I mentioned last time how I find wargame shows slightly discouraging. Part of that, I think, is the rather similar language that I have heard at every show since I was, well, not quite a nipper, but since my parents could trust me not to get lost or kidnapped.
It is not a specific language that disheartens me, but a use of concepts and ideas which are very general. So, for example, I have heard one wargamer, enthused by some new models, say to another ‘Aren’t those Waffaduet infantry lovely?’ His colleague replies along the lines ‘Yes, but under army list N or rules M, they only count as irregular infantry, minor weapons, scarperers, so they are not worth anything.’ Or words to that effect.
I am not trying to change either the wargamer or his colleague. Each, after all, to their own. But the language of wargaming is such that these sorts of generalisations are a problem. Under rules M, the Waffaduvet might be fairly useless, but there seems, to say the least, a bit of a lack of critical thinking going on here. What evidence, for example, is there that the author of rules M is correct in their assessment of the Waffaduvet infantry? To simply accept the author’s assessment is, of course, the line of least resistance, but does not say a lot for the wargamer’s independent thinking.
I have noted before that very general sets of rules have their place, but should not be mistaken for sets of rules that actually aim to reproduce warfare from a certain time and place. History has not confined all troops to fit into certain categories for the convenience of wargamers. Nor, incidentally, has history created a nice points system to add up the relative strengths of the troops on each side to create a nice, balanced game. History in general and generals in particular, are not searching for nice balanced battles where either side can win.
But to listen to some of the language that wargamers use, you might be forgiven supposing that all troops armed with a pointy stick could be classified as ‘spearmen’, or that Napoleon and Wellington disposed of 400 army points worth of troops at Waterloo, only to have their nice even match disturbed by those pesky Prussians. It is also possible that wargamers might believe (or at least argue) that Napoleon or Hitler could have conquered Russia, if only the winter had held off a bit longer.
This latter point has two responses, of course. The first is that it is possible that either could have conquered Russia, but the nature of that probability has to be understood. Like winning a national lottery, the chances are remote, but non-zero. Of course, being human and therefore irrepressibly optimistic, a non-zero chance is still a chance, isn’t it? Taking a leaf from my thermodynamics days, there is a chance that all the molecules in the room you are sitting in will be gathered into the corner furthest from you. Fortunately for your ability to breathe air, that chance is tiny, albeit non-zero. Napoleon conquering Russia is, possibly, slightly higher than that, but is still, in absolute terms, pretty near ‘not going to happen’.
The other comment of course is Monty’s ‘Third Law of Warfare’: don’t start a land war in Asia.
Of course, we can argue quite successfully, that as wargamers were are not interested in this grand scale of things. We can focus on (as Ruraigh suggested) much smaller level encounters and still enjoy wargames. And that is, of course, right. Most companies of infantry in Russia were not really interested in the grand play of strategy, but just wanted to survive this battle, find some food, not get shot for desertion, look after their buddies and get home safely. This is, perhaps, the human focus that as humans ourselves, we can understand. After all, the great epics of literature develop their themes by placing individuals in the sweep of history. This is the case in, for example ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as well as, I believe ‘War and Peace’. The prevalence of human interest stories in the news could be produced as further evidence.
So, we come back to language, or at least, that part of language which holds the tension between the human and the big picture. Do we speak of the decisions of generals in throwing that brigade against that fortification? Do we speak of the struggles and sufferings of the men of that platoon as they struggle towards the target which has been assigned to them by a remote authority? It would seem that we cannot do both.
We can, of course, drill down through the layers. We can start with the big picture, the strategy, move from there through the grand tactical, the tactical, the unit, the sub unit and their activities and so on down to the individual and the hedge he is hiding behind. But we do not seem to be able to, either logically or linguistically, inhabit all these worlds at once. I can draw on the individual’s diary for building a picture of the overall battle, but that individual has a limited viewpoint and involvement with the bigger picture.
I suppose, then, that the language of wargaming is stratified, and this perhaps explains why I have a bit of difficulty with wargaming World War Two. In my stratification, a tank is a major asset and should be represented as such on the table. This is a view from the bottom. For a section of infantry under fire, a tank would be a major asset. From above, the general’s view, a tank brigade is a major asset. The individual vehicles are less so. From somewhere in the middle, of course, a squadron of tanks might be the right level, or a tank of two could be detached to support infantry under pressure.
And so I seem to have rambled my way around to suggesting that what is, perhaps, most important is the language we use to speak about wargaming. For ancient battles, I like to speak about armies. For more recent conflicts I seem to like to talk about individuals. I dare say that if I had the slightest idea way, I would have a far better understanding of myself than I do.