Further Reading: Combat Mission Shock Force 2 & the Syrian Civil War

By Joe Fonseca 24 Jan 2019 1

Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 is by all accounts a great wargame and worthwhile upgrade over the 2007 original. It also has the curious experience of being a game set in a hypothetical war, where the theatre of operations has since become an actual conflict zone. While the game still pits Western forces against the Syrian Army in a conflict that begins in 2008, 2011’s Arab Spring and the subsequent escalation of violence in Syria brought about a terrible struggle for that country’s future, one that has yet to be fully decided.

Playing a game, fictitious narrative or not, set in a modern war-torn Syria gave me an odd feeling, and one that I did not think I could shake until I had dedicated some time to learning more about the war that has destroyed the lives of so many innocent people. It still does, while I sit comfortable in the knowledge that I can turn the game off, go to sleep in warmth and safety, and be sure I’ll wake up tomorrow for another predictable day. The distance of history can often lessen the horror of the conflicts we game, but something that is still ongoing deserves more attention.

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To that end, I’ve put together a list of some books that I’ve gathered to better inform myself about the ongoing conflict, its origins, history, and the experiences of some individuals who have survived it. I’m no expert in this field, but these works helped contextualize not only my gaming experience, but also better inform my understanding of what is by all accounts the worst conflict of our century.

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Syria in Ruins: The Dynamics of the Syrian Civil War (2016)syria in ruins

Author: David S. Sorenson
Pages: 203
Buy: Amazon

This is a fairly straightforward academic work that offers one of the simplest explanations of a complex topic. Sorenson begins with a short history of Syria and its peoples before concentrating more on the development of the conflict and the rise of the Islamic State, one of the worst results of the escalation of violence in Syria. While this work will tug at the heart strings, the nature of its presentation is more sanitary, explaining the specifics of the conflict and attempting to answer the question of why Syria, when so many countries attempted to find reform in the spring of 2011, was the only one to see war escalate to such a degree.

The answer, according to Sorenson, and echoed elsewhere, are the multitude of foreign interests vying to support either the ruling Ba’ath regime or one or more of the dozens of anti-government groups struggling for power. In addition the very real impact the war has had on shifting geo-political alignments has led to a very different system from that of the early 2000s. The final result, tragically, is a war that was allowed to continue and grow far beyond its initial prospects.

Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria (2017)destroying a nation

Author: Nikolaos van Dam
Pages: 242
Buy: Amazon

Following upon Sorenson’s overview, Nikolaos van Dam, the former Dutch Special Envoy for Syria, and one of the foremost experts on the conflict, offers a more granular, yet still entirely absorbing, look at the why and how of the Syrian Civil War. Van Dam begins with a thorough history of the Ba’ath Party and explores how their response in 2011 not only mirrors closely their usual pattern for dealing with any political opposition, but also illuminates the difficult bind they’ve placed themselves in as a dictatorial regime. One of van Dam’s conclusions, that the civil war in Syria could hardly have been avoided because of this history and the nature of the regime, is sobering.

The level of detail is welcoming, and I believe this remains one of the best single volume works currently out on the conflict that will give the reader a sense of the depth and breadth of the struggle that has engulfed Syria. If you pick only one book from this list to read, I urge you to find Destroying a Nation.

The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria (2017)the morning they came for us

Author: Janine Di Giovanni
Pages: 206
Buy: Amazon

The human side of such a conflict like the one is Syria is often hard to comprehend. Janine Di Giovanni’s gut wrenching journalism lays out before the reader the often unimaginable horror that accompanies war in general, and protracted civil conflicts especially.

Di Giovanni’s style is easy to digest and I found myself in that difficult position of being horrified by the nature of what I was reading, but unable to put the book down. Her various journeys across Syria and her experience as a war reporter reveal the experiences of individuals from a wide variety of social situations, from reports of young girls dealing with sexual violence to the fear felt by security forces trying to take the next building. It is brutal, but essential to see the human cost of this war.

My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution (2016)My house in Damasucs

Author: Diana Darke
Pages: 254
Buy: Amazon

Diana Darke’s work is quite a bit different from the other three on this list, but I felt I needed to include it. Grabbing it on a whim while finding works relating to the war in Syria, I initially dismissed it in favour for the more direct and explanatory works. Yet after returning to it, I find Darke’s writing has a certain charm, and My House in Damascus does a great justice to the spirit and culture of Syria, and wonderfully describes the history and architecture of a world I never knew. Darke, a British specialist, presents a unique narrative of her attempts to buy and restore a house in the Old City of Damascus before offering it as a refuge to friends in need as the war intensifies. She has a positive style, something that is often needed when discussing such lamentable situations.

Though this list isn’t quite as related to the game in question as a more militarily focused list could be, I feel my having read these works has given me a better understanding of what is happening in our world, and allows me a moment to reflect as I’m loading the next game. I hope some of these works make an impression on you as well. This crisis is ongoing, and people continue to suffer everyday. There are numerous charities and foundations that individuals can contribute to in an effort to help those displaced by the fighting, and I encourage you to find one you trust in to lend a helping hand.

If you have any other books that you like that act as a companion for CMSF2, let us know in the comments! 

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