Of course, the first problem is to describe what ‘postmodern’ is. However, there is little general agreement over that, even. Some would call postmodern late modern, seeing it as standing in continuity with modern thought, springing from the Enlightenment. Some emphasise the differences. In the final analysis, it seems to me, the question is about how we find truth and the sort of thing that truth is perceived to be.
Now, this is all linked into texts, and the way we read texts. The modern way of reading a text was to look for answers to specific questions and decide whether the answers found were true or false. This is particularly pertinent to interrogating ancient texts.
For example, people read the first chapter or so of an archetypal ancient text, the Book of Genesis and find that it describes the world being created in seven days. They consider this text in the light of modern scientific theories and evidence, and decide that the two are incompatible, because both cannot be true. Therefore they either reject creation or they reject scientific theories of origins. But this rejection is because of the modernist questions asked of the text.
Incidentally, one of the interesting things about this is that creationists, while claiming to be holding on to a traditional interpretation of the text, are, in fact, a product of modernism just as much as the scientific atheists are (and possibly more so, but I digress). I do not suppose that they would be particularly happy to learn that.
The wargamer, too, addresses the texts with modernist questions. We do not particularly want to learn about Thucydides’ moral view of warfare and the decline of the heroic ideal, or Herodotus’ account of the inversions and marvels he had found (or been told about) on his travels. We want to know about numbers of soldiers, equipment, tactics and ranges. We approach the texts with these questions in mind and, on the whole, do not find satisfactory answers to our modernist questions.
One response to this is the argue that just because the text does not satisfy modernist questions about being true or false, that the text is useless. For example, many argue that the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis was never designed to be read as a scientific text; it was never meant to answer the sorts of questions that modernists (even creationists) ask of it. This is not, by the way, a recent phenomenon. St Augustine, writing in the fourth century, had already realised that the chapters of Genesis could not be literal; but a lot of modernists have missed that.
This then relates quite closely to a problem I described a while ago, to be found at: http://ancientrules.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/ancient-wargaming-and-sacred-cows.html
As I noted there, we have a tendency to pick on a given comment about the relative range of bows, in this case, and ignore the rest of the text. Unfortunately, the rest of the text is crucial for understanding the particular comment we are interested in. If we had not, in that case, read the rest of Tacitus and situated him in his context, that is, at least, in Rome about seventy five years after the events he described, we would never have become even slightly suspicious about the comments he made about the battle.
I suppose the ultimate in the modernist approach to ancient texts are those digests which simply snip out the bits from the classical texts about battles and warfare, and put those into a book and sell it to people, claiming that this is the ancient view of warfare. It cannot be, because the accounts of battles and so on are only a part of the authorial aim in the work, and cannot be properly understood without the rest of the text.
What, then can we do? Unless we exhibit a degree of care, we shall stump ourselves and be unable to interpret a single piece of evidence to write wargame rules with.
Firstly, I think that, as wargamers, we need to read the whole of our texts. Some of them may well be dreadfully boring, of course, but even the boring bits help to pad out our understanding of what the author was up to. Secondly, we can try to forget our modernist questions and to accept the author was trying to convey some truth, even if it is a truth that does not fit happily within our conception of truth, where, often truth is thought to be ‘scientific truth’ (whatever that might be) which is, therefore, open to the modernist question of truth or falsehood.
Thirdly, I think we do need to break away from the idea that ‘one size fits all’, or at least a large chunk of history can be represented by a single set of rules, perhaps with some extras bolted on. If we are going to do anything like justice to the evidence we have gleaned from our authors, we need to tackle the texts as they are written, and hence create our rule sets to match. Hoplites are hoplites, not some sort of generic ‘spearmen’. As citizens of Greek city states they had outlooks, values and beliefs that should be respected, which were different from, say, Saxon fryd or Italian city militia.
How should this respect for the worldview be undertaken? Well, I think that we have to conform our rules to what is there in the text, not the other way around. At the simplest level, let us call our hoplites ‘hoplites’, not pretend that they fit into some broader category of universal soldier.
Finally, perhaps, we should stop sending our hoplites against armies of Aztecs and pretending that the result has anything at all to do with history.