Before he became a voice of the American right, Orson Scott Card wrote a really good book



Orson Scott Card
  • Nihonjoe
  • Orson Scott Card
Many years ago a daughter who'd struggled to learn to read announced that she'd just finished a book so good I now had to read it for myself. Out of solidarity, I began. When I finished, some 350 pages later, I'd discovered an extraordinary new work of adolescent fiction.

Like John R. Tunis's All-American, which I'd read at roughly the same age as my daughter and have touted ever since, Ender's Game was both exciting and a moral education. It's a science-fiction novel. It's about a boy raised from the cradle to be a warrior, a lad whose innate military genius the government of the humans is counting on—after the proper molding—to repel the third invasion of the dreaded alien hordes, the buggers.

Ender proves himself capable beyond the grown-ups' wildest dreams. He wins one simulated battle after another, learning strategy from the buggers themselves, whom he comes to respect as a thoughtful and disciplined enemy; eventually, in a climactic battle Ender commands from his console and thinks is merely another simulation, Ender overcomes tremendous odds and horrendous casualties and blows up the buggers' planet. Afterward, the ruse is explained to him:

"Of course we tricked you into it. That's the whole point," said Graff. "It had to be a trick or you couldn't have done it. It's the bind we were in. We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers. But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we wanted. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. If you knew, you couldn't do it. If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough."

"And it had to be a child, Ender . . . " said Mazer. "Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart. But you didn't know. We made sure you didn't know. You were reckless and brilliant and young. It's what you were born for."

But Ender, like all children, was born to grow up. And in time he comprehends the buggers as a child cannot. They speak to him from beyond the grave. "We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind. We did not mean to murder, and when we understood we never came again. We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals who cannot dream each other's dreams. How were we to know? We could live with you in peace. Believe us, believe us, believe us."

The author of Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card, went on to write an Ender trilogy and other books. Knowing nothing about him but the words I'd read that he put on paper, I considered him one of the wise voices of our time.

Others don't. The buggers paid with their existence for the mistake of assuming that humans do not think, simply because we cannot dream each other's dreams. But the buggers were right that we cannot. We're terrible at it. And someone paying a price right now for this inability is Orson Scott Card.

I recently rediscovered Card as a ranting voice of the American right. When Barack Obama was reelected last November, Card wrote an essay that screamed at the American media:

. . . it's possible that we will be able to impeach this lying incompetent president that is getting a second term only because of your cooperation with his lies. It's possible that we can undo the damage you have done.

But far more likely is the other alternative — that, faced with your monolithic groupthink, your insistent flacking for the Beloved Leader, your dishonesty that is equal to his dishonesty, your emulation of Pravda, the Republicans in Congress will give up, Fox News will drop the story, it will all go away, and the Beloved Leader will continue in power.

In 2009 Card, a Mormon, joined the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which had been created two years earlier "to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it." Card is implacably opposed to the idea of gay marriage. In 2004, inflamed by the prospect of courts finding that homosexuals have a constitutional right to marry each other, he wrote the essay "Homosexual 'Marriage' and Civilization" :

And we all know the course this thing will follow. Anyone who opposes this edict will be branded a bigot; any schoolchild who questions the legitimacy of homosexual marriage will be expelled for "hate speech." The fanatical Left will insist that anyone who upholds the fundamental meaning that marriage has always had, everywhere, until this generation, is a "homophobe" and therefore mentally ill.

What are we to do about this?

I don't feel an obligation to do anything except regret the ideas that now fill Card's head. But others go farther. Earlier this month DC Comics announced that Card will be one of the authors creating a new digital Adventures of Superman, and a petition drive quickly got under way to get Card fired. The original goal was 10,000 names but it's since been raised to 15,000, and as of Monday afternoon more than 13,600 names had been collected online. "By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-gay efforts you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate," the petition tells DC Comics. "Make sure your brand stands for equality and drop Orson Scott Card now."

I won't sign the petition, and not simply because of my admiration for Ender's Game. When someone comes along spouting malign and ludicrous ideas, I'm more comfortable attacking the ideas than the spouter's livelihood. I know the point of siege warfare is to cut off the enemy's food and water, but ideas shouldn't be fought with siege warfare. I admire this essay written for NPR by Glen Weldon. Weldon identified himself as an "inveterate Superman nerd" and "gay dude" who won't be reading Card's contributions to DC Comics even though "it will be the first piece of Superman-affiliated pop culture that I will bypass in my 45 long and geeky years on this planet." He explained that Card isn't simply someone who objects to "marriage equality"; he's an activist on the board of an organization "entirely devoted to attacking and defeating" it. But the big reason Weldon gave is that "Superman is different . . . . in Superman, we see ourselves as we hope to be." Weldon, who knows his stuff, says that back in 1938, in Action Comics #1, in the panel that shows the world Superman for the first time, the legend appears, "Champion of the Oppressed."

DC Comics has turned over this champion to an oppressor, Weldon sighs. "It represents a fundamental misread of who the character is, and what he means. It is dispiriting. It is wearying. It is also, finally, not for me." He's not telling DC Comics Card must go, but he's out the door.

In 1990, five years after he published Ender's Game, Card wrote an essay, "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality," defending his church against homosexuals whose "highest allegiance" was to their sexual community. "One cannot serve two masters," he argued. "And when one's life is given over to one community that demands utter allegiance, it cannot be given to another. The LDS church is one such community. The homosexual community seems to be another. And when I read the statements of those who claim to be both LDS and homosexual, trying to persuade the former community to cease making their membership contingent upon abandoning the latter, I wonder if they realize that the price of such 'tolerance' would be, in the long run, the destruction of the Church."

I mourn the gift lost when the buggers were exterminated, the gift of being able to dream each other's dreams. Gay marriage is a fine dream, and Card mounts long, elaborate arguments that fall apart because he has no idea what and how Americans he's attacking are actually dreaming. He is Ender unawakened. It works both ways. I suppose if we could peer into the cauldron in which Card's faith, his politics, his principles, and his gift for fancification boil and bubble, some of his most horrified critics would give him a hug. But empathy among enemies is in tragically short supply.

So taught Ender's Game, a wonderful book.

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