I could demonstrate this in a number of ways. For example, Wellington responding along the lines of ‘By gad, so you have’ to a colleague’s exclamation ‘By gad, I’ve lost my leg’. Or Stan, the handyman on Victoria Wood’s ‘Dinner Ladies’ reporting that, after his mother had left his father in 1950-something ‘He didn’t cry until 1966, when Germany equalised’. On the whole, then, men are supposed, in western culture at least, not to show much emotion.
This is perhaps especially true in England, where the still upper lip is supposed to be the true aim of all true born Englishmen, and young boys are encouraged to ‘be a brave soldier’ when confronted with a broken arm, leg, train set or whatever.
This is all well and good, except that Kierkegaard teaches us that it cannot, in fact, be true. He observes that decisions, ultimately, have to be taken using emotions, which he describes as passions. The issue is this: We can continue debating and trying to discern the outcomes of the various choices before us for ever, if we choose. But, in normal life, we have to make a choice, a decision, and see what happens.
This is, in fact, one of the criticisms laid at the door of the ethical theory of utilitarianism, or consequentialism. The idea of utilitarianism is that you weigh up all the possible outcomes, and choose the one which maximises some measure of happiness or good for the most number of people. Firstly, of course, it is impossible to perform this sort of calculation in any way, shape or form. But secondly, we can keep analysing until the end of time before we actually decide which is of no use to anyone if we need to decide here and now whether the player was offside, or if we should vote for this or that political party.
Fortunately, human nature has been endowed with a function that allows it to make decisions and get on with living them out. We have hunches, or intuitions, of whatever we want to call them, make decisions, and get on with life, and the consequences of those decisions. We have to, or we would never get out of bed in the morning.
So, how does this play out in wargame terms?
We can, of course, sit in our armchairs by the fire with a pile of rules and army lists by our elbows, rationally contemplating which army we will build next. We can draw up lists, scour the catalogues of toy soldier makers to ensure that they produce figures with exactly the correct form of scabbard for the year we have in mind, sigh that the number of gaiter buttons is incorrect on all known figures, and write our orders (or ready them for email).
At this point, we have to decide. Is this army the army we want? Will it perform as we hope? Will we possess enough will power to paint it and get it on the table? All of these questions, and more, have to be answered in some way before we commit. And yet we do commit, quite easily. Not because we have analysed all possible combinations of soldiers and all the foes they are likely to meet, but because we feel that it is right to order. It will work, we will paint them and do battle with them and even, perhaps, win.
Similarly, on the wargame table, we have to make decisions. I have mentioned before that I do not really think that knowing the percentage chances of winning a given combat between two groups of soldiers is particularly useful, and this is why. A battle is much more complex than a combat between two different groups of soldiers. We might win the combat, by riding the skirmishers with our heavy cavalry, but that is not of much use if our heavy cavalry was, in fact, required on the left wing to exploit a momentary advantage, the neglect of which leads to our downfall.
The human mind, even in something as relatively simple as a wargame, thus needs to do a lot more than just thinking about the rational moves to be made. Firstly, we need to make some sort of decisions or, as I implied above, we will never have a wargame at all. But secondly, we need to assimilate so much information, so much about the content of a given situation on the table (even in a relatively simple wargame, such as DBA) that rationality cannot be the deciding factor in what we actually decide to do.
Now, this does not mean, as I hope I have said above, that we are actively irrational in our generalship. What it does mean is that we cannot afford, and in fact do not, analyse everything. Some situations are non-analysable in a reasonable time anyway. But mainly, we just have to get on with our decisions, backing our hunches, intuitions and judgements.
I believe that there is some recent work in psychology that suggests that we make decisions even before we actually become conscious of those decisions. I am not a psychologist, but I do suspect that the results need a bit of caution. Nevertheless, it does suggest that our rational decisions are not as rational as we might like to think, or, at least, that our rational deductions are, in the main, only there to justify our emotional response. Human decision making is a lot more complex that it appears.
The upshot of all this, of course, is that even to us stiff upper lip types, our emotions or passions are the only way we finally get to make decisions. Maybe, therefore, we can argue against those who wonder why grown-ups are immature enough to play with toy soldiers by suggesting that it is a sign of both intellectual and emotional maturity…