The View From the Bunker – What is it About the Second World War?

By Jeff Ward 15 Apr 2015 0

My favorite editor Nik and I were engaged in a brief email conversation when we somehow slid into the subject of our compatriots’ apparent obsession with World War II. The funny thing was, though I really hadn’t thought about that possibility prior to our exchange, the idea utterly intrigued me! 

So I thought I’d apply my massive investigative journalistic skills towards determining if such an infatuation actually existed. Did we wargamers harbor a particular fascination for the last global conflagration? 

And, lo and behold, after applying a little elementary school mathematics, I think Mr. Gaukroger is certainly onto something! Because when you tally the Matrix website titles by era, here’s exactly what you’ll come up with: 

  • 23 Ancient titles 
  • 8 Medieval games 
  • 9 Age of Musket offerings 
  • 8 Napoleonic titles 
  • 14 Civil War simulations (one of which covers the Spanish Civil War) 
  • 6 World War I games 
  • 7 Modern Warfare simulations, and wait for it! 
  • 83 World War II titles 

 

 

The fact that there are more Second World War offerings than all the others combined is something we psychology majors like to refer to as “statistically significant!” I was also surprised that the Ancient era came in a solid second place. 

Of course, we all know that, if they want to stay in business, our favorite game companies need to release titles in anticipation of reasonable sales numbers. Put more simply, if folks weren’t buying World War II titles, there wouldn’t be 83 of ‘em. 

And these titles run the gamut too! We have quite the variety hyper-tactical, tactical, operational, strategic and grand strategic simulations and their complexity level runs from War in the East/West to Panzer Corps. 

But now that I’ve proven my esteemed editor’s fascinating hypothesis to be dead on, I’m kinda at a loss, because I had absolutely no explanation for this phenomenon. 

I can understand why, despite the recent 100 year anniversary of the start of the War to End All Wars, those games generally don’t catch on. Unless you’re a diehard grognard, four years of stalemate really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

The ironic thing is, you have a far better chance of changing the course of the Great War than that of its more massive continuation – at the grand strategic level, of course. The combined U.S. and Russian industrial might is simply too great for the Germans to contend with, and even if they’d won the Battle of Britain, the odds of Sea Lion succeeding were infinitesimal. If the Nazi’s somehow managed to beat those odds, the Manhattan Project would’ve put a quite a damper on their world domination dreams. damper on their world domination dreams. 

Even if the Japanese had caught the Enterprise and Lexington at Pearl Harbor, they never had a chance. It was only a matter of time. 

Then I thought the combined arms aspect of that conflict might be what appealed to us. Though armor and aircraft certainly played a role in WWI, neither was a decisive factor. But if the lure of the blitzkrieg were true, then we’d have far more than seven modern warfare titles. C’mon! A great deal of that Command Modern Air Naval Operations mystique is the virtually infinite number of weapons systems involved. 

Could it be the monumental nature of the struggle? Perhaps! It truly was a World War. But I find the Napoleonic and American Civil War grand strategy games far more intriguing in that regard. 

Is it he cut and dried good versus evil nature of the conflict? That rings somewhat true, but if pressed to choose between Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, I’d choose C, “none of the above.” 

Was it how this truly global war forever changed the direction of Western Civilization? Both the U.S. and USSR became superpowers. The sun did set on the British Empire. The French became virtually xenophobic, shunning NATO. Japan became an economic powerhouse. China would fall to the Communists. The Iron Curtain fell. And colonialism breathed its last gasp. 

Maybe it’s as simple as the U.S. is the biggest wargame market in the world and the Second World War is a defining moment indelibly etched into our collective unconscious. The term “The Greatest Generation” still means a lot to some folks. 

And after all that intense rumination, I believe I may have come up with the answer! 

World War II was the last war in which there was a clear moral imperative and the side that generally embraced freedom prevailed. It was the last time that Americans and European, united in a common cause, truly saw eye to eye on something. It was the last time two continents selflessly sacrificed for a greater common good. 

The Korean War, Vietnam, and virtually every conflict that came after veered into varying degrees of moral uncertainty. And it’s harder to fight and sacrifice when you question why you’re there and you’re not sure exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. 

Most of those post-war succeeding skirmishes were “resolved” by indeterminate outcomes. Technically, the Korean War rages. Despite reading a number of books on the subject, Vietnam still confuses me, our forays into Iraq didn’t work out as planned, and we shoulda paid a little more attention to the Russian’s Afghanistan experience. 

On the other hand, the Second World War ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. There is absolutely no ambiguity there. 

But even though I think I’m onto something, I’m not nearly convinced that I’ve earned the final word here. So I’ll throw this one out to the floor for further discussion. What are your thoughts on why we wargamers so obsessed with the Second World War?

 

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Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up a copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1972. You can reach Jeff at jeffnward@comcast.net. Please feel free to send him your View From the Bunker column ideas!

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