Saturday, 5 November 2011

Virtue Wargaming

Some of you are probably aware by now that I do some worrying about the ethics of wargaming. I’ve written a bit about utilitarianism and wargames, and somewhere in the system I’ve got a somewhat incoherent discussion about contractarian considerations.

In this piece, however, I’m going to consider an aspect of virtue ethics. This came about in a serendipitous way, while reading a book called ‘Working Virtue’ edited by P. L. Walker and P.J. Ivanhoe, which I got cheap a while ago. Anyway, within that is an essay by Nancy Sherman called ‘Virtue and a warrior’s anger’, which got me thinking a bit.

Now, Sherman argues that, often, soldiers in battle are, or get, angry. They are angry at seeing their comrades killed; angry at the political machinations which have meant that they have had to leave their homes and families to go into battle and, in some cases (e.g. peacekeeping) angry that they cannot intervene at some events. So there is a fair bit of anger flying around on the battlefield.

The Stoics argued that it was virtuous to abstain from anger. Their ideal sage was not angry; nothing should be able to anger him (they didn’t, I think, do ‘hers’). Anger inhibits reason, and the stoics prized reason above everything else. They also argued that if only external things anger us, and external things are only passing phenomena which will fade away, we shouldn’t let them upset us. There is quite a lot about that in Marcus Aurelius, by the way.

So, anger gets a thumbs down from the stoics. Indeed, Seneca argues that the horrors of war, both just and unjust conflict, are the work of unconstrained anger. Anger makes us irrational, and, while in an irrational state we can do things which, when returned to rationality, we regret or cannot believe we have done. These, then, are the states where real life atrocities occur.

Now, our toy soldiers are the perfect stoic warriors. They never get angry or carry out atrocities. They cannot behave in an irrational or dangerous manner. Thus, according to the stoics, they are, in some sense, the sages of the warrior world.

Further than this, our rules, in general, do not allow for our models to carry out atrocities. Most atrocities, after all, occur after the battle or off the battlefield. Many of the horrific things which have occurred in our world, such as the massacres on the Eastern Front in World War II, or those in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars have been carried out by rear echelon troops. That is not to say that front line troops have not carried out atrocities, but usually, in battle at least, they have other things to worry about.

Moving on a little further, then, atrocities and the situations which give rise to them are not modelled by our wargame rules. It is true that occasionally you might get rule sets with ‘unconditional advance’, but in general they are towards enemy troops or baggage trains which are deemed to be legitimate targets. Civilians are not involved unless in scenario specific terms.

Another factor to be considered is that our model soldiers are the perfect, chivalric, knights. They do not, as I’ve said, get angry, nor do they go looting or any other of the awful things that can happen in warfare. There are no violations of the codes of chivalry in our games; we do not wish to model them, and so they are put to one side.

Furthermore, there are no violations of the Western just war tradition in wargames. If we lay aside the Ius ad bellum criteria (requiring a just cause; it is a bit late for that when the armies are on the table), we can see that the Ius in bello (just means) criteria are adhered to. Our wargames have no hatred, greed or brutality in them. The games and actions in them are proportional to winning and avoid unnecessary suffering. The rules and conventions of war are followed and, as just discussed, violence to non-combatants is avoided.

So our wargames follow both the stoic ideal of non-anger and the Ius in bello criteria of the Western just war tradition. This is what we choose to model in our games. It does not have to be like that, of course. We could choose to model other aspects of conflict, such as the looting of the Royal baggage train after Naseby, including the murder of a load of ‘Irish’ (more probably Welsh speaking) women. But we choose not to.

Now, why do we choose to model only some aspects of warfare and not others? We could argue that what we do model are the important aspects of warfare: the battles themselves. It is here that the decisions are made and wars are won and lost. We could even suggest that, in history, most casualties from battles themselves have been during the pursuit, when one side has lost. Some rules (perhaps most, I’m not sure) stop at the point when the battle has clearly been lost and do not model the subsequent slaughter. I suppose that campaign games go down this route, and so a claim could be made that they are more realistic but less moral than standalone games.

However, the point is that from this stoic-virtue ethic point of view, what we model is perfectly moral and acceptable. The only slight problem remaining is the question of how we choose what we do model. That, perhaps, is where the true moral choices of wargaming are made, but that will have to wait for another time.

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