Why didn't the IF want Peter Wiggin?

Ender's Game implies that they didn't want him for being too violent/aggressive (I believe the quote from Graff was something like "doesn't know half the time if he wants to be a human or a jackal").

But this seems to be contradicted by two facts:

  1. They already have specimens like that in school. Bonzo Madrid, for one, is the same except dumber. Or Bernard, of who Alai said "I'm not Bernard, I never tortured cats for fun.". If you recall, the main signal that Peter was dangerous was his torturing small animals.

  2. Less importantly, Peter turned out way non-jackaly. We can write that off on faulty analysis during early years.

I'd prefer answers based on book sources or Card's statements if any are available. Please don't quote Graf's original statement from beginning of Ender's game as an answer - that's what I'm questioning.

IMPORTANT: Any answers that cite Peter as being a possible impediment to Ender should take into account the fact that Peter was rejected before Ender was even authorized to be born.

P.S. Just to clarify - I didn't ask why IF didn't think Peter Wigging was as genius of a commander as Ender. I am asking why he wasn't taken to the School like all the other talented bullies were. They took plenty of other kids who weren't Ender, so why wasn't Peter among them?

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    Sorry that I quoted the first paragraph of the book in direct defiance of your answer - hopefully I've provided enough justification to make up for it. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 3:05
  • I seem to recall a conversation Peter has with Mazer in Shadow of the Giant... unfortunately, I'm at work at the moment and can't quote it directly.
    – Adam V
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 16:56
  • @AdamV - oups... forgot all about your comment but acually found that conversation and pasted it and the summary as my own answer. Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:06
  • @DVK: no worries! Glad you found it!
    – Adam V
    Commented Sep 25, 2012 at 15:54

7 Answers 7


=Late Answer=

OK, I knew that I wasn't being silly not to trust that lying bastard Graff!!!

Card actually explained the real reason eventually, and I bumped into it when re-reading Shadow of the Giant.

In conversation between Peter Wiggin and Mazer Rakham, Mazer finally owns up to the real reason:

  • Peter was not "too aggressive"

  • Peter was not a good fit for the military, since he did not inspire devotion in anyone to lead the whole group

  • But he also didn't have enough devotion to anyone to be a follower, except possibly of Ender

  • And yet, he could not follow Ender due to being his older brother.

  • BUT, that's precisely what made Graff think that Peter would be a good fit on Earth, for after they finished off the Buggers. Because Peter could only make people like Bean and Petra devotedly follow him if he offered them a compelling enough reason in what goals he tried to achieve. In other words, he would be forced to become a benevolent leader in order to win over the Battle School kids' support.

Here is the full conversation with the most relevent pieces bolded

Rackham laughed. "Peter, Graff was so right about you."


"When he rejected you for Battle School."

"Because I was too aggressive," said Peter wryly. "And look what he actually accepted."

"Peter," said Rackham. "Think about what you just said."

Peter thought about it. "You mean about juggling."

"I mean about why you were rejected for Battle School."

Peter immediately felt stupid. His parents had been told that he was rejected because he was too aggressive—dangerously so. And he had wormed that information out of them at a very young age. Ever since then, it had been a burden he carried around inside—the judgment that he was dangerous. Sometimes it had made him bold; more often, it had made him not trust his own judgment, his own moral framework. Am I doing this because it's right? Am I doing this because it will really be to my benefit? Or only because I'm aggressive and can't stand to sit back and wait? He had forced himself to be more patient, more subtle than his first impulse. Time after time he had held back. It was because of this that he had used Valentine and now Petra to write the more dangerous, demagogic essays—he didn't want any kind of textual analysis to point to him as the author. It was why he had held back from any kind of serious arm-twisting with nations that kept playing with him about joining the FPE—he couldn't afford to have anyone perceive him as coercive.

And all this time, that assessment of him was a lie.

"I'm not too aggressive."

"It's impossible to be too aggressive for Battle School," said Rackham. "Reckless—now, that would be dangerous. But nobody has ever called you reckless...


"No, Graff looked at your tests and watched what the monitor showed us, and then he talked to me and showed me, and we realized: You weren't what we wanted as commander of the army, because people don't love you. Sorry, but it's true. You're not warm. You don't inspire devotion. You would have been a good commander under someone like Ender. But you could never have held the whole thing together the way he did."

"I'm doing fine now, thanks."

"You're not commanding soldiers. Peter, do Bean or Suri love you? Would they die for you? Or do they serve you because they believe in your cause?"

"They think the world united under me as Hegemon would be better than the world united under anyone else, or not united at all."

"A simple calculation."

"A calculation based on trust that I've damn well earned."

"But not personal devotion," said Rackham. "Even Valentine—she was never devoted to you, and she knew you better than anyone."


Rackham nodded. "But one thing was certain. Your off-the-charts aggressiveness, your passion to control events, we knew that you would place yourself in the center of everything."

It was Peter's turn to laugh. "So you left me home from Battle School so I would be what I am now."

"As I said, you weren't suited for military life. You don't take orders very well. People aren't devoted to you, and you aren't devoted to anyone else."

"I might be, if I found somebody I respected enough."

"The only person you ever respected that much is on a colony ship right now and you'll never see him again."

"I could never have followed Ender."

"No, you never could. But he's the only person you respected enough. The trouble was, he was your younger brother. You couldn't have lived with the shame."


The difference is, in my view, what Bean calls "the essence of hero" which can be seen in Ender and not in Peter.

One person is not enough to win the war: Beyond a single very intelligent boy, the IF needed a charismatic leader. A genius tactician who can relate to people, generate emulation around him, build his "jeesh" (clan). Someone who also takes his responsabilities and does what is needed when necessary, even at the peril of his own person. This is Ender.

By contrast, Peter is a chessmaster playing again other chessmasters, where everything remains at a high level of abstraction. He avoids any risks for himself and is more a diplomat than a military leader. He has no friends, and couldn't care less about other people, except when it suits him. Even if he improves over later years, he is by essence a politician: Cold, calculative, devoted to its own goals, and playing alone unless forced otherwise.

  • That's an interesting angle. +1. Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 22:10
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    That is how I always have seen the situation: the true problem with Peter is not violence itself (Ender can be violent, too), but what it indicates, a lack of empathy: People are more willing to make wonders and sacrifice themself for someone they like than for someone they fear. Bean himself recognizes that, even if he is as good/better tactican than Ender, this makes Ender a better leader.
    – Eureka
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 22:34
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    I don’t think Peter isn’t charismatic – on the contrary! After all, he does take power of the Hegemony and he does so primarily through his charisma. Locke and Demosthenes didn’t win followers through their intelligent arguments – at least not primarily: others will have had the same ideas as them. Rather, they won followers because they were charismatic debaters. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 7:01
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    Peter can appear charismatic and relatable, but that is not natural to him: people who known him well (such as Bean, his parents) are not fooled, this is one more "politician" aspect about him.
    – Eureka
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 7:39
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    Exactly. Peter doesn't possess genuine empathy. Being smart, he learns how to fake it when it helps him accomplish his goals... but it doesn't mean anything.
    – Tynam
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 9:19

The International Fleet needed four traits in their commander:

  • Strategic and tactical genius
  • Empathy
  • Self-preservative instinct
  • Naïveté

Strategic and tactical genius: Not only necessary for the most obvious reason, but also because it would garner trust from the commander's army.

Empathy: The commander would have to be able to understand the Buggers' desires in order to predict their actions.

Self-preservation: Here it starts getting subtle. A solider who was only empathetic couldn't achieve the goals of the International Fleet. The survival instinct allows the IF to manipulate the commander into learning the lessons they want him to learn, and fight the fights they want him to fight.

Naïveté: Finally, the commander has to be put in a very specific situation - one where his empathy is applicable but where the ultimate purpose is disguised. The manifestation we see in Ender's Game is the simulation room on Eros. This situation, as well as the preceding training, requires a certain amount of tunnel-vision from the commander.

There's a lot of foreshadowing in the first few sentences of the book, when the IF discuss their doubts about Ender:

He's too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else's will.

But they were able to use that quality to manipulate him through his instinct of self-preservation:

"So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?"

"If we have to."

Thus in the first paragraph we have self-preservation and naïveté. But the best quote for empathy comes from Ender himself, when he is talking to Valentine after coming back from Battle School:

"In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves."

Now let's look at why Peter wasn't the right kind of genius:

Lack of Empathy: Peter becomes more of a good guy later on, it's true; but I agree with Eureka that he is cold and calculative. In other words: manipulative, not compassionate.

Profound Cynicism: The IF would not have had nearly as easy a time manipulating Peter as they did Ender. We notice in later books how good Peter is at guessing intentions. And speaking of Bonzo, he may have been as "jackaly" as Peter, but he wasn't nearly as capable of manipulation or machination. Thus, while Bonzo served to (inadvertently) train Ender, Peter might have destroyed his future entirely.

Peter ended up saving the world as the Hegemon, but for defeating the Buggers he just wasn't the right kid for the job.

  • 1
    +1. I'm trying to remember where, but I think there's a line in one of the Shadow novels to the effect that the deception couldn't have worked on Peter, because it would never have occurred to him that he wasn't really in charge of something important. (Or maybe it's Achilles... can't find it, so I can't be sure, which is why I'm not answering.)
    – Tynam
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 9:22
  • 1
    +1 for the last point on cynicism. That was what was missing from Konrad's answer. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 12:31
  • This is a good answer, but again my main objection is: this explains why they rejected Peter, but what about the other cruel bullies they accepted? They also lacked empathy. Maybe their sole role was to "surround Ender all the time", as his enemies? A role that wouldn't have suited Peter?
    – Andres F.
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 21:28
  • I’m not sure I buy the lack of empathy. Peter didn’t care very much for others’ feelings, but he damn well understood them. It’s precisely what made him so good at what he did. The fourth point, however, is well made. Now if only there was some actual quotation on which all of this was based...
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 15:03
  • My only issue with this answer, why did the war with the Buggers have to be a secret? If they had accepted Peter as the commander, and him being as ruthless and aggressive as they said, couldn't he have just known he was fighting the real war and still won it? I think the only reason they hid it from Ender was because he personally was too empathetic, that wasn't necessarily the plan for whomever they chose
    – childcat15
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 15:51

While Peter Wiggin was unsuited for a position of overall command, he my have been acceptable in another position. However, the IF was placing all their hopes on the Wiggin line. The only candidate for supreme commander at that point was Ender. The schools at that point had two purposes: to raise Ender as a commander and to raise a loyal group of tacticians under him.

The presence of Peter Wiggin would have been disruptive to both those goals. Peter would have provided a consistent, uninterrupted source of trouble and low self esteem for Ender. He would have been less able to face his brother than a new threat, especially since Peter would likely have been the most competent person at the school aside from Ender and would have spent a fair bit of attention on Ender personally, for a long time.

In short, Peter would have broken Ender's level progression.

At the same time, Peter has a sound political mind. He would have found ways of driving other people away from Ender. Instead of facing the buggers with a handful of people with whom he had a strong rapport, he would have people in whom Peter had instilled mistrust for Ender.

Peter, by being present, would have cost us the war.

  • 4
    This is an interesting analysis, but I feel it overlooks an important point... the IF had already rejected Peter (and Valentine) before Ender was born. Indeed, that's why the Wiggins get permission for a third child... because the IF thinks Peter is close-but-too-uncontrollable, and is hoping for a lucky strike on another try. So the answer needs to consider why Peter was inadequate on his own merits, before considering Ender.
    – Tynam
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 9:16
  • Exactly what Tynam said. I'm not downvoting but this is a wrong answer. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 12:23
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    @Tynam: It's simple, Graff thought that the Wigginses could do better.
    – SWeko
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 9:24
  • @Tynam The IF wanted Bonzo. Bonzo wasn't suited for Ender's position. I explained why the IF rejected Peter as a student rather than rejecting Peter as their commander -- which is what the question asked. Had Peter been less politically minded, and not emotionally connected to Ender, he very well could have ended up at the school.
    – dhasenan
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 11:33
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    @Tynam Eh, Ender doesn’t have to exist yet for Graff to worry about the potential effects of an older brother in IF for the next Wiggin child. Peter was first, remember; even without special authorization, there was going to be Valentine, and then if she didn’t pan out, special authorization could be arranged. But if they accepted Peter, who they already knew wouldn’t work for supreme command, it would have jeopardized a later Wiggin’s potential there, because he’d by definition be more aggressive. Bonzo was a useful foil to supreme commander candidates. Peter Wiggin would just be dangerous.
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 15:09

They already have specimens like that in school. Bonzo Madrid, for one, is the same except dumber. Or Bernard, …

But those two served a purpose in Ender’s education. They were never themselves considered for supreme command. I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as saying that they were planted precisely to antagonise Ender but Graff may at least have had something like that in mind.

Peter turned out way non-jackaly.

I’m not sure. Peter, from the description in the books, is a perfect psychopath, in that he has no empathy for fellow beings. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s always cruel and violent (he was rather immature when he was younger). It just means that this would always be an option for him.

His later peaceful rather than violent grab for power wasn’t out of consideration for others, it was out of calculation. Had he become supreme commander, the possibility of his psychopathy turning violent would have been far greater.

So in summary, I found the choice in the book quite convincing and don’t think that the two points you mentioned undermine Graff’s decision.

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    A later short story explicitly addresses the moment when Peter learns to understand how to fake empathy and normal social interaction. So yes, psychopathy isn't an over-harsh charge here.
    – Tynam
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 9:17
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    "But those two served a purpose in Ender’s education." - this is breaking the 4th wall. They served Card's purpose. But you can't claim on the basis of the canon that the only/main reason they were drafted into the school was to serve as help to Ender's education. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 12:21
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    @DVK To make it clear: I don’t think Graff chose specific people to act as Ender’s arch-enemies but I do think that he chose a certain percentage of cadets with sadistic personality traits to “mix things up”. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 12:25
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    @KonradRudolph - Hm. That sounds like a good possibility, but if THAT was Graf's thinking, wouldn't Peter have been even more likely to be placed into the School? E.g. it explains why Bonzo was there, but NOT why Peter wasn't. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 12:26
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    @DVK No, because he would have stifled Ender’s development from the start. I don’t have the book here but I think I remember that this was actually made explicit near the beginning of the story. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 12:28

He was incapable of inspiring trust.

How was Peter too cruel or crazy to not be allowed into Battle School? Isn’t that what the military wanted, a person that would utterly destroy the formics? I believe that Peter would have destroyed them with the Little Doctor without hesitating or regretting it, like Ender.

Orson Scott Card: It isn’t enough to be eager to defeat the enemy. You also have to be able to inspire the loyalty, trust, and obedience of underlings and superiors within your own organization. As the Shadow books chronicle, Peter spent much of his life trying to learn things that came naturally to Ender, in order to be able to inspire people to follow his leadership politically. He would not have been able to do so within the time limits already looming over the project.

Soldiers will not willingly follow a commander who is so gung-ho that they believe he does not care about their wellbeing. It was Ender’s palpable love and concern for other soldiers, training them as assiduously as he trained himself, that inspired love and loyalty. Peter wouldn’t even have thought of behaving toward other soldiers as Ender did.

(Ender's World: Fresh Perspectives on the SF Classic Ender's Game)


They thought that Peters parents could have better children, and they knew that if they took one, they wouldn't want them taking another child. So rather than taking their chances with Peter they waited till they had a better kid (Ender). I hope this answers your question.

  • Welcome to SFF.SE. This is an interesting answer, but can you support it with a source (one of the books or the author)?
    – Null
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 15:20

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