I have mentioned before that one of the issues with wargaming is that, in essence, we expect every other culture to conduct war in a similar way to which Western European cultures. That is, if we accept some version of the ‘western way of war’, everyone else should conform to it.
Now, of course, as I am sure you can already discern, and which I have commented on before, this is deeply problematic in all sorts of ways. Firstly, it is disputable as to whether there is a western way of war at all. The expression derives from recent US historiography as is an argument that only western nations, deriving their views of warfare from the Greeks, seek decisive battles. The Greeks, the argument goes, developed this form of warfare to fit in with their agricultural year (given that most hoplites were farmers) and the relatively small cities could not sustain large numbers of troops for long periods, and so a decisive battle, the results of which were acknowledged on both sides, determined the outcome.
This view of warfare, the argument goes, was passed on through the Romans to the medieval nations (where practitioners included Edward I and Edward III) to the early modern state and hence into the western military culture. When the westerners went out into the world after 1492, they encountered different military cultures, most of which did not rate highly the decisive battle. Hence it took, say, the Aztecs a while to realise that the Conquistadors were not simply trying to gain military prowess, grab money and set themselves up as emperors. They really had come to do something else: conquer in western terms, although that entailed, of course, the other things as well.
I am fairly sure that we can see the flaws in the argument. Firstly, it was not just westerners who fought decisive battles. There were a fair number in other parts of the world such as Japan, China and India. People had been slaughtering each other quite happily for millennia in these places without so much as a by your leave from the west.
Similarly, there are parts of European history where battles were not particularly sought or, if they were, were not particularly decisive. For example, most of the battles of the English Civil War were not decisive, in that they did not determine outcomes of the war, often not even at a local level. As someone noted, the losers recruited their strength from local garrisons, the winners dissipated their strength into local garrisons, and so, with a few changes, the status quo ante was preserved. In fact, the ECW only moved to decisive status when there was an army sufficiently centrally controlled and supplied that it destroyed the opposing armies and garrisons without dissipating its strength. Even so, local histories record that the New Model Army was not the only force in the country, and local troops still played a major role.
Having digressed slightly, I will try to return to the main point. Cultures can fight wars without buying into western (Enlightenment) ways of conducting war. This does not preclude them from fighting battles, however, many of them in fact decisive. Thus we cannot simply take a model of western warfare of, say, the seventeenth century, and apply it to every other culture for which we can obtain some sort of ‘order of battle’.
However, I think I could argue that this is exactly what we do. Our models for warfare in the seventeenth century are largely based around western ways of warfare. The interactions of musket, pike and cavalry are the key elements to creating a successful set of wargame rules. And this is fine and dandy so long as we keep the rules restricted to the cultures and societies for which this was the way of war. It only becomes problematic when we extend the model to include other cultures which may have fought decisive battles, either among themselves or against ‘western’ armies, but which had a very different military culture.
These societies may not be as far away as we might think. There is a reasonable case for arguing that the societies on the Celtic fringe of Britain had a different way of way, one which lasted from the medieval period until the eighteenth century without that much change. The Irish and Scottish highland way of war was based, from sometime around the thirteenth century, on the heavy infantry with a large cutting weapon, either an axe or claymore. The charge of these infantry was the decisive point of the battle. The infantry either won big or lost big.
The point here is that the military class was not, as in most of the rest of Europe, based around the heavy cavalryman, the knight. While the battlefield power of the knight had been blunted by longbow and pike, the culture was still based around the idea of the cavalry charge. Neither Ireland nor Highland Scotland are particularly conducive to cavalry charges, and so this ideal was not part of the culture. The terrain and nature of the people were more conducive to hit and run tactics, skirmishing, and the final, decisive, charge.
The Irish and Highlanders chalked up a significant number of victories using these tactics. The whole of the Elizabethan Irish Wars were tied up in the English attempting to figure out how to deal with them. Similarly, Montrose’s campaigns in Scotland were successful, at least up until he was confronted with large numbers of professional soldiers. Bonnie Dundee’s charge, as well as those of the highlanders in the ’45 can be seen as the inheritors of the tradition. We can suggest that, as an alternative to western mainstream tactics, the “Highland Charge” was only superseded when the socket bayonet, mobile artillery and large scale logistics came into play, or (more contentiously) when the Irish and Highlanders attempted to adopt mainstream tactics.
The point here is that, at least on these views, the Celtic fringe armies cannot be subsumed within the mainstream western tradition, and hence need a model of their own. Most rule sets attempt to do this by adding bits to represent the armies, but this might be a ‘neo-colonialism’ of itself. To represent the logic of the Celtic armies, we need to develop specific models for them.