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by Jim Werbaneth
This issue of Line of Departure marks a first. The lead review is of Islamic State: Libya War. This is the first time that the magazine has covered a game from any generation of One Small Step, let alone one of its magazines. Secondly, this is Line of Departure’s first article looking at a game on the current conflict with the Islamic State. Call it that, or call it ISIS, ISIL or DAESH, as the game does throughout, this is a difficult enemy to fight, at once mustering a conventional army capable of attacking, and then defending against, regu-lar, national armies. At the same time, it calls to action ter-rorist cells and lone wolves, not to fight the likes of the Iraqi and Syrian governments, but to shoot up and run down the innocent, in Europe and America.
Just as fighting these characters poses challenges, so does simulating the struggle against them. Islamic State: Libya War is basically alone is trying to do this. The slow start in designing games on the subject runs parallel to the tardy recognition that this was indeed not the junior varsity of terrorist organizations, arrivistes of evil. The dangers posed by the Islamic State were recognized too late by the Obama administration, and countermeasures equally tardy and insufficient. It would be no wonder that wargame de-signers would be similarly late to discerning the nature of the enemy, and the war. Compare this to the stories of Jim Dunnigan designing Sinai at SPI, even as the Yom Kippur War raged. That kind of war was familiar, and could be seen as a sequel to World War II blitzkrieg.
As this issue discusses, Islamic State: Libya War looks at a new type of modern warfare. It is not quite mechanized conventional conflict, and much of it takes place in cities, rather than open ground. Nor is it anything like guerrilla and irregular warfare. It is something new.
The technology of those real and anticipated seventies conflicts still owed something to the Second World War. Israel went to war in 1967 with Shermans and Centurions, World War II-era tanks, albeit upgunned. Its infantry rode into battle in M3 halftracks. While there was a dawn of electronic warfare and precision guided munitions in Vietnam, and of course nuclear weapons, themselves of course dating back to World War II.
On a temporal level, our understanding of modern war-fare is also in flux. When many of us started wargaming in the early to mid-seventies, World War II was no more than about three decades in the past. Many of the veterans were not only still alive, but still in the prime of their careers. Some combatants were even still serving on active duty. The Second World War was a matter of memory, not just history.
Move forward to today. In 2017, we are now further away in time from the Falklands War than our younger, seventies selves were from World War II. The Vietnam generation is now increasingly in retirement and their elder years. As I tell my students, we will see the passage of the last World War II veteran in our lifetimes, just as we saw the loss of the last combatants from the Great War. That is a given. But what many do not realize is the veterans of the Korean War, the first “modern” American conflict to most wargamers, will follow shortly after their World War II comrades.
As a prematurely old professor, I might not be there for these historical events, but surely most of my students will be.
Judged in this context, it is clear that our old, seventies-era understanding of modern warfare as anything after World War II is obsolete. Just because an event occurred after the Second World War does not make it automatically “modern.” Modernity in warfare is a concept that is in continual flux. What was modern in Vietnam or the Arab-Israeli Wars is already in another era, one that soon will be seen as distant as those jerky silent movies of men in flat helmets marching Over There. We may not be quite to that point yet, but even now, these conflicts are not really modern.
So, what is the coming modern? First of all, the world is becoming more urbanized, and so will be war. Historically, warfare in cities has been something of an anomaly, with most conflict taking place in rural or even wilderness areas, punctuated by the occasional Stalingrad or Hue. But from the fall of Baghdad onward, Operation Iraqi Freedom was largely an urban war. One can expect that to be a pattern for the future, in which more wars will be essentially urban, with the battles in the farmlands and forests being the anomalies.
As wars move into the cities, the ranges at which enemies engage will be expand and contract. Precision guided munitions and drones, then the deployment of truly autono-mous weapons systems, will enable technologically-advanced combatants to engage enemies, even under cover and concealment, from ever-increasing distances. But for the grunts on the ground, the trend toward urban warfare will force them to engage at ranges that can be best described as up close and personal. This will entail not just changes in weapons and tactical doctrine, but culture as well. The Unit-ed States Marine Corps, for example, puts a premium on long range marksmanship, as every Marine is a rifleman. In time, the sort of marksmanship prized by the Marines, in which troops put metal on a target from hundreds of yards away, might be as useful as training in swordplay.
The experience of war, and its memories and trauma, will change. When I was in junior high school over forty years ago, a World War II veteran who taught history told us what it was like to kill a man on Okinawa. As a United States Army infantryman, he said he saw a group of Japanese soldiers. This teacher said that he raised his rifle first, got a good site picture, and put a shot into the man’s chest. He was able to look his target in the eye and saw the expression of fear in the face of the young Japanese soldier immediately before he died. I asked my teacher how he felt.
“I threw up,” was the answer.
While he was a rarity, as World War II soldiers rarely saw the enemy clearly, future soldiers will not have the luxury. We can expect war to involve a return to something close to ancient and medieval warfare, in which soldiers were close enough to smell what the enemy had for breakfast. Many more soldiers on all sides will have the experience of that history teacher from many years ago, looking the enemy in the eye, and remembering it for decades afterward.
Additionally, wars will follow the pattern laid out in William Lind’s The Four Generations of Modern War*. One of the predictions that Lind makes is that war will pass in part from the nation state, which has been the main player since the Treaty of Westphalia. Increasingly, combatants will include non-state actors, and as I tell my own military history students, those who reject the nation state altogether. Previously, irregular warfare has taken place in the context of the nation state, as movements from the Viet Cong to the PLO to the Bosnian Serbs have fought either to establish their own nation states, or join their countries to an existing one. By contrast, groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State fight in total rejection of the western, Westphalian concept of the nation state. Expect to see more of this.
On the other side, one can expect the coming generation of war to include non-state actors fighting on the side of western powers. Prostitution might be the world’s oldest profession, but the mercenary soldier has to be the second oldest. Call them mercenaries, call them soldiers of fortune, or security contractors, their use is already on the rise by western nation states. Outsourcing is not just a practice for private industry, but by governments as well, including the military.
Contractors offer their clients flexibility and cost-effectivness, and sometimes an off the shelf military power beyond homegrown means. They are not unmixed blessings though. My first brush with mercenaries occurred about six years ago, when I had two in one of my brick and mortar political science classes. Both were honorably discharged United States Army Rangers who then went to work for KBR. One talked about how much better the pay was in private practice. When I asked why they’d left all that money, they responded almost in unison: “I didn’t want to go to prison.”
Part of the flexibility of mercenaries is that they operate in a gray legal area, somewhere between the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the law of the jungle. Their status will continue to evolve for the modern environment as their use expands.
Similarly, game designers will be called upon to incorporate the new generation of mercenaries into future war-games. This will not just be a matter of evaluating firepower, but also doctrine and roles. Will future contractors fight to the death against non-state insurgents, considering the example of their predecessors killed and strung up at Fallujah in 2004? Or will they operate with strict rules of engagement based as much as their terms of employment as strategic considerations? Will they operate closer to the jungle than the UCMJ, and alienate local populations and governments? Will there be places where they cannot go and things that they cannot do, or will there be places that they can go, and missions that they undertake, barred to regular troops? At one time or another, and in one conflict or another, all will have to be considered.
Naturally too, following the example of Fallujah, there will be more encounters between such non-state, private enterprise soldiers and non-state, anti-nation state elements. By this reasoning, the likes of both the Islamic State and KBR are the future. They may not be the prime military actors, but they will be on the stage, in increasing frequency and importance. Thus the future does not just belong to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Islamic State; at least a share belongs to men such as Eric Prince and Blackwater.
All of this is largely missing from modern wargames of the past. The political context is almost, without exception, Westphalian, and the combatants are either fighting for or against a nation state, and sometimes both. Future games are likely to see a shift in which these have to share space with the forces of the fourth generation. So as war moves into a version, call it the fourth generation or War 4.0 or something else, so will wargaming.
*William S. Lind, The Four Generations of Modern War (Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2014) [Kindle Edition].
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