Readers of relatively recent posts might have discerned a possible line of thought that wargames might be speaking into our current world, even if they actually refer to past events. We might be conditioned to look at past events through, as it were, the spectacles of the present. Actually identifying such wargames is a bit tricky, however. We are not blessed with hindsight into our present situation. So, what I want to consider is what such a wargame might look at.
Now, commentary on our present situation is quite a frequent topic in what I shall have to call cultural objects (because I do not have a better expression). For example, I believe there was a recent US film of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s ‘Eagle of the Ninth’. It was rather hard not to interpret the legionaries marching into Scotland, all mountains, unknown paths, uncertain natives and rarely seen enemies as an allegory of the US intervention in Afghanistan (and, it must be mentioned, slightly more subtle than the ‘ISIS fighters’ of recent posts). Now this itself has to be interpreted in some cultural matrix. For example, there is a strong strand of anti-imperialism in US culture and politics; it is also possible that the original novel was conceived and written in a different matrix that either today or the implied audience of the film. And so on. Interpretation of these sorts of things is never easy.
On a similar vein, history too can be infected by the curse of being contemporary and fashionable. In fact, in the UK, academic history has to make itself fashionable in order to survive. The demands of the Research Effectiveness Framework (or whatever it is called) demand that the public be both informed and able to understand the work as disseminated. It is possible that this is why we have seen so many Black Death graves being excavated. Everyone love a good, gory, epidemic, as long as it happened a long time ago.
On this theme, however, we do start to see some resonances with contemporary politics. I have somewhere a book about Cromwell and the Scots. Towards the end, having dealt with Dunbar, the invasion of England and Worcester, along with all the machinations of the factions and politics, the author remarks that he wrote the book, more or less as a warning against the Scots and the English self-defining as different nations again. As I recall, the volume was released with the first rumblings of the idea of the recent Scottish Independence Referendum. What would have happened if the vote had been ‘yes’? The implication is that things would not have gone well for the Scots, although probably rule by Major-Generals was not on the table.
And so we head to more or less wargaming territory, and ask the question what would a historical wargame with contemporary resonances look like? Mr Grice suggested that a wargame of the 1689 Siege of Derry/Londonderry might not play too well in, say, Belfast. That is a game of a historical event which is still very much in the current consciousness of some people. It is fairly obvious that it might offend or, possibly, outrage some folk. But is there a more allusive sort of game we could get away with without running those sorts of risk?
I suppose that the sort of thing I am looking for is a game which, in and of itself, raises no eyebrows, but might cause a thoughtful onlooker to ponder anew the sorts of things that are going on in the world. For example, the play and film ‘Children of a Lesser God’ was, on the surface, a love story between a teacher and a deaf girl. At a slightly deeper level it was about how we treat those people who are perceived to have disabilities. The teacher’s attempt to get the girl to say his name was an attempt to force her into his world, the world of the hearing, the normal world, rather than the equally valid world of the deaf.
So, I am looking for a wargame which it, itself, a good game, but which also can be conceived to have contemporary resonance. I have in the past suggested Alexander’s problems in Bactria as a paradigm for recent conflicts in Afghanistan, but how about something like a 1980’s Third World war in Europe. There are, shall we say, issues with Russia and the west / NATO. It is perhaps not beyond the bounds of possibility to envisage an invasion. How would NATO have fared in the Eighties? Would they do any better now?
Perhaps that one is too obvious. Maybe a Roman invasion of Britain scenario would have resonance with the debates over immigration in the current general election campaign. Perhaps a Spanish Civil War game would have a light or two to shine on the growth of the far right in today’s Europe. It is also possible (although I’m not convinced about this) that the ‘Very British Civil War’ stuff I see around, set in late 1930’s England featuring assorted factions, some of them far right, might be a reflection of modern politics. I am not sure because I suspect it is more to do with using that early war British stuff that otherwise rarely appears.
Of course, we can define our wargame to be about something. We can claim that the Roman invasion of Britain game is about imperialism and its brutality, or colonialism and its consequences. We could move on from there and point to a similarity between, say, the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq and post-Roman Britain. All sorts of warlords, weird sects, and military entrepreneurs and so on enter the scene as the superpower pulls out. The point of this, surely, would be to demonstrate that however it works out, the population will be the ones who suffer.
As I am sure you can tell, I do not have that many ideas along this line. My mind is not that of a dramatist or playwright. Perhaps you can do better in looking from this perspective than I.