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Ender's Game is required reading for some military organizations. What does it actually teach troops about tactics and strategy?

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F! Can you name some of these organizations? It might help people dig up references as to why they might be using the book.
    – DavidW
    Sep 8, 2021 at 16:32
  • The Marines I think read the book. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ender%27s_Game).
    – user144760
    Sep 8, 2021 at 16:34
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    mca-marines.org/blog/2019/06/10/call-to-action-enders-game - Lots and lots of perspectives on the applicability of Ender's Game to the Marine Corp here. -"Both Ender and the Marine Corps seem to share the idea that the best ideas are not always homegrown, and an enemy fighting for malign ends can contribute mimicable means.", "Similar to how Andrew Wiggins was able to wage war through an apparent training simulation, far removed from the battlefield, future Marines will increasingly rely on weapons systems that place the user increasingly farther from [the field of battle]", etc
    – Valorum
    Sep 8, 2021 at 17:24
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    According to Card's foreword, "Captain John F. Schmitt... used it in courses he taught at the Marine University in Quantico." Sep 8, 2021 at 17:42
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    Technically the book is much more about tactics than strategy Sep 9, 2021 at 4:32

3 Answers 3

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There are a few sets of tactics that Ender uses to achieve a significant battlefield advantage. They seem applicable to real warfare.

  • "The enemy's gate is down" (I) - Possessing high ground and favourable ground has been a military maxim for success since Sun Tzu and before.
  • "The enemy's gate is down" (II) - Don't hesitate to strike at the heart of the enemy's defences if you feel that you can decapitate their leadership.
  • "The enemy's gate is down" (III) - Viewing the battlespace from multiple perspectives can provide unexpected insight.
  • Constantly innovate - Seen when he allows his squad to use wires for flight, different types of loose formations, giving toon subcommanders leeway to fight how they see fit, etc
  • Formations are for suckers (mostly) - If your enemy knows where you are, it gives them a huge advantage. Subverted when Ender uses a formation at the end of his time at Battle School
  • Know your enemy - Ender spends countless hours studying the way in which the bugger fleet fights, in order to understand how best to fight them.
  • Destroy your enemy utterly and then you don't have to worry about having to fight them again - Seen a few times in the book, notably when he commits mundicide.

Interestingly, the Marine Corps recommendation (which sparked this question) seems to feel that the core values of the book aren't military in nature, but rather that it should be read in order to understand the loneliness of command and what it means to retain your humanity while fighting.

In this science fiction novel, child genius Ender Wiggin is chosen by international military forces to save the world from destruction by a deadly alien race. His skills make him a leader yet Ender suffers from isolation and rivalry from his peers, pressure from adults, and fear of the enemy. His psychological battles include loneliness and fear that he is becoming like his cruel brother. The novel’s major theme is the concept of a “game” and all of the other important ideas in the novel are interpreted through this concept. Some of the important ideas in the book include: the relationship between children and adults, compassion, ruthlessness, friends and enemies, and the question of humanity: what it means to be human.

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    "The enemy's gate is down" (III): Don't get trapped into a single viewpoint, keep trying to find new ways to look at problems. (Ender's toon shows a lot more 3-dimensional thinking and tactics than the other toons, at least at first, like sliding around the walls.)
    – DavidW
    Sep 8, 2021 at 17:19
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    There's also a bunch of non-tactical but command-oriented people stuff, like trying to find good lieutenants and then use them effectively, learning to judge the weaknesses and limits of his lieutenants (which he fails to do with Petra, causing her to burn out), pushing Bean to be more creative, etc.
    – DavidW
    Sep 8, 2021 at 17:25
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    TEGID: the most important message was that he defined the coordinat axis system so that future deployment commands would be followed correctly. Sep 9, 2021 at 11:48
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    Obligatory XKCD: xkcd.com/241
    – Davy M
    Sep 9, 2021 at 17:05
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    The "formations are for suckers" rule was also meant to introduce the principle that well-trained small groups organized to achieve discrete ends, and placed under capable sub-leaders and empowered to act independently, will often defeat a more stilted and static large group whose every movement has been choregraphed by a single leader.
    – tbrookside
    Sep 9, 2021 at 17:18
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In addition to the military, Ender's Game is a great book for leadership in general. @Valorum made great points about its use in the military, but one thing that applies to both the military and the civilian sector is the importance of decentralized command and how you empower your subordinates. Dragon Army is so successful in large part because Ender was able to select and empower toon leaders that he trusted to achieve defined goals without specific directives, or to improvise to further the objectives of the whole once their specific goal was completed. Contrast this with Ender's experience in Bonzo's army, where they were not particularly successful because Bonzo's toon leaders were not empowered to do anything besides exactly what they were directed, exactly as they were directed - to such an extent that Bonzo slapped Ender for disobeyed directives that saved them a game. This becomes more evident as the battle scales upward in the fight against the Formics, with Ender having to do less fighting and more delegating to his toon leaders to fight on his behalf.

Your CEO (whether in a military or civilian sense) cannot do it all, and this is why it's important that you be able to trust, empower, and support your subordinates. Organizations that fail to do so are slow and unable to react appropriately to changing conditions, and they will pay the price, whether on the battlefield or in the market. Decentralized command has become a particular focus of the military in the last 20 years, and Ender's Game does a lot with it.

Ender also demonstrates numerous qualities of good leaders throughout the book, which is part of what draws people to him and gives him the power that he has. This is expanded upon in Ender's Shadow, as Bean spends a lot of time examining what it is that separates himself from Ender, when he is more gifted than Ender intellectually but recognizes that he would not be as good of a commander as Ender. There is a lot within Ender's Game about how relationships and power work within groups that is of tremendous use to anyone working in or leading a small group.

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Focus on the real victory conditions.

At the end of battle school he pulls that formation attack, recognizing that it's not defeating the enemy combatants that matters, but the true victory is the gate. It doesn't matter that he's lost his entire force, he wins anyway.

And basically everything that happens to him over the years is aimed at one goal--to recognize the real victory condition is destroying the queens on the planet, thus giving the genocidal order to fire on the planet.

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    Add to that the victory condition of defeating the system he is thrown into. Ender intends to defeat the people who took his life away from him by destroying their 'game', annihilating the last hive planet as a loophole to finish the game. Ender's victory condition is going back home, a place he never finds until he spends his life reconciling with the Hive Queen and his past.
    – M Virts
    Sep 10, 2021 at 19:18

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