My ponderings, if such they be, here over the last few weeks seem to have been rather all over the place, and so I think I will take the liberty of this post to try to sum them up a bit and forge such links as there may be between them.
Mostly, I have been considering history, in its application to wargaming. This has taken the form, more or less, of initially considering the historian and her work. More or less, we have to come to the conclusion that the historian approaches history through the lenses of his or her own time. Thus, in Peter Wilson’s tome on the Thirty Years War he observes that CV Wedgewood, in her volume on the war, was writing in the late 1930’s, and she may well have seen similarities between Hitler (an Austrian dictator) and Ferdinand. Certainly she is not very sympathetic to the latter. Of course, similar claims could also be for, say, Franco and Philip IV of Spain, but I do not think Wedgewood made such. Similarly, Wilson observes, post war Eastern European historians saw the war in terms of class conflict and economic issues. Being under a Marxist system they could scarcely see it any other way. In fact, it is quite possible that the histories written by such historians tells us more about the time of writing than the time written about.
So much, perhaps, for historiography, which as a subject I have never much liked. But the point is germane. Each historical age writes the history that it is interested in. Perhaps that is why it is quite difficult to move in the classics these days for studies in homosexuality in the Ancient World. It could be argued that the modern world is so interested in sex generally, and, perhaps, homosexuality in particular, that future historians are going to define our own societies as obsessed with the subject. Nevertheless, this is the history that we, as wargamers, are presented with by professional historians and the academy.
Now, it could, I suppose, be argued that we can do the same for military history. For example, the current arguments about the First World War could be arguments about whether it is right to go to war at all. The Germans always accused the British that they went to war over a piece of paper – the paper in question being the guarantee of Belgian neutrality. The British response was that Germany was a threat to civilisation. The ins and outs of this argument are really neither here nor there. But, given the present difficulties about military expenditure and military expeditions and the rights and wrongs of them, it is not, surely, a major step to suggest that arguments about WW1 fit in there, somewhere.
Do these sorts of arguments affect or inform wargaming at all? Insofar as a number of manufacturers are putting WW1 ranges out there, of course, the general interest in the topic does affect us. More models of the subjects, more rules, and so on probably means that more people wargame it, possibly read more about it and even, in some way, inform the public debate about the war. Perhaps too, although this would be incredibly difficult to prove, wargaming the war could inform us about how difficult it was to control a battle, to even find a way to advance in trench warfare on the Western front.
That suggestion brings us to another thread running through recent posts, which is something about what historians do when they research and write and, by analogy, what wargamers do when they wargame. It can be suggested that the job of the historian is to recreate in their own minds what happened in the period that they are researching, and to write it down to do a similar job in the reader’s minds. This is tricky and somewhat controversial (as far as anything in the philosophy of history is such), but I think it is possible to see what the argument shape is. In Thomist terms, the historian, through reading and imagination, creates in his own mind the phantasm of past, which is then available to him to have an insight into the past. Having thus examined it and judged it to be a true image of the past, it is then the historian’s task to pass that insight on.
So what about wargaming? Wargaming actually gives a physical model of a past event (given that the battle happened). Through it, as I am sure I have probably said before, we can try to obtain insights into how the battle went, or could have gone, something about the manifold of possibility available to the original participants.
Now, of course, wargaming is a fairly indirect method of trying to obtain historical insight, although it is probably no worse than some other methods of doing so. For example, writing a set of wargame rules forces the author to try to gather a full set of data about the troops, and to make reasonable assumption when this is not available. Now, this process could easily be accused of going beyond the historically known, but, on the other hand, it also highlights the fact that some things cannot be known but are, nevertheless, important to our understanding of a historical event. Knowing that we are ignorant is probably better than not knowing.
Finally, I think I am still trying to get a handle on the relationship between history and wargaming in, as it were, the round. Possibly I am looking in the wrong place. If all (or almost all) history is based around present assumptions and preoccupations, then perhaps we should look at those to understand our wargaming. As a brief example, consider the recent movement away from individually based model soldiers to grouped ones. Could this be, in some way, representative of a shift away from the individualism of the late Enlightenment to a postmodern acknowledgement of the relatedness of all humans to each other?
I do not intend, by the way, to try to answer that question any time soon, but do feel free to contribute your own suggestions.