an attempt to illustrate the book. It's also based on two books at once, Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow. Per word of the creator.
    – Therac
    Mar 21, 2020 at 14:30

3 Answers 3


In-universe, the two are very much linked. I'm going to use passages from the novel, because even though many of the relevant passages exist in the film, some of the nuance is lost or truncated.

Ender was chosen by the International Fleet for Battle School because of how he handled the bully. I can't find the exact wording from the movie script, but the scene does exist in the movie. From the novel, when Colonel Graff interviews Ender after his fight with the bully:

[Graff] "Tell me why you kept on kicking him. You had already won."

[Ender] "Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they'd leave me alone." Ender couldn't help it, he was too afraid, too ashamed of his own acts; though he tried not to, he cried again.

When Ender fights the Formics and destroys them, we see his reasoning - though he does not know at the time he is actually fighting them. He thinks he is just breaking a simulation. But Ender does explain a little of his tactics to Valentine before he goes to command school (in the film, this also exists, though I believe the conversation takes place slightly differently):

"I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them...I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don't exist."

The novel is very much about the character of Ender, and if you read the entire Ender quartet (Speaker for the Dead especially), you see what the xenocide did to Ender. Ender very much wants peace, he's not an aggressive person, but he will do whatever it takes to win. He is very angry at being used by the I.F. Command (tricked, really), and you can see this in his talking to Graff before he leaves for Command School.

[Graff] "We used every means we could think of to communicate with them, but they don't even have the machinery to know we're signaling. And maybe they've been trying to think to us, and they can't understand why we don't respond."

[Ender] "So the whole war is because we can't talk to each other [...] What if we just left them alone? [...] Maybe they didn't know we were intelligent life. Maybe-"

[Graff] "Ender, believe me, there's a century of discussion on this very subject. Nobody knows the answer. [...] Nature can't evolve a species that hasn't a will to survive. [...] So if we can we'll kill every last one of the buggers, and if they can they'll kill every last one of us."

"As for me," said Ender, "I'm in favor of surviving"

But what happens after shows the character of Ender, and I believe that's the real center point of the development of Ender's Character (major spoilers for the rest of the Ender quartet).

Ender goes on to find a new Formic Queen larva and is able to communicate with it over many years. In the end, he does find a place for them to re-establish their society and no longer being 'extinct'. Ender sees this search, which takes hundreds of years counting all the time spent at relativistic speeds searching for a suitable place, as his duty since he is the one who caused the Xenocide. Through his writings, called The Hive Queen and The Hegemon, Ender brings awareness to the fact that much of the war was caused simply by not being able to speak to each other. And that is the central thrust of his work as Speaker for the Dead - to bring out the truth, and to make sure everyone is understood.

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    I think this captures the essence of the answer. The question of whether or not Ender's attitude was correct has kind of a split answer: yes, that is how you have to deal with enemies with whom there is no possibility of communication, but no, the Formics were not that kind of enemy. A key theme of the Speaker books is that when we judge that we can (or cannot) possibly find common ground with another, it says as much about ourselves as it does about them. The whole series is (at least partly) about humanity maturing enough to recognise other species as like us, and not as monsters. Mar 22, 2020 at 8:14
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    @mguima Firstly, the Formics were the more advanced race - humans steal tons of technology from them, including gravity manipulation. Secondly, it's the humans expanding who encounter the Formics - perhaps they should have kept to a small colony and few individuals. Then the Formics might not have bothered to find their planet and throw attacks at it. Thirdly: from the Formics' perspective, they thought it was a proxy-war, with disposable 'robots', as a form of negotiation. The idea of making sophonts fight was anathema to them - so they're morally better than the humans too. Mar 23, 2020 at 9:19
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    This is a great analysis, but I feel like it elides the point very slightly - unconditional and absolute force is not an ethical response, BECAUSE you cannot know if the absolute elimination of your enemy is truly justifiable. Communication helps solve for that lack of knowledge and offers an alternative to extermination, but ultimately, extermination was portrayed as wrong absolutely, not conditionally. Mar 23, 2020 at 15:34
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    @IronGremlin I think the books definitely brought up the issue of ethics vs. pragmatism; ie. it may be ethically wrong to destroy an enemy because you don't know for sure that they are entirely beyond negotiation, but if the alternative is to allow yourself to be wiped out, then sometimes the ethically wrong option is the only one you can take. Therein lies the core of the conflict in Ender's soul; he knows why he did it and he knows the justifications, but he also acknowledges that it was wrong given what he now knows. Mar 27, 2020 at 8:02
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    @mguima: If you read the short stories as well, it reveals that Ender was celebrated as a hero, and Ender wrote the Hive Queen book specifically to make people realize that what he did was genocide. In universe, Ender created this image deliberately. So yes indeed, it was the author's intent. May 23, 2021 at 14:34

I think it's more subtle than that.

First, you can't really post-hoc judge battle decisions that way: you can only judge whether or not you did the best you could with the information you had at the time. Military battle decisions are, by definition, high-stakes choices made under duress with incomplete information. Not only are they not going to be perfect, they are frequently going to be awful, even to the point of causing outcomes opposed to the goals of the decision makers.

War isn't just bad because of the outcomes it generates, it's bad because even logical correct decisions turn out with the benefit of hindsight to be completely wrong. Was Ender wrong in the cold light of day? Yes. But that was not the circumstances under which he made the decision, and he knows it.

He also knows that he knows it, which is what creates the emotional tension in the story: even though he knows ahead of time that he's probably going to be wrong and deeply regret the actions he takes he understands that with the stakes and lack of information he simply can't risk it. N.B. this is also (as far as I can infer from the work) Graff's take on the Formics, and likely a big part of why he chose Ender. I'm going to go out on an even shakier limb to suggest that the author is sympathetic to characters embodying this logic even while rubbing the audience's collective noses in the abhorrent consequences.

For perhaps a clearer example of this, I'm going to reference another work, Batman v. Superman, Dawn of Justice. In this scene Batman is arguing with his confidant and butler Alfred Pennyworth as they discuss fighting Superman:

He has the power to wipe out the human race and if we believe there is even a 1% chance that he is our enemy then we have to take it as an absolute certainty.

Emphasis mine. Batman considers it unlikely that Supes is an enemy, but the unlikely outcome is simply unacceptable. Now, unlike Ender Batman is kind of using this logic to do something he wants to do rather than something he's loathes, but crucially the logic still holds.


It's not just Ender, remember he's being manipulated by everyone the entire time. He knew he was being manipulated, too. He knew that there'd never be someone to come help him, and delivering a decisive blow isn't just his decision, but what Graff and others were trying to manipulate out of him the entire time. If he couldn't do it, he wouldn't have been chosen as commander.

It was everyone else's decision to commit genocide, the bigger issue for Ender was how he was being manipulated.

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