Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The non-violent wargamer

A few weeks ago I took the plunge and became a Mennonite - the culmination of a six-month novice process where I was coached by my mentor (Kathy Thiessen) in "The Ways of the Mennonite". Basically this means I am now a member of tiny Wood Green Mennonite Church for whom my wife works part-time.

As part of my novice process I had to think very carefully about my attitudes to peace and war - the Mennonites are a historic peace church - and I came to the conclusion that a firm commitment to non-violence is required of anyone who claims to follow Jesus.

But wait a minute! What about all those wargames on your games shelf Peter?! And all those war movies on your DVD shelf? And all that military history on your bookshelf?

Well, I admit I am still more than a little in love with war and its mythology: Spitfires scrambling to fend off the Luftwaffe....Monty at Alamein....the squares at Waterloo....the English longbows at Agincourt.... I admire the military virtues: courage, comradeship, perseverance. And I am fascinated by the intellectual challenges of generalship, and the qualities of the great commanders of history.

And I love wargames. There is something viscerally compelling about playing a really great wargame (Breakout Normandy, Paths of Glory, War of the Ring, Up Front, to name a few) face-to-face with a genial but competitive opponent. Not sure I want to give that up, no matter how committed to non-violence I am.

"To depict is not to advocate" - that's one way I think I can square this circle. To enter imaginatively into the experience of other humans, even in extreme or violent circumstances, whether through books, movies, or games, may be to sympathize with their predicament, but does not necessarily involve condoning their actions. It would be fine (in my view), more than that, useful and constructive, for a pacifist to take a course in War Studies for example.

And so, with my copy of Twilight Struggle in one hand, and a CND newsletter in the other, bravely ignoring all internal contradictions, I proceed....


Anonymous said...

Great post Peter. I feel the same sort of conflicts.

Mikko said...

Indeed! I've had the same feelings. I chose to avoid the mandatory Finnish military service and choose the non-military option for several reasons, some of them moral. I did not wish to be trained as a tool of war.

Yet I have little trouble playing war games or enjoying things like Megazone. And for a pacifist to study the history of war - absolutely. Avoiding war altogether would mean to avoid a large part of human nature.

Actually, this is not that far from having leftist, socialist values and still enjoying ruthless capitalism in 18xx games...

But it's a good thing to think about these things, instead of just consuming war and violence without giving it a second thought.

Marty said...

Hi Peter,

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