They go together really, don’t they? All this Hearts of Iron 2 slaughter has led me to that most honourable of late night activities, the Wikipedia Wander, and in this case I find myself trawling through the combat histories of the battleships I’m building. The Japanese involvement in world war 2 is famous primarily for its naval component, and there is something about naval conflict that is inestimably cruel and heartless. There is no tale of naval combat where someone rushes out of the trees and drags you back to your fellows; instead there is the tale of floating in the sea for hours waiting for a rescue that may never come; there is exposure or the horrible death by oil-fire or drowning. The iconic pictures of the naval engagements of world war 2 (in this post we see the famous Yamato, desperately manoeuvring to avoid her inevitable end) depict a loneliness and desperation in every way as cruel and inescapable as the scenes from the battle of Britain, in which the person in control of the camera relentlessly destroys their target plane, watching it shred into a thousand pieces far above the ground, its pilot doomed. But in the naval case it is not a single man who dies, but a whole village worth of people, sometimes trapped far out on the open ocean with nowhere to go but down. Or they are the Special Attack Squadron (kamikaze) of historical fame, whose fate is so coolly described in the histories of the war but so hotly contested, to such pointless end, at the time.
Of course, as nerds interested in wargames and role-playing games in the early 21st century, far removed from the military troubles of previous generations (at least, if we’re not Americans) we can afford to joke about and amuse ourselves with games set in this time and place, as I’m doing now with Hearts of Iron 2. We can “appreciate” the “realism” of the fantasy stories we read (such as those of Bernard Cornwell) which draw on these or other histories. But I think it’s good occasionally to reflect on how ultimately these tales that we enjoy playing in are built on something that is fundamentally completely and utterly wrong, usually of no value to those who instigate it, and completely destructive for the international order it intrudes upon. This is as true now for the “small” wars of Iraq (a million dead), Afghanistan (no one’s counting) or Libya, as it was of the unfathomable catastrophe that was world war 2. Rest assured I have every intention of nuking America (preferably Seattle, after they develop “advanced computers,” so I can pride myself on killing Bill Gates), but let’s not make any bones about it – these games we play are reflecting on a time whose repetition needs to be avoided at all costs.