Enders Game: Exploring Conflicting Values and the Justification of War

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This paper will analyze the opposing values of Ender Wiggins and Colonel Graff, two characters in the movie Ender’s Game. Although these characters’ values are in conflict, their justification of war, situated in a 50-year post-alien attack on Earth, raises further examination of whether the war was a necessary evil. Ender’s Game is based in a future 50 years after Earth has been attacked by an alien race called the Formics, whose first invasion killed millions of humans. Mazer Rackham, a general of The International Fleet crashed his aircraft into a Formic queenship, stopping the invasion.

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The Context of War

Over the course of 50 years, children were raised on war games. War games aided in enhancing children’s decision-making skills and intuition, ultimately making them fearless. Gifted children are trained by the International Fleet to become commanders of a new fleet as they are seen as humanity’s best hope for Earth’s survival.

Ender’s Game focuses on 12-year-old cadet Andrew Ender Wiggin, played by Asa Butterfield. Ender gains the attention of The International Fleet’s Colonel Hyrum Graff, played by Harrison Ford, and Major Gwen Anderson, played by Viola Davis, due to his aptitude in simulated space combat games. Graff brings Ender to Battle School but treats him as extraordinary, ostracizing him from the others.

Colonel Graff’s treatment of Ender is the beginning of his and Ender’s opposing values. During a conversation between Colonel Graff and Colonel Anderson, Anderson expresses her desire to assess how Ender thinks and feels, while Graff objects and states that he does not care how Ender feels; he wants him to toughen up.

Graff: When the war is over, we can have the luxury of debating the morality of what we do.
Anderson: When it’s over, what will be left of the boy?
Graff: What does it matter if there’s nothing left at all?
Anderson: We’re using these children to win a war, and if they come home, it’s my job to put them back together again.

Opposing Values: Ender vs. Colonel Graff

In this exchange, not only do we see Graff’s values take precedence, but we also see conflict between the two characters and how the societal construct of gender may influence values and decision making. It may be inferred that gender influences overall orientation in terms of the two sets of values and that differences in values lead decision-makers to weigh decision issues and make final decisions differently. Results suggest that there are some gender-related differences in value systems, weights of decision issues, and final decisions. However, while there is a body of literature indicating that there are no gender-related differences in moral development, there are also a number of reports indicating that women and men do differ in moral development (Crow,1991).

Colonel Graff doesn’t see the cadets as children but rather as soldiers. Graff’s tactic to isolate Ender and make him believe he has no friends and that no one will help him, reducing Ender’s access to communicate with family, and showing a lack of emotion in front of Ender all highlight his views and beliefs about what it takes to make a tough solider. Graff’s goal is to protect his planet at any cost necessary.

In general, researchers conclude that any observed differences amongst genders are a result of socialization, educational, and/or occupational levels rather than innate differences between men and women, but there are still debates about whether so-called lower levels are, in reality, lower or whether they simply represent a different perspective on the judgment process (Crow, 1991).

While Graff focuses on making a tough soldier, Ender reflects on his siblings who also attended and failed battle school. His sister, Valentine, was too compassionate, and his brother, Peter, was too quick to use violence. Ender feels he must find a balance between the two in order to succeed. Up until the final battle, Ender has had a high aptitude for combat due to his heart and innocence. Ender states, “When I understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, then in that moment, I also love him.” In making this statement, Ender is claiming that once he understands anyone, he would have understood their fears, joys, and views. Once he has information on his opponent, he can use it against them, but in inflicting that sort of pain, he also feels that pain because he knows how much it would have hurt his opponent. Finally, Ender also claims that “I think it’s impossible to truly understand someone and not love them the way they love themselves.” It is this level of sensitivity that makes him tactful and intuitive but also compassionate towards others, which drives his desire to understand the Formics and attempt to make contact before going in blind and attacking. Ender concludes that the humans do not truly understand the Formics; they’ve been deemed as an enemy.

Impact of Myths and Narratives

In seeking more information on the enemy, Ender learns that the Formics are compatible with ants. It is speculated that the Formics came to Earth 50 years ago for water due to their planet slowly dying. Colonel Graff and his International Fleet colleagues fear the Formics as a potential threat; they fear that the Formics may overpopulate themselves into extinction and may seek another planet to harvest. The enemy has not attacked in 50 years, but the government has been preparing for another battle ever since. Colonel Graff takes note of Ender; at the beginning of the movie, Ender comes up against a class bully and defends himself by fighting. When asked why he continued to beat the bully once he was down, Ender explained that he continued to beat the bully to instill fear into the bully and his friends, who were also standing around to prevent future fights. In the months of preparing Ender, Colonel Graff decides to employ the same logic he learned from Ender to defeat the Formics through the use of a preemptive attack.

Taking a deeper look at the motives behind the use of a preemptive attack, Halevy (2017) investigates how the presence or absence of specific emotions associated with certainty or uncertainty influence individuals’ propensity to attack others in self-defense. Halevy concluded that Individuals take extreme actions that harm their counterparts to remove or disable an uncertain threat, which in turn undermines relationships and instigates conflict. The current theory and empirical findings from Halevy’s study challenge existing models of defensive aggression, which attributed individuals’ tendency to attack others in self-defense out of fear. This research identifies hope, a positive emotion associated with uncertainty appraisals, as uniquely important for inhibiting preemptive strikes. Lacking hope is associated with defensive aggression, whereas experiencing hope mitigates preemptive strikes to everyone’s benefit (Halevy,2017).

Preemptive Attack and Conflicting Values

It is the uncertainty of what would happen to Earth and its inhabitants that drives Colonel Graff to use this tactic. It may be argued that Colonel Graff’s hope for a future without having to worry about the Formics ever attacking again gives him that clear conscience to engage in war to serve, honor, and protect his planet and the people he serves. In taking this stance, Graff also creates an us versus them mentality between humans and the Formics, which influences his decision-making.

Harris (2009) claims that one of the major impediments to the construction or development of a harmonious multicultural society is the fact that different cultures hold different values, giving them opposing ideas of what is possible or desirable. Often, the influence of cultural value orientations may be unacknowledged to those holding them, even if their consequences in communication behaviors and interactions with other cultures may be profound. Since cultural values are expressed in the form of mythic narratives, secular and religious, an examination of the myths of culture can give insight into valuable clues as to its vision of the ideal society. One of the influential myths examined is the notion of paradise.

Looking at the mythic narrative created by the Internal Fleet about the Formics before Ender learns the truth, the golden lie told about general Mazer Rackham scarifying his life by crashing his aircraft into a Formic queenship, stopping the invasion, creates a heroic narrative. This version of the story empowers the people to fight for the cause of working for the International Fleet and allowing children to be soldiers. The truth that is withheld from this narrative is that the Formics did not attack Earth but rather, after accidentally pinpointing and crashing into the Formic Queenship, which controlled all the other ships, the Formic ships freefell, and that is what killed millions of humans. Another truth withheld from this narrative told to the people creating an us versus them mentality is that General Mazer Rackham did not, in fact, die that day, but he was used as a symbol of hope and heroism, further highlighting how myths shape people’s conceptions of their values and ideal society.

Ender’s training is rigorous, and Anderson expresses concern that they are pushing Ender too fast, but Graff notes they have run out of time to replace Ender. Ender’s final test is monitored by several of the fleet commanders. As the simulation starts, Ender finds his fleet vastly outnumbered by the Formics’ fleets before ordering most of his fleet to sacrifice themselves to protect a weapon long enough to fire on the homeworld. The resulting chain reaction burns over the surface of the planet, killing the entire population. The simulation ends, and Ender believes the test is over, but he has no knowledge of the simulation being real. Despite Graff’s assurance that he will be known as a hero, Ender feels responsible for the annihilation of an entire species and fears that he will be remembered as a killer.

The final conversation between Colonel Graff and Ender after he storms out of the room after winning the battle highlights their conflict of values:
Colonel Graff: We won. That’s all that matter
Ender: No, the way we win is what matters

Value Conflicts and War Justification

Ender strongly believed there could have been other ways to communicate despite the Formics having no vocal cords for speech. Ender still wanted to try to communicate and understand the alien species. It is this difference in fundamental beliefs about handling the tactics that drive the characters apart. The withholding of information pertaining to the Formics and the simulation being real further fuels Ender’s anger and feelings of betrayal.

Results of the studies conducted by Kouzakova (2012) demonstrate that framing a particular conflict issue in terms of values causes people to experience more self-involvement and perceive less common ground. This result can be seen as a potential explanation of why value conflicts tend to escalate more easily than conflicts of interest and also offers scope for interventions directed at value conflict resolution. Differences in values that people endorse revolve around their notions of justice and convey their convictions about the way they relate to others. Kouzakova claims it is these differences that cause value conflicts that can lead to great
tension and escalate easily but also tend to be seen as non-negotiable.

As Ender struggles with his emotions, he recognizes a Formic structure similar to one he saw in a game. Believing the Formics are trying to communicate with him, he follows the path and encounters a dying Formic queen. The Queen acknowledges Ender’s role in the genocide of their race but recognizes that Ender wanted peace and forgives him. Ender vows to amend his wrong. After the war, Ender is promoted to Admiral and appointed his own ship. Ender embarks on a redemption mission to save the last queen egg and find a new planet to form a new Formic colony with the queen egg.

The Formics had not returned to Earth in 50 years, but fear of them potentially returning to invade once again was still present. Understanding the causes of conflict pertaining to opposing values and understanding how emotions and other factors may lead one to opt for a preemptive strike tactic is important in exploring whether war is a necessary evil. The idea of conflicting values is exemplified between the two characters throughout the movie leading up to the final war in which the preemptive strike was used to justify one party’s held values and beliefs, showcasing the clashing views and values between Ender Wiggins and Colonel Graff.
Ender’s Game depicts two species that have no communication with each other and humans being fearful of the unknown.


Ultimately, understanding the Formic’s intent in invading Earth the first time and understanding why the humans deemed it necessary to prepare for a second strike highlight how both species goal was to protect their kind, but the ways in which to achieve their goal clashed. Understanding psychological aspects of value helps us understand why and how opposing values may lead to conflict, but most importantly, how those unwavering values could also lead to war (Wynn, 2016). In Ender’s Game, it’s the core value to protect Earth from invasion and destruction that ultimately leads to the final decision of a preemptive attack, yet it is through Ender’s values and beliefs that criticism of that decision is examined.


  1. “Shadow Puppets” by Orson Scott Card 
  2. “Shadow of the Giant” by Orson Scott Card 

  3. “Earth Unaware” by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

  4. “Earth Afire” by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

  5. “Earth Awakens” by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

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Enders Game: Exploring Conflicting Values and the Justification of War. (2023, Sep 03). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/enders-game-exploring-conflicting-values-and-the-justification-of-war/