Saturday, 8 October 2011

Keeping it all Together

In an attempt to explore some of the implications of Bennett’s taxonomy of levels of the organisation of conflict, referred to a few weeks ago, I thought I’d have a go at outlining what the implications of some of them might be for us, as wargamers.

This also relates somewhat to the discussion of a bit ago about whether the Academy and the work it produces was of any use to us as wargamers; indeed, whether the outcomes of academic studies ever reach beyond the ivory towers of universities.

I still think that answer to that question is, largely, no, or at least that academic studies often are not useful to wargamers and are frequently kept within academe anyway. However, I have referred here to a few academic works over the last year, so I thought I’d bring another one to your attention this time, while also trying to discuss the top level of Bennett’s analysis, that of the diplomatic and political organisation of war.

The paper in question is a fairly recent on: William Bulman, The Practice Of Politics: The English Civil War And The ‘Resolution’ Of Henrietta Maria And Charles I, Past & Present, 206, 43-79.

This immediately shows up a few problems with academic works. Firstly, they have boring titles, secondly, that they tend to the lengthy side and thirdly, you really need to be in a university to have ready access to the work. Be that as it may, I’ll now try to extract something interesting from the above for us as wargamers.

Anyone who knows anything about the English Civil War knows that on 14th June 1645 the royalist cause committed both military and political suicide at Naseby. Military suicide because the King’s Oxford army way defeated and the experienced infantry backbone scattered, killed or captured. Political suicide was caused by the capture of the royalist baggage, including a whole load of letters from the Queen, Henrietta Maria of France, to Charles I, and from him to her.

These letters were political dynamite, showing Charles to have been in negotiation with the Irish, French, Catholic and other dubious powers. They were rapidly published and, for many people, destroyed the idea that Charles could negotiate honestly. The rapid disintegration of the royal cause followed, at least in part, from this publication.

Now, obviously these letters are a source of information at a political and diplomatic level. Before the war broke out in 1642 Henrietta Maria had gone abroad to raise cash and buy arms for the royal cause. Before she left, the King and her decided on their policy for the war. Charles was to go to York, seize the munitions dump at Hull and raise an army, while the Queen was in the Netherlands pawning the crown jewels and buying arms.

This process, Bulman argues, was what the Queen meant when she referred to the ‘resolutions’ that the King had. This, he argues, was the manner of making political decisions when communications were poor. The overall policy was decided, at least in terms of its outcomes and immediate processes.

The actors on the ground then had to frame their activity in accordance with these resolutions, or they would firstly cause confusion, as other, remote, actors would not know of the change of plans and would act in accordance with the original resolutions in mind.

Secondly, and from the Queens perspective more importantly, the actor changing their minds would appear, and be represented in diplomatic correspondence and in the newsbooks as being unreliable and vacillating. From her perspective, trying to raise money, she needed the news from England to be consistent with the policy she was putting forward in trying to obtain loans. If it looked like the King was about to settle, or change his mind over some bit of policy, that action or perception of the action would make her job much more difficult.

Now, the King and Queen were in a bit of a difficult and unusual position in their correspondence. As the navy supported Parliament, they could not be sure that their letters would reach their destination, nor that they would not be deciphered when they were. Therefore, they could not change policy on the fly, as it were.

Thus, we see the importance of these resolutions. Policy was set, pretty well, until the parties could meet in council, face to face, and change them. Communications were too unreliable and vulnerable to interception to discuss policy and possible changes to it. Thus, royal policy was set, more or less, from the point at which Henrietta Maria left England in February 1642 until she met him again in July 1643, and again from 1644 onwards.

While Charles and Henrietta Maria were in perhaps a more awkward position than many, the outline above does point, I think, to something that we, in our communication rich world perhaps fail to take into account. It was very difficult to change policy when it had been set in motion. This is true, I think of all ages, but particularly before the advent of the turnpike roads in the eighteenth century.

Communications were slow and unreliable even over relatively limited areas of Europe. While newsbooks could be in Amsterdam in a week or so, private communications were more subject to loss or severe delay than a package of newsprint. The idea of resolution makes sense against that background.

As wargamers this means that we do need to be a bit careful. If a single mind is controlling everything, then adjustments to this force can immediately be taken into account by that one, even though no message could possibly have passed between them in that time. Our armies, and our campaigns and diplomacy, can become ahistorically well informed, with swift and uninterruptable communications.

I suppose, too, that this is what marks out an excellent general from the good ones. The excellent generals could read the land and the enemy and strike, while the good or average generals were still figuring out how to react to this even or that.

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