Monday, May 30, 2011

The End of Wars

On this Memorial Day weekend, I'm confident some gentle readers will stir themselves to check the computer.  Here in Canada we had last Monday off.  Since we never had a Civil War, it was necessary to venerate a dead English Monarch in order to give ourselves an excuse to sleep in on a Monday in May.  Dead monarchs, as it happens, produce less patriotic rhetoric in their wake than do the ends of brutal conflicts - but then, they cost much, much less.

All my campaigns begin in the year 1650.  The long-running campaign has just started into January, 1653, but I did just start another separate two weeks ago for some friends who had never had a chance to play D&D.  My reasons for picking that year are varied, and have much to do with there being colonies in the New World, with the restoration of Portugal to independence, the rise of the Dutch and the relative stability of India and China.  India in the last thousand years has never been really stable, but the Moghuls were at the height of their power and the boundaries in the north at least were set.  In China the Manchu Dynasty has been in power for all of 6 years, ending a thirty year war of conquest that deposed the Mings.

In Europe, the Thirty Years War has only just come to an end.  As a comparison for violence, passion, bumbling generals and destruction, it was a civil war that compares well with the American Civil War, the end of which brought about the establishment of today's holiday.  The German war lasted much longer, but only because it was a series of conflicts taking place in different parts of central Europe, all revolving around a similar motif - the justification to plunder those not of one's own chosen religious belief.

Specifically, Catholics plundering Protestants, Protestants plundering Catholics, and everyone plundering the Jews (the last was standard practice up until 60 years ago).

At various points between 1618 and 1648 various adventuring states or independent 'generals' raised armies and marched out to put right the question of whose religion was most just - proving in the process that religion is a wonderful justification for greed, gluttony, lust and wrath.  These invasions are today called 'Interventions.'

Except for brief periods of the warring period, there were no 'fronts' as we understand them in modern warfare.  Certain cities or towns were entered repeatedly by various forces identifying as Protestant or Catholic, either of which were prepared to execute citizens in the interest of accumulating gold or power.  Anything you can imagine your D&D players not being allowed to do was done abundantly.  The destruction amounted to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany alone.  The treaty ending the war was signed on October 24.  I could not find a holiday associated with it.

My choice in running the years after the war, rather than during it, allows for an understanding of tolerance towards religion in my campaign.  I quite like clerics.  Unlike many who are made uncomfortable by the injection of religion in a campaign, I enjoy the various aspects of social counsel and networking that clerics have available.  And I did not want to force a given religion on my players.  There is some intolerance that remains, but Europe did not fight another war on religion (nationalism became the rage) and the burning of heretics fell off.  So if a player wanted to play some religion that was very unpopular, it was possible in that enlightened age as they remained discrete.

Moreover, the need for reconstruction - in China as well - provides lots of opportunity for players who wish to be upwardly mobile to move into desolated areas such as Brandenburg or Bohemia.

Why it should matter that a particular period in history is suitable for my campaign must seem strange to some people.  After all, it is fantasy, why not simply rework the circumstances to fit exactly what I want?  I think in answer to that I must say that I am not capable of reproducing out of my mind the complexity and value added to my campaign by real historical sources.  By having a set period, and adhering to that period, my campaign is aided by the thousands of letters, details, crises, diplomatic events and circumstances which were naturally produced by that time.  Any given part of the world can be examined for my benefit to see who is fighting whom, what they are fighting over and what is the likely result - enabling me to present these details to the players as though they are current affairs.  And if my players choose to pick up a book or two about the time period and learn themselves, I am flexible enough to change my perspective to suit what they have learned.  I would rather allow a third-party source (even when offered to me by a player) to set the course of events than to rely on my own 20th century habits.

If the gentle reader can understand, I am not varied enough in my experience, nor varied enough in my imagination, to account for all the parts of the world that exist in my world.  But books and accounts that exist ARE.  But I am not enough of an investigator to read all those accounts myself, so I welcome others who are willing to pitch in and help, even if that means changing a long-held belief about how a particular aspect of my world works ... if the written accounts of the period prove me wrong.

Is it not a better system when the basis for that system does not rest in the hands of a single individual?

But I had better address a likely contention, namely this post here, specifically with reference to the words, "I decide."  Of the rules that I lay out, as described on that post, this that I have described on this post is one.  It is a rule that I myself adhere to that relevant material from the time period in question must - within certain D&D established premises - must be accorded respect.  It is my world ... and it is the greater world too, which I do respect, and bend my world towards.  Provide me the document, and I will see what I can do.  It can be frustrating for me ... but it is ultimately rewarding, too, since I learn every time it happens.

I leave the American gentle reader with this postscript: that while it is understandable to celebrate the strength and beauty of one's country, the devastation wrought by war is something that should encourage tolerance, and not intolerance.  The men who established the recognition of this day in 1865 had only just seen the results of partisanship taken to its logical conclusion - the systematic murder of brother against brother and father against son that is war.  The continued identification with any set of beliefs without an open mind can lead to no other event.  Thus, on this day, in remembering that men died for your country, please remember also that they would have much rather have lived for their country, and that living would have been made possible with less certainty about how any one group has the right to rule over any other group.


Big Rob said...

Today, Americans take time to remember their war dead. We are allowed to bestow honor and glory upon them. Long live their memories.

Ben Brooks said...

Glory is what governments and rulers bestow on soldiers to make the people feel good about whatever conflict they want to push. If you want to honor someone's memory, learn from the mistakes and shenanigans that lead to their deaths and try your best not to repeat them.

I think if we here in America wanted Memorial Day to actually mean something we should be taking the day to teach the population how to be more rational and involved citizens.

Knowing more history would be a good start. :)

MiniatureWargaming Editor said...

I'm curious. How do you Canadians categorize the rebellions of 1837 - 1839, 1869-1870 and 1885? I think by definition they were Civil Wars, involving one part of the populace fighting against the established government.

Alexis said...

We learn of the 1837 rebellions (they both took place in '37, a French one and and English one, for different reasons) in school, but most Canadians are indifferent or unaware, or in any case consider those things to have happened to the British Empire (not so strangly, they completely coopt the British successes in the War of 1812).

Louis Riel in 1870 and 1885 are VERY, very important to the Metis of this country, but despite forty years of national propaganda the subject matter has failed to take root in the average Canadian's psyche. The Metis here are a badly treated minority, not given much consideration all around by the English or the French. In any case, neither one of those rebellions resulted in 600 thousand dead, and both were settled within a couple of months. The 1885 rebellion was actually settled in a few days, but it took months for the troops to actually reach Northern Saskatchewan - which was Riel's plan, believing that the government wouldn't actually bother.

Canadians, when they get really patriotic about war, usually think of the First World War first, and the Second World War second. As Memorial Day was established to respect the end of the Civil War, Remembrance Day was established to respect the end of WWI. Here in Canada, like the U.S. today, war is backhandedly praised, with much more rhetoric about the fallen dead's sacrifice than about the sacrifice of the living. I shall never understand, nor appreciate, how it is that dead bodies sanctify atrocities. Yes, boys and men allowed themselves to be sacrificed for a country - why is it we spend so much time talking about the greatness of the personal sacrifice, and so little time talking about the criminality of the general sacrifice?

Big Rob said...

I am a vet (non combat), and from a vet family (WW2, Vietnam, Gulf) and all the vets I know that fought in wars believe in honor and all say they are willing to do it again. I think we should listen to them. They say be proud of them and honor their memory.

Alexis said...

Willing to do it again, or wanting to do it again? Big Rob, you have my respect, and I will respect an answer: Does it do a man proud to fight a war that does not need to be fought?

Consider, please, that I have some experience with this, in that my fighting spirit is derided for being aggressive and abusive. Does the flag of a country unquestionably make aggression and abuse holy? Or are we as citizens of the world responsible for standing up and saying no, I will not kill or die for this cause, until the cause be proved to me to be just?

Does your nation hold you accountable for a blank cheque because you are - or were - a soldier?

Big Rob said...

I don't know. I never had anyone try to kill me. I never killed anyone. I never watched a friend be killed in front of me. I may never truly know where the come from. I won't pretend that I do. But I know many a gentle man who has experienced some of the worst atrocities a man can go through back when they were still "kids", and decades later they still shed a tear and hold their heads high. They speak of honor, so I listen.

MiniatureWargaming Editor said...

Still doesn't answer my question. From a Canadian point of view, were they "Civil Wars" (however short), or simply the subjugation of bothersome minorities?

Alexis said...

Oh no, they're 'rebellions' and always referred to with that word.

Tedankhamen said...

Memorial Day is sadder for us Newfies, seeing as we remember the atrocious use of Newfoundland troops like the Blue Putees in WWI battles such as Beaumont Hamel and The Somme. The Newfoundland Regiment suffered an estimated 95% casualty rate while British officers could go back to London on the weekends. This decimation of the young men of Newfoundland and Britain's rapacious clamoring for the repayment of debts the Republic of Newfoundland undertook to protect 'the Mother country' led to the usurpation of our government in the 1930s and our joining of Canada in 1949.

Ben Brooks said...

@Big Rob: I don't mean to be confrontational or anything, but you kinda sound like a recruiting brochure.

Brotherhood, honor, duty, patriotism, glory, and so on and so forth are all well and good when you want to motivate people. However they have nothing at all to do with war and it's motivations; most of which revolves around territorial disputes, pride, and greed.

Not that soldiers are stainless angels either. Knowing what I do of human nature and history I just can't think of warriors/soldiers as anything other than regular people. With all the positive and negative aspects that implies, and it's just not within me personally to ever go lockstep with the propaganda about soldiers being noble, "the best and brightest", or whatever.

Even more so because of that propaganda's long history of being cynically manipulated by those in power. Who has the guts to gainsay the home team and face the inevitable emotional backlash?

MiniatureWargaming Editor said...

How, exactly was the US (and Canadian, for that matter) involvement in the Second World War a matter of territorial disputes, pride and greed? Those wars (and others) were fought to defend against tyranny.

My wife is a veteran of Desert Storm, and we are proud of her service (officer, combat nurse). Twenty years later, she still has a duffel bag with her kit in the basement, in case she's called again. Ad she WOULD go again. For us, these memorial and veterans days are very significant.

I don't think that those of us who have not been in the service will ever really understand the emotions of those who were.

Big Rob said...

I never said wars were honorable. The men and women who answered the call are. I've worked with many vets from Vietnam (a very controversial war), and the justification of that war was never an issue with them. They get there honor from their own actions. It's what you do with the hand that life deals that counts. They were all just "regular people".

The U.S. Memorial Day is not a celebration of war, but a day of remembrance of our war dead. My wife is of Canadian descent and her grandfather is listed in the Book of Remembrance (France, 1944). You remember your war dead with honor.

As I said before, those that actually fought in wars are the ones I listen to. They all speak of honor.

Big Rob said...

That's why on Memorial Day, July 4th, etc. vets aren't marching in "PROTEST", but with pride, and carrying American flags.

They're the experts.

Alexis said...

It is very important that this discussion does not become personal. I will remove any comments which become unnecessarily dismissive or directly insulting.

Ben Brooks, I have many times stood against the wind, often in public in front of many hundreds of people. I have found from experience that there is more room for legitimate discussion about the military in Canada.

Miniature, while I recognize that your perspective is that of the victors, but the motivations behind the German state were certainly territorial disputes, pride and greed. Please understand that in this conversation, the matter of war and its participants is not measured only by the American involvement, but by the involvement of everyone who has ever picked up a gun. I will remind you that while most Americans, Canadians, British, French, Poles, Russians and so on did fight for noble reasons, many of the corporations and governments of those countries greedily scraped wealth and power off the top of the Allied War effort. Both sides profited from that war, and neither side is pure as the driven snow.

Big Rob, please do not suggest that I am not also an expert in honor. I, too, have fought my wars and I, too, have stood up for things I have believed in. That I have not been trained by a state to use a gun does not diminish my equal value as a human being. Soldiers are not "more equal" than I am. They are equal to exactly the same degree.

Big Rob said...

Didn't mean anything at all by it. :)

Alexis said...

Please Big Rob, don't misunderstand me. I, too, respect a soldier, and what a soldier stands for. They are a weapon and they tend to be, with certain exceptions, the most upstanding citizens. I question only how a state chooses to use that weapon, but I do not question the value, intrinsic importance or worthiness of the individual. As long as it is understood that worthiness may be found anywhere, you will not find anyone more respectful of a soldier than I.

Big Rob said...

I agree 100%.

Blair said...

The civilians that were casualties of war deserve our honor and respect as well.

It may be naive, it may be idealistic, but all people should be working for a world and a future without war, for the sake of all people living, yet unborn, and those who did sacrifice their lives in past conflicts.

Ben Brooks said...

MiniatureWargaming Editor: "I don't think that those of us who have not been in the service will ever really understand the emotions of those who were."

I've always found that sentiment to be very condescending. Most people don't understand what it's like to be at war not because they are incapable of it, they just don't WANT to. That's just how people are an unfortunate amount of the time, and it's something I'd like to see changed.

It's not like civilians are alone in this either. Some of the reporting that incensed me most about the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq where about how veterans and soldiers in the field where being treated by the military itself. Mostly the disgraceful state of some military hospitals and attitude of some officers that PTSD doesn't exist and that soldiers showing symptoms just needed to "man up".

There's also the fun case of conservatives crying about supporting the troops while simultaneously trying to cut veteran's services...

Perhaps this argument has come out of different definitions of honor. I expect current and former soldiers to be treated fairly and with empathy, but with the understanding that they are just people.

Consider it a character flaw if you must, but I find nationalism and the support thereof distasteful and misguided knowing how easily it is abused.

Or do we consider the Wehrmacht (since WWII and flag waving pride were brought up) the noble and heroic defenders of the German people? The case could be made, especially when the Red Army started pushing them back into eastern and central Europe late in the war.

What about the Crusaders, the Indian Fighters, the Golden Horde? Do we honor them equally? They all fought for what they believed in, where heroes to their people, and where the scourge of those they fought.

I'm sure I could go on and on, but I've gone on a bit too long and I think you get what I mean. I'm not prepared to think of America as the shining city on the hill and it's defenders as angels to be idolized. Or demons to be despised for that matter.

Ben Brooks said...

Blair: "The civilians that were casualties of war deserve our honor and respect as well."

Indeed. I think it says something about America that we've replaced the original meaning of Memorial Day with hero worship and patriotism.