Now, of course, in a true spirit of equitability, I am going to have a go at our use of models. I am going to contradict myself, even though I will claim, I imagine, before the end of the post that I am not really doing so. We shall see.
What possible problem could there be with using a model for a wargame?
Firstly, of course, I have already said that we actually have a large number of models interacting within our rules. We try to ignore the fact, and treat a set of rules as a single model, but the clue is in the name: a ‘set’ of rules. Each rule within a rule set constitutes a model, which is part of an overall process, a dynamic model, of a battle. Thus, the rule models which we have have to be made to work together.
But that is not, in many cases, the issue. What is the real issue here is the fact that while models are useful, and perhaps inevitable, in life as in wargaming, they do have a tendency to limit as well as assist our thinking. A model is an intellectual construct for thinking, for making things intelligible, but it is always limited, in the sense that a model is not the complete thing modelled, but an abstraction. A model, we hope, picks out the important bits of the thing modelled and allows us to concentrate our intellect upon it.
Now, as I said, this is all well and good and inevitable. We cannot hope to understand real life in any depth as a whole. The complexity would simply overwhelm us. A quick look at the history of science and philosophy (the two were, after all, only separated in the 17th century, or so. Newton wrote far more theology than he did physics (plus the fact that he was fairly close to being a heretic)) shows that attempting to understand the world via its details is more or less impossible. The big breakthroughs have come about when abstractions have become available.
For example, and to stick with Sir Isaac, gravity was a puzzle. It was thought, for example, that there was a force pushing down on a rock in the air which made it fall to earth. Alternatively, a rock fell because its natural place was at the centre of the universe, which was the centre of the Earth. The only thing that stopped the rock achieving its final goal was other bits of rock attempting to do the same thing.
This sort of issue, and an apparently unrelated one due to the motion of the planets, was resolved by Newton with a new abstraction, that of gravity, as a universal force. The fact that the details could be worked out mathematically and checked against empirical measurements was a bonus, of course, and launched all sorts of research and some fairly wild speculation. But the fact is that newton had proposed a new model of gravitational attraction, and it worked. The older, more concrete models were swept away in a matter of a century or so.
The thing is, however, that Newton’s models for the universe became a constraint on how people could think about how the universe worked. While the evidence mounted up, for example, that atoms were not billiard balls, and that the perihelion of Mercury did advance, physics was a bit constrained by the very success of the Newtonian system. It took a lot of work, brilliant thinking outside the box and some careful experiments before modern physics, of relativity and quantum mechanics, was accepted. Even then (and even now) people find these parts of physics hard to grapple with; the Newtonian model, because it refers to the scale of people and our perception, dies hard.
So, how does this affect our wargaming. As I have said, wargaming is about models, and systems of interacting models creating the whole rule set and dynamics of a battle. But if you look at most rule sets, including the ones I have written, then fall into distinct bits.
These models are fairly consistent across rule sets. We have a section for movement, a section for fighting, a section for morale. These are the basic models, and they are, excluding details, fairly similar. These rules constrain how we think about wargaming and, in all probability, have a normalising effect on how we think about battles. We can, and probably do, back project our views of, say, morale, onto an account of a battle.
Thus, the models which we have evolved in wargaming, in modelling a real battle, then constrain out thinking about that real battle. We find it more difficult to think outside the constructs of our intellect to find a different view of what happened, of how the world in fact works. The anomalies of battles which are not described by our rules and models are shelved, much as the anomalies of Victorian physics were shelved, until someone came along and incorporated them into a new scheme of models.
Now, of course, history is not physics. Models in physics are everywhere, and new experiments can offer new perspectives, while we only have one set of fairly dodgy data for our battles. But I do not think that that excuses us from looking for new models, new ways of understanding battles and gaining insights into them.
However, I will have to confess that I am not really sure how to go about this. But I do think that one thing is clear. We have to try to avoid basing our models on secondary sources, and go back to original descriptions of battles in the hunt for new explanations, new models. Secondary sources are, often, I think, based around an understanding of the battle which is similar to those we already have, and so will only reinforce our prejudices.