“In a very different subject-matter, Napoleon supplies us with an instance of a parallel genius in reasoning, by which he was enabled to look at things in his own province, and to interpret them truly, apparently without any ratiocinative media. ‘By long experience’, says Alison, ‘joined to great natural quickness and precision of eye, he had acquired the power of judging, with extraordinary accuracy, both of the amount of the enemiy’s force opposed to him in the field, and of the probable result of the movements, even the most complicated, going forward in the opposite armies… He looked around him for a little while with his telescope, and immediately formed a clear conception of the position, forces and intention of the whole hostile array. In this way he could, with surprising accuracy, calculate in a few minutes, according to what he could see of their formation and the extent of the ground which they occupied, the numerical force of armies of 60,000 to 80,000 men; and if their troops were at all scattered, he knew at once how long it would require for them to concentrate, and how many hours must elapse before they could make their attack.’” (Newman, J.H., An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, (2013 ) Assumption Press, p 219).
I have to confess, that that was a somewhat unexpected paragraph in Newman’s book for me, at least. In the passage in question and its surroundings, Newman is pondering the nature of genius. He observes before it that, for example, Newton had a tendency to simply write down answers to mathematical physical problems without working them out or proving them. It then took several generations for the rest of the academic community to catch up and prove that he was, in fact, right. I believe that someone once claimed (with what accuracy I am unsure) that for every time that the mathematician Carl Freidrich Gauss wrote ‘it is obvious that’ or ‘clearly it follows that’ or similar phrases, someone has obtained a PhD for showing it to be so.
Newman continues after the passage just quoted: “It is difficult to avoid calling such clear presentiments by the name of instinct; and I think they may so be called, if by instinct be understood, not a natural sense, one and the same in all, and incapable of cultivation, but a perception of facts without assignable media of perceiving.”
The problem is this: as ordinary human beings, we have little idea of how geniuses proceed, and, in general, cannot cope when they do. If Napoleon was a genius at warfare, it is little surprise that his opponents, no matter how competent, struggled to cope with his manoeuvers. Even Wellington was humbugged by the Corsican, even though the latter was not at his best during the Hundred Days. The fact that the Allies won and Napoleon lost was due more, perhaps, to Wellington’s planning and positioning of his forces during Waterloo, and the Prussian ability to support him than any military genius on their side.
All through history we can see military geniuses, alongside those in other fields, turning received wisdom upside down and winning battles, or solving problems, in ways that were thought impossible. On the military side was can name, for example, Marlbrough, Alexander, perhaps Caesar, Hannibal, Scipio and so on. Some others might be in the running as well, such as Gustavus Adolphus or Maurice of Nassau, but in general I am sure you can see my point. The geniuses were not coped with by the normal military institutions of the day. Until those institutions adapted to cope, victory went to the genius.
This then is a problem for wargaming. Unfortunately, few of us are geniuses; perhaps fortunately, most of us will never need to get involved in major warfare for real. But the problem is how we, as wargamers and wargame rule writers, can cope with these geniuses who upturn the conventional wisdom of warfare. For a set of wargame rules, almost by definition, must represent the normal, conventional warfare of the time.
There is an additional problem, of course, in that we have a splendid dose of hindsight to add to the mix. When Napoleon is facing the Allied army at Waterloo, we might want to explain to him the fact that most of the enemy army is over the ridge and a grand battery, no matter how grand, just is not going to cut the mustard. We also might like to point out that the army closing in on his right is not reinforcements but an army he thought were thoroughly beaten. Thus there is here a question of epistemology (to give it an overpoweringly posh name). Napoleon may not have known these things; somehow he had lost control of the campaign.
The issue is, in terms of wargame rules, firstly, that of course Napoleon, if he had been aware of these facts, might have taken different action, although the politics might have made this difficult. These are issues beyond a simple set of rules to deal with. But the real problem is, if I may call it such, the ontological one of genius. The being of a military genius on the battlefield cannot, I think, be handled as it is mostly by a ‘+2’ on the command rolls, or some other sort of fudge factor to enable the wargame to come out in a vaguely historical manner. The genius who can just ‘see’ the solution, the Marlbrough who marches half an army across the battlefield to obtain tactical surprise, cannot be subsumed within a simple addition to a command rule or radius. These rules and their fudging simply do not reflect the process of the genius winning the battle.
I do not think that there is in fact, any legislating for such genius. Firstly, even Napoleon had feet of clay, or at least had to odd off day on the battlefield. If we construct rules for military genius, then we would also have to construct rules for the genius not having had his morning coffee. And that way, I think, wargame rule writer’s madness lies. Secondly, genius is, well, genius. It tends to operate outside the box, which would mean, more or less, it might well operate outside the framework of the rules. And I cannot think of a rule set that can allow that.