Issue 68 (Winter 2010)

First Strike, Over the Horizon: Coral Sea Introduces Players to The Second World War at Sea
by Jim Werbaneth

Going Home to Gaul: A Review of Caesar in Gaul
by Jim Werbaneth

Endgame on the Subcontinent: A Review of Showdown, From the Decision Games Folio Line
by LTC Robert G. Smith

Queen Victoria's Wars: The Sun Never Sets on Three Conflicts
by Jim Werbaneth

Coming Attractions: Developer's Notes to The Siege of Syracuse
by Jim Werbaneth


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The Bully Pulpit

by Jim Werbaneth

The newest Line of Departure is here.  There have been some changes recently, including new material uploaded to Line of Departure Online features; I am planning on adding more this year, and making it a vital site for wargame resources.

The world is changing too.  In February, the Arab world erupted in revolution.  To my eyes at least, it is reminiscent of 1989, and the collapse of European Communism.  One sees the upsurge of popular hostility against unpopular regimes, the same crises of legitimacy, and a very similar domino effect.  There are specific cases too that resemble, at least superficially, the events of twenty-two years ago; Egypt can be seen as close to a best-case scenario, with a relative minimum of violence, similar to Czechoslovakia, though without the charismatic, mobilizing presence of a leader corresponding to Václav Havel.  The worst case so far is Libya.  There, a paranoid monomaniac digs in, declares war against his own people, combines the nation-loathing brutality of Nicolae Ceausescu with the bunker mentality of Adolf Hitler, and the lunatic pronouncements of Charlie Sheen.

Hopefully, the rest of the revolutions will proceed better, with happier outcomes and events less lethal to those committed to liberty.

The ongoing Arab revolutions are significant for the world of wargaming.  At least since SPI published Sinai in 1973, wargaming's view of the conflict in the Middle East has been concerned mainly with conventional conflict between nation states, and especially the Arab-Israeli wars.  Others look at Desert Storm, and a very few the Iran-Iraq War, but everything seems to come back to tanks in the desert.

The revolutions of 2011 provide an entirely different, and unexpected, paradigm.  These conflicts are concentrated in the large cities, and the insurgents are not a military force, nor even civilians mobilized by political cadres, but citizens who, more or less spontaneously, rise up against their regimes.  One will not find a Che Guevara in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, but one will find a Mohamed Bouazizi.  Not a soldier or a committed revolutionary, he was a computer scientist unable to find a job; taking to selling vegetables to make ends meet, he was subjected to humiliating treatment by a policewoman.  In a state of despair and rage, he set himself on fire, fatally, and thus literally and figuratively provided the spark that lit the first of the Arab revolutions.

Conventional military power is equally irrelevant.  Hosni Mubarak had tanks and infantry to clear Tahrir Square and end the immediate threat to his regime.  Yet the army lacked the sanguine ruthlessness of Ghadafi's militias and mercenaries, and did no more to protect the regime than to watch.  When it was all said and done, the Egyptian army proved an agent of change, though it is not yet clear whether it was toward the road to democracy, or perhaps just a new military government, an authoritarian outcome in sad continuity from Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.

 My personal opinion is that there was no chance that the Egyptian army would ever move against the demonstrators.  The will to destroy simply was not there.  The army, and especially the enlisted soldiers, had closer connections with the Egyptian people than Ghadafi's hired guns to theirs, and I believe that had the order to shoot come down, the Egyptian soldiers probably would have mutinied.  By that scenario, neither senior nor junior officers could count on their troops to obey orders, even if those officers had the stomach to fire on the people; they might well have turned on their leaders.  Thus Mubarak's forces were at best for him bystanders, and at worst possible allies to the protesters, and well-armed ones at that.

A second change from the model of Middle Eastern warfare with which many gamers grew up is that this one is urban.  It is not a new change though; Operation Iraqi Freedom has been fought largely in urban areas, not the open fields in which American officers, military analysts, and wargame designers alike feel more comfortable.  Thus the revolutions of 2011 continue this trend, and take war from the deserts, where the tank reigns supreme, to the cities, where infantry and now civilian masses are the critical actors.

Wargame design is going to have to expand its perspective.  Battles on the model of Chinese Farm, the Valley of Tears, and 73 Easting are as likely as not to be simulated as historical exercises more than as harbingers of the future.  At the same time, Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi present challenges to designers: How can we simulate this year's revolutions, and then predict the course of similar future conflicts?  How does one simulate the actions of a populace without clear leaders or strong, centralized, and motivating ideology, other than pure discontent?  As with the urban environment itself, this is outside the comfort zone of those who want to make sense of the conflicts, and try to construct predictive models.

There is another problem too, one based on a more pleasant proposition.  It is possible that representative democracy will take hold in the Arab world.  That is not the bogus "rule of the masses" supposedly at the core of Ghadafi's rule, nor the "democratic" norms of Marxism and other dictatorships, which turn democracy into a sick joke.  The optimal outcome would be the emergence of real democracy, that is a regime with safeguards against the tyranny of the majority, and with the rule of law, equal protection, and an acceptance of basic rights as descending from a higher power or natural law, instead of something defined strictly by the state.  Because it is an ideal, it is not necessarily the most likely result.  Still, one can hope.

This ties in with a recurrent theme of history: Democracies do not, as a rule, go to war.  Should this hold true, then the emergence of true participatory democracies in the Arab world would dramatically lower the chances of renewed war with Israel, currently the Middle East's only fully-functioning democracy.

With that, we might be able to consign Arab-Israeli conflict to the same dustbin that holds war between France and Germany, or the United States and Great Britain.  Though making for poorer wargaming, preventing the design of titles such as Golan Heights 2045 or Clash of Desert Armor: T-110 vs. Schwarzkopf MBT.  But it would be a most happy outcome for all who have to live in the shadow of war in the Middle East.

The Bully Pulpit: Issue 67

The Bully Pulpit: Issue 66