For my sins, I have been reading a bit about liberation theology. Now, before you all rush off in despair about the ‘t’ word, I just want to use some of the ideas (as I understand them) to try to critique some bits of wargaming. It probably will not work, but I might get a medal for trying. I did, in fact, ask a local radical feminist theologian to comment, but she just muttered something about even asking the question being patriarchal and then flounced off to wash her hair in a mass of contradictions.
The last sentence above is, of course, a feeble attempt at a joke, but does raise a more serious point. Liberation theology (or politics, for that matter) is something that looks very different from the global south than it does from the global north, and so my witterings here will be form the comfort of my middle class armchair, rather than a place where I cannot afford an armchair at all.
Be that as it may, it is possible to argue that wargaming and wargamers are attempting to live in a world dominated by the male and by aggression. This, of course, also includes science fiction and fantasy wargames, even if female characters are included in the games, the violence is still male generated. As wargamers, it could be said, we live in a fantasy where male violence is normative, and an acceptable way of resolving disputes.
Now, of course, historical gamers (and, I suspect, everyone else) can say ‘yes, agreed, but that is just the way it is’. At, to an extent, they would be correct in that. Warfare has been overwhelmingly the province of males, usually, in its organised form, ordered and undertaken by males, and the results of the wars have been related to male-dominated hierarchies of power. A historical wargame, therefore, is simply representing a past which was male dominated.
The problem with that (and I’m not convinced it is a real problem, but it is a possible argument) is that by re-enacting, in whatever form, such activities, we are attempting to relocate them into our worlds where, perhaps, the (post)modern male has much less power, much less of a monopoly of the means of violence. The reproduction of power dominant behaviour of the past is an attempt to legitimize similar efforts in the present.
On a similar line, it could be argued that colonial games are an effort by some citizens of a failed Empire (or a failing one, if one views the USA as such) to reclaim domination over the world. A colonial wargame is an attempt by a reactionary faction of the metropolitan state to recapture the days of power and glory, at the expense of the colonised, defeated and enslaved peoples of the world. In a colonial wargame, the argument might run, the aim is to re-enslave the native peoples of the land, to re-exploit their legacy.
Now, of course, I am not claiming that these arguments are valid, true or even useful, but I do think they might make us pause a little and consider what we are actually doing when we wargame. Naturally, the overriding activity is one of recreation. Wargaming is a hobby (at least, I guess, for more or less everyone who reads this blog). We play wargames for fun, for entertainment and for interest. There might be a few misguided wargamers out there who think that by winning a game they have humiliated their opponent, for example. I have heard of this sort of thing, but it is rare (fortunately).
But, despite this, there is a little nagging doubt as to our motivations. Our choice of wargame could be a political one, in the sense that our choice of, say, a British Expeditionary Force dispatched to Darkest Africa could be because we do, perhaps subconsciously, hark back to days of glory and daring do. Our interpretation of history might be something along the lines of ‘white rule was good for Africa’ and an attempt to justify that by re-enacting some aspect of it.
I do not think that this is the case, but I do think we, as a hobby, might need to be aware of it. By extension, the argument could be made, in a similar way, about those who insist on wargaming the Axis powers in World War Two and, if proven, the implications of that could be more unsettling yet.
From, as I said above, a global north perspective, this all seems fine and dandy. There are few issues, ethical, moral or political, about fighting colonial wargames or World War Two. From a global south view, however, things may not seem quite the same. World War Two could quite happily be dismissed as a European Civil War with unfortunate consequences for the rest of the world. A wargame based around the Warsaw Ghetto could be quite acceptable. A wargame based around, say, the Ashanti campaigns could be viewed very differently, however. For us, it is just another Victorian small war. For someone who is an Ashanti, it is likely to be much more than that.
It has been noted here occasionally that, for example, there are some bits of English history that do not tend to be wargamed. The bit of the Hundred Years War after the death of Edward II, for example, when the English lost decisively, is largely ignored. Similarly, the rest of the HYW after, say, the Siege of Orleans tends to be passed over in silence, at least until the glorious failures of the last couple of battles. Again, viewed from a global south (or even, in this instance, French) perspective, these eras of operation might be entirely acceptable and interesting.
Perhaps, then, it is just a matter of where you sit. If we accept that in principle anything is possibly wargamable, then it is only our perspective, our horizon, our prejudices and biases which limit the possibilities. This might suggest that, in fact, we should game those things that make us slightly uncomfortable.