Monday, 4 August 2014

Little Wars: The last chapter

On this day of all days, I am very much put in mind of the words written in 1913 by H G Wells in the last chapter of his book LITTLE WARS. The last paragraph is – in my opinion – truly prophetic.
I could go on now and tell of battles, copiously. In the memory of the one skirmish I have given I do but taste blood. I would like to go on, to a large, thick book. It would be an agreeable task. Since I am the chief inventor and practiser (so far) of Little Wars, there has fallen to me a disproportionate share of victories. But let me not boast. For the present, I have done all that I meant to do in this matter. It is for you, dear reader, now to get a floor, a friend, some soldiers and some guns, and show by a grovelling devotion your appreciation of this noble and beautiful gift of a limitless game that I have given you.

And if I might for a moment trumpet! How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing! Here is a homeopathic remedy for the imaginative strategist. Here is the premeditation, the thrill, the strain of accumulating victory or disaster – and no smashed nor sanguinary bodies, no shattered fine buildings nor devastated country sides, no petty cruelties, none of that awful universal boredom and embitterment, that tiresome delay or stoppage or embarrassment of every gracious, bold, sweet, and charming thing, that we who are old enough to remember a real modern war know to be the reality of belligerence. This world is for ample living; we want security and freedom; all of us in every country, except a few dull-witted, energetic bores, want to see the manhood of the world at something better than apeing the little lead toys our children buy in boxes. We want fine things made for mankind – splendid cities, open ways, more knowledge and power, and more and more and more – and so I offer my game, for a particular as well as a general end; and let us put this prancing monarch and that silly scare-monger, and these excitable "patriots", and those adventurers, and all the practitioners of Welt Politik, into one vast Temple of War, with cork carpets everywhere, and plenty of little trees and little houses to knock down, and cities and fortresses, and unlimited soldiers – tons, cellars-full – and let them lead their own lives there away from us.

My game is just as good as their game, and saner by reason of its size. Here is War, done down to rational proportions, and yet out of the way of mankind, even as our fathers turned human sacrifices into the eating of little images and symbolic mouthfuls. For my own part, I am prepared. I have nearly five hundred men, more than a score of guns, and I twirl my moustache and hurl defiance eastward from my home in Essex across the narrow seas. Not only eastward. I would conclude this little discourse with one other disconcerting and exasperating sentence for the admirers and practitioners of Big War. I have never yet met in little battle any military gentleman, any captain, major, colonel, general, or eminent commander, who did not presently get into difficulties and confusions among even the elementary rules of the Battle. You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.

Great War is at present, I am convinced, not only the most expensive game in the universe, but it is a game out of all proportion. Not only are the masses of men and material and suffering and inconvenience too monstrously big for reason, but – the available heads we have for it, are too small. That, I think, is the most pacific realisation conceivable, and Little War brings you to it as nothing else but Great War can do.

8 comments:

  1. I have long been a war gamer of the H.G. Wells School: something of a pacifist at heart. I have also long held the belief that War, as an instrument of policy, outlived its usefulness - such as it ever was - somewhere between 1789 and 1815. Violence uis the refuge of the incompetent, sayeth the Sage: well, globally, there is a whole deal of evidence of monumental incompetence for all to see.

    As for the war-mongers and sabre-rattlers and hawks among us: I don't believe they deserve to participate in this noble hobby. Perhaps deep down they know that.

    Cheers,
    Ion

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  2. Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

    I once attended a lecture where the speaker - an senior army officer - said that the primary function of an army was to prevent wars by deterring potential enemies from starting them, and that when they were unable to perform that function and a war started, they should be prepared to fight as hard as they could to end the war as quickly as they could.

    The concept of a 'just' war can be argued about at a philosophical level, and I would reluctantly agree that there are times when wars may have to be fought, but wargaming and - more importantly - the study of military history has taught me that they should only be fought when all other options have been exhausted.

    There has always been a difference between 'lovers of war' and 'lovers of wargaming', and like you I tend towards the latter rather than the former. I also suspect that the former do not last long in the hobby, and move on to other things when they discover that they cannot always win.

    If a war started, would I fight? If I had to ... but with more than a degree of reluctance. Would I fight as hard as I could? Yes, because i know that that is the quickest method to end the fighting.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. Bob,
    No one in his right mind would love war - for all the reasons stated so eloquently by HG Wells - but it is a fascinating subject to study.

    As Thomas Hardy has Spirit Sinister say in 'The Dynasts': 'War makes rattling good history, while Peace is but poor reading, so I back Buonaparte because of the pleasure he will give posterity.'

    In my opinion, indulging in a somewhat sanitised, miniature representation of war on the tabletop is little different - intellectually or morally - to
    enjoying a good murder mystery novel. Wargaming no more makes its practitioners into warmongers than Agatha Christie makes her readers into murderers.

    Have there ever been any protests about Cluedo making a game out of murder, I wonder?

    Regards,
    Arthur

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  4. Arthur1815,

    I think that William Tecumseh Sherman's quote is also applicable:

    There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all Hell.

    By studying military history (and it is rattling good history!) we gain some understanding of that Hell.

    Your comparison between wargaming/war and murder mysteries/murder is well made ... and as for Cleudo, well I always thought that it was a rubbish game and would be prepared to protest because of its poor game design rather than its subject.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  5. Bob,
    I think you are being rather harsh in dismissing Cluedo as 'a rubbish game' - though you would be perfectly justified in calling it a poor simulation of detective work or a police investigation.
    As a pure game it has many merits:
    Simplicity - even quite a young child can understand and follow the rules.
    Multiplay - the random dealing of the cards means that every scenario, within the overall constraints of the classic country house setting, will be different.
    Aesthetic appeal - the colourful gameboard, the illustrated cards and - at least in my copy - nicely modelled figures of the characters (which one could paint for an even better effect) are very attractive.
    Involvement - players have to play close attention to what others are doing to deduce their objectives, whilst trying to conceal their own, and can even use their turn to frustrate a rival by summoning him/her to a far distant part of the house to prevent them from reaching their destination/making a final accusation.
    Logical thinking - the game encourages children to devise methods to acquire the information they want by making accusations with only one unknown, rather than just asking questions at random.
    Adaptability - one could import the basic system in other settings; I'm working on a version in which players have to discover the cause of Napoleon's death (J'accuse Montholon in the library with the arsenic-dyed wallpaper!).
    It's good, clean family fun - provided you don't mind the murder theme - and hence it has survived as a classic boardgame.

    Regards,
    Arthur

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  6. Arthur1815,

    You may well be right ... but I have never played a game of Cluedo that I have enjoyed. It may well be that I played it with people who either took it too seriously or who did not know the rules, but whatever the reason, I did not enjoy the experience.

    The game board is useful, and Tom Mouat devised an excellent FIBUA game that used the Cluedo board. I enjoyed playing that!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Poignant now as then. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Sean,

    I thought that it was a particularly apposite comment for the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War,

    All the best,

    Bob

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