Saturday 26 March 2011

Just Wargaming?

As I write, military powers around the world are considering intervening in yet another country. One of the things that is slowing this down is the need for the proper authorisation of a military intervention. That is: who has the power to legitimately authorise the use of military force? Further questions follow: is the war to be fought with good intentions? Is the cause just? The airwaves and internet are full of such questions.

These ideas, and similar, are the cause of much controversy. I note, in passing, the much of the controversy over the invasion of Iraq was caused by them. Did the invaders have a legitimate cause? Who has the power to authorise the use of force? Were all other paths to resolution blocked? What were the intentions of the invaders? The answers to these questions from different individuals cause all sorts of political problems and demonstrations across the western world, at least.

Now, I’m not in the business here of discussing the rights and wrongs of military intervention in the modern world. But these issues draw attention to a tradition of ethics relating to war, which is known as the just war theory. The questions about intent and legitimacy referred to above are part of the tradition, and it is heavily ingrained in our debates about the use of military force; so much so that the debate is often entered into without the participants realising that they are so doing.

The just war tradition has a venerable history. In part, it derives from Judaeo-Christian principles, such as the laws of war in the Old Testament and Jesus’ sayings about taking up the sword in the new. Entwined with these are ideas from the classical Graeco-Roman world of Seneca and other stoics. The first real statements of the just war tradition were made by St Augustine in the early 5th century. A more systematic working of them (although still brief) was developed by St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century (Summa Theological II-II Q40). This was further worked out in the 16th and 17th centuries by Grotius and Suarez, and became the basis of the system we now know as international law. Hence the debate and questions about modern conflicts and interventions is still framed within just war traditions.

Is the just war tradition of any use to me in my quest for an ethic of wargaming?
The tradition divides neatly into two: just cause and just execution of war. The requirements of a just war are, roughly speaking, those set out above. The snag is, from the traditions point of view, that if one side is clearly just, the other side clearly isn’t. Thus, in a wargame, one player would be representing the just, the other the unjust. Surely, then, the ethical thing to do would be for the player playing the unjust side to, to use a chess term, resign. As I’m sure you can see, this would not make a terribly interesting wargame.

I think, therefore, the justness of the cause which our little lead men represent is not a good basis for selecting our battles. In historical, or historically related wargaming, the causes of the fighting are matters of brute historical fact. We may not approve of the ethics of the SS or the Assyrians, and I hope we do not, but the historical fact is that they fought in such-and-such battles and thereby need representing, if we are going to make any claim to historicity.

In terms of just execution of the fighting we might be on firmer ground. The just laws of war forbid, for example, deliberate targeting of civilians, the causing of unnecessary suffering to combatants and the use of proportional force. It is rather hard to imagine that a satisfying wargame could be fought where any of these rules were deliberately broken.

We may know, for example, that part of the success of the German offensive of May 1940 was due to terror bombing flooding the roads with refugees and thus inhibiting military movement, but we are unlikely to wish to devote our energies to modelling and representing this fact. We may wish to include it in our scenarios, with some comment that allied troops will appear at random due to the problems of transport, but we are unlikely to represent it directly.

So what conclusion can I draw from this? Overall, I do not think that the just war tradition is particularly useful in the pursuit of wargame ethics. It might give us some outer limits about what we wish to represent on the wargame table, but it is such a significant part of our tradition anyway, as noted above, that we are fairly unlikely to wish to do so anyway. The nastiness of warfare is best abstracted away in our games.

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