Monday, November 26, 2007

"Ender's Game" and Human Security

A funny thing happened when I first told some friends and family about this blog and explained the title and epigraph: some were shocked.

This is because the epigraph is drawn from a book that apparently "glorifies child soldiering." [Admittedly, in Card’s Ender’s Game, Ender Wiggin enters “Battle School” at age six and battle itself at age nine, and by age ten is a full-fledged, if unwitting, xenocidaire.] My admiration for the story puzzles people because I run with a pack that tends to lobby against child recruitment as it is practiced by certain countries and rebel groups today.

The easy answer to this question (besides: "duh, it's just a book") is that the Ender series doesn’t so much promote the conscription of children as suggest that children can be and are moral and political actors much like adults.

But this frame does indeed have political implications. These will no doubt be revisited by critics once the Ender’s Game film, now in the screen-writing stages, hits the box office. After all, if the original novel can be interpreted as pro-child-recruitment (debatable), it’s certainly easy to suppose a bastardized film version will.

An obvious “negative” side-effect from a human security perspective is that images of child combatants as heroic political agents could adversely affect international standard-setting against child recruitment. It might do so by problematizing the simplistic stories transnational advocacy groups trade in: stories that tell us children are victims not actors, abductees rather than willing volunteers, and innocents rather than strategic, rational actors.

Then again, isn’t challenging stereotypes also perhaps a good thing?


Cleitus the Black said...
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Cleitus the Black said...

My esteemed colleague, I suspect that this will be neither the first, nor the last time your family and friends are shocked by your writing.

As for myself, I must say that I'm not sure what the fuss is about. In my day (circa 300 BC) a boy was expected to begin training for military service at an early age, and enter the ranks not much later.

The ancient soldier's fighting power was a function of the muscle and sinew in their arms, and the ability of the legs to bear them into battle; so it was more the degree of muscular development, (some lads grow stronger, faster) rather than some arbitrary age that was often used to determine when a boy could enter the ranks of the infantry. Nevertheless, for those too small to serve in the line, use was made of them as squires, drummers, runners and slingers.

Since the advent of gunpowder weapons, though, the playing field (or battlefield, as the case may be) has been leveled to the point that any man, woman, or, yes, child who can exert 8 lbs of pressure with their index finger is as deadly a force to be reckoned with as any 10 Roman legionnaires using brute strength and edged weapons.

And history has born out the children can and do play a useful role in both conventional and paramilitaries; whether working as "powder monkeys" aboard British warships, sounding the advance with the Napoleonic regiments, going over the top at the Somme, or skirmishing in the streets of Warsaw, Stalingrad, and Berlin, children from 12-16 are no strangers to the historic battlefield.

Nor has the modern age changed much; from Indochina to Africa, children have proved themselves to be a useful expedient in war.

Ever wonder where the Boy Scouts originated? Their genesis is to be found in the Cadet Corps of 12-15 year old boys recruited by then-Colonel Baden-Powell to serve as scouts against the Boers.

So, let's get a little blood in the water and see if anything bites...

Why is it so bad to have child soldiers? There's plenty of historic precedent, and they can be damned useful...

Why is it fundamentally OK to send an 18-year-old to kill or be killed, but not someone who's 17 years, 11 months, and 29 days? And once you start down that slippery slope, where does it end?

The next generation of fighter planes, I have it on good authority, won't be manned; we can now build a fighter that can maneuver with such agility that the human pilot has become the limiting factor - G-forces will crush them unconscious long before the plane reaches it's peak performance.

Thus, taking the pilot out of the aircraft (and hence out of the direct line of fire) could my joystick-monkey theoretically be a child with faster reflexes and better hand-eye coordination than an adult? So what if he's dropping real bombs; someone was going to do it anyway, right?

Children are bloodthirsty little scoundrels anyway; if you doubt me, I challenge you to plop yourself down beside a 9-year old and his (or her) X-Box, and bet them 10 dollars that they can't beat you twenty times in a row in a HALO 3 "slayer" match. To truly appreciate the resulting mayhem, invite a few friends or relatives over to sit on the couch and chortle with glee as the pint-size warrior proceeds to send sniper-rifle bullets through your virtual cranium from an invisible hiding spot, bash your virtual teeth in with the butt of their shotgun, discharge that same shotgun into the back of your (thank God it's only virtual!) skull, run you over with an armored personnel carrier, etc, etc...

Yes, yes, of course, you're right... Kids have no place in modern combat. (chortle!)

Elected Swineherd said...
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Dr. Diodotus said...

The suitability of children for battle is not disputed, only its morality. Genocide was regularly committed in 300 BC as well, but today we no longer justify it.

Also I doubt children are by definition bloodthirsty any more than they are 'innocent.' They are sponges, eager to try out new identities given a set of constraints. They are in short, human beings.

Dr. Diodotus

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