Loud Joy and Quiet Hope

Warning: this post will contain spoilers for the movie Ender’s Game. If you’ve seen the movie or don’t care, read on. If you have not seen it and do care, this is not the post for you.

Tonight, my mom, dad, and I watched Ender’s Game, a movie about a brilliant boy (Ender) who moves through the ranks to lead humanity on it’s quest to destroy a group of aliens who had invaded Earth 50 years earlier in search of water.

The movie is, understandable and expectably, filled with action scenes, some deaths, and a victory for humanity. The curious thing about Ender, however, is his feelings on fighting someone. His brother, Peter, is quick to violence and has killed because of it. Not wanting to be like Peter, Ender makes sure he understands his enemy, and the movie uses the Orson Scott Card quote, “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,” to explain this.

Before his graduation battle, which will be a simulation of a battle with the enemy, Ender asks one of his friends if she thinks the aliens can communicate with them. She replies with no, they can’t, and he goes to bed still wondering. The next day, when he has beat the simulation, two of his commanders congratulate him on defeating the enemy, explaining that it wasn’t a simulation and that he had, in fact, destroyed the alien’s home planet, along with all occupants.

Most people in most of the movies of this kind would rejoice. They saved humanity! The enemy is crushed! Time to have a party! But Ender reacts differently. He’s confused, thinking that no, he couldn’t possibly have killed all of the aliens. That was supposed to come after, when he became head of the military. When he fully realizes what he’s done, he starts yelling and crying, trying to get it into the commander’s thick skull that he just committed genocide, wiped out an entire species. He was a killer, just like his brother, something he had striven never to be. He has to be put under, but when he wakes, he realizes that the aliens were trying to communicate with him through a mind game that the humans had created. This part’s a bit hard to explain without going into far too much detail, but he finds one of the queens of the aliens (they look a lot like ants, for reference) and discovers that there is a new queen about to be born, who can start the species of aliens all over again. The movie ends with him going off in a pod with the new queen to find her a home so he can right the wrong he committed.

And now we get to why I’m blogging about this.

As the credits started to role, my dad’s first comment was, “That’s it? That’s disappointing,” and I was rather confused, and I guess a bit disappointed that we have a world where my father’s comment isn’t actually all that abnormal or surprising.

Why is it that we would rather have the loud joy at the end of the movie after a victory in war than the quiet hope of a new life? Why is it that we find it disappointing that the person who ended a fight for forever, making it so the enemy could never return, wasn’t happy about it?

Many say that humanity has advanced far through it’s years, going from not even able to make fire to ten different ways to create energy. Which I suppose is true, but at the same time, a lot of things haven’t changed. We went through a time when war was common and glorious. After the horror of the World Wars, that seems to have simmered down a little bit. At the very least, we no longer have people leading conquests over entire continents. But that doesn’t mean we’ve calmed down and all is good in the world.

I feel like I should put a disclaimer in here now and say that I am not an all-knowing being. I get things wrong more often than I care to admit, so if I am wrong in this next bit, please let me know and I’ll try to fix it. I’m going off of what little information I know about this great, colossal, and complicated world.

Seeings as I live in the United States, I feel as if that’s a pretty good place to start.

Sometimes I wonder if violence is written into our DNA. Not “our” as US citizens, but “our” as human beings. Mammals. Animals. Given the “fight or flight” instinct, it probably is. Sometimes it feels like we crave it. Bullies in school hallways, fights over stupid things, mass-shootings in public places, guns pulled by law enforcement when there’s no need for it. We find joy in causing others pain.

And yes, I know that’s a very sweeping statement to make.

When I was younger, my sister and I used to fight all the time. Actually, diverging a bit, the ways girls fight is a rather interesting topic. We’re often told that we can’t be physical. Keep it to words, to glares, or the coldness of ignoring the other. Don’t hit, don’t bite, don’t scratch. But that’s exactly what my sister and I did. Looking back on it, I can’t say I’m especially proud of myself for feeling pleased when I made her bleed, but in the moment it seemed right.

Although, murder and killing is very different from two little girls fighting in the basement, isn’t it?

Why do people kill? What’s the thrill of taking someone’s life? Ruining someone else’s? Because someone somewhere just lost a child, a parent, a niece or nephew, an aunt or uncle. I once saw an interesting TED Talk in which the speaker talked about how from all of the brain scans he did, he and his team realized that chemical balances are different between a killer’s brain and a normal brain. In other words, it comes down to chemistry and biology.

With how tumultuous the United States/Middle East relationship has been in the last few decades, it’s a rather interesting case study. I’m not going to get into the dynamics of the religious wars, and how disagreement of what a piece of text means can create such huge differences between any two given people who are technically under the umbrella of the same religion, but I would like to talk about the aftermath of 9/11. While I was alive during 9/11, I was too young to remember it, and I didn’t loose someone important to me, so I don’t feel that I’m in a place to say whether or not the decision to declare war was the right one, but I don’t think it can be denied that many lives were lost because of that decision.

It’s hard to tell if it’s okay that those lives were lost. Can we can claim “collateral damage” and move on? We don’t know if, given the chance, Al Qaeda would have attacked in a similar way again, but I think it’s true that we shouldn’t have risked it, so at least on that point – the point of national security – declaring war makes sense. But if we follow the thread of “we have a biological instinct and interest towards violence,” does that change the way we see this weighty decision? Or, if we had the technology then that we have now, would things have turned out differently? Would the war have been over a decade long still, or would it have ended in half that time? A fourth of it?

And what about on the other side? What if Islam had been accepted more easily at the time of it’s conception and Muhammad didn’t have to fight, didn’t have to rally his troops, to spread it? Would the writing in the Qu’ran be different because of that? Would 9/11 have happened at all?

Is violence preventable? Or is it inevitable?

And more importantly, should we want the loud joy of victory, or the quiet hope of new life?

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