Ender’s Game is one of the greatest science-fiction novels ever written. Don’t let the mediocre 2013 movie version, which even Harrison Ford couldn’t save, fool you. There’s a reason the book (which came out in 1985) is on the suggested reading list by the Commandant of the Marine Corps University. Set a century or so in the future, the book describes how humanity barely survived an attack by intelligent insectoid aliens, then turned the tables and waged interstellar war to take the fight to the Formics, or “Buggers.” Desperate for innovative leadership, Earth starts training young boys and girls as soldiers and commanders–eventually producing Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a military genius who leads not just the defeat of the aliens, but (unwittingly) the destruction of their home planet and entire species.
Orson Scott Card, the author, wrote several sequels; but in recent years, he has worked with Aaron Johnston on several prequels. The latest, The Hive: Volume Two of the Second Formic War came out last month–and I read it in two days. The insights into warfare in these books are staggering (hence it making the USMCU reading list). One in particular in this latest volume struck me: “The first rule of war is to understand your enemy. Not just her supplies and weapons and objectives, everything we can see and calculate. But also her psyche, her motivations, her fears. Everything that is in her mind. For it is only in the pursuit of that understanding that armies can identify the enemy’s weakness and vulnerabilities” (p. 115). [“She” is used because the astute protagonists of the book correctly figured out–in the face of official military intelligence opposition–that the aliens were led, indeed controlled, by a Hive Queen.]
I observed something quite similar in a 2014 blogpost on my old website, which wound up in my book Sects, Lies and the Caliphate, pp. 145-146: “One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1972 atypical Western Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford. Johnson is a mountain man somewhere in the Rocky Mountains…in the mid-19th century, fighting the elements, bears, wolves and of course Indians…. At one point Johnson is asked to guide a U.S. Cavalry unit and a Protestant minister through a sacred Crow Indian burial ground, in order to relieve a band of trapped American settlers. Johnson replies that doing so could be dangerous because the area is “big medicine.” Reverend Lindquist sneers “you don’t believe that!?” To which the mountain man retorts “it doesn’t matter; THEY do!” Of course, Sun Tzu said much the same 2500 years ago: “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” And the Chinese strategist’s The Art of War is on the recommended reading list of the aforementioned USMCU, West Point and the Chief of Naval Operations.
Yet here we are, 18 years after Islamic terrorists carried out the worst attack on the US since Pearl Harbor, and much of the military brass (and even more of the intelligence community) still acts as if Islam has nothing to do with jihad. Just a few years ago the head of US Special Operations Command, MG (then) Michael Nagata, said regarding ISIS: “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.” More recently, in 2018, former Trump Administration National Security Adviser (and Army Lieutenant General) H.R. MacMaster stated that ISIS and other such terrorists were actually “irreligious criminals” who had “perverted” Islam. Such willful blindness, alas, did not end with the dhimmistic Obama Administration.
The first translation of the Qur’an into French, 1647; this was the basis of the first English translation, two years later. So for 370 years we’ve had the Muslim holy book available–yet some STILL don’t understand what motivates ISIS? [Source: Wikipedia, “Orientalism in Early Modern France.”]
President Trump, to his credit, bucks this trend–to a certain extent. In his administration’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism, Trump’s writer(s) at least mention “radical Islamist terrorism” some 16 times. Obama’s analogous document has only one reference to Islam at all–and that is to disparage al-Qa`idah as a “distorted interpretation” thereof (p. 3). This is why, in a long analysis of Trump’s NSCT, I refer to him as the one-eyed man being, nonetheless, king. Some grudging acknowledgement of reality is better than total blindness.
In the “Enderverse,” humans–and particularly the institution of CentCom, which heads the war defending Earth–must learn, first and foremost, to accept that one entity controls the invaders. In Jeremiah Johnson, the Army unit’s refusal to heed the warnings of the mountain man who understands, even if he does not agree with, the Crow Indians’ beliefs leads to death. (Watch the movie, if you’ve never done so). And as long as US government officials, military and civilian, insist that we can learn nothing about the psyche and mind of Muslim terrorists from the very sources they constantly proclaim as their authorities–the Qur’an, the Hadiths, the career of Muhammad, and Islam’s history of violence–we might continue to win battles, but we will not triumph in the overall war.