Monday, January 9, 2017

The Warp Factor

A knee jerk response? I do hope not!

This piece picks around in the delicate minefield of borderline xenophobia. It has fermented through a series of conversations and exchanges which have on occasion provoked me to address the keyboard in an earnest fashion. Ironically the most recent was a conversation about the great British victory of Waterloo (not this Blog's core period but the straw which sounded 'General Quarters!' and 'man the laptop!').

Having completed all my nerdy research last year to be a guide at Waterloo 200 I felt comfortable in articulating the contra-point: of the 160,000 (approx.) men present on the field on June 18th, 1815, between 5 and 7% were English, about the same percentage were Irish ( ironically most probably in the majority, Catholic Irish) and around 4% were Scots. So, maybe 13% maximum of the total combatants or about 22% of the combined Allied armies (engaged) could loosely be termed 'of the Islands'. Hardly a British victory then. Britain has however 'appropriated' Waterloo and shamelessly used it to make us Brits feel good and at the same time tell foreigners a thing or two about them and about us.

Achtung! Sind sie männer Briten?

Notwithstanding the long running joke on this blog that all rivers of bile lead back to Blenheim Palace, it prompted me to roll back the years by about 100 and recognize that rather than being the puppet master, in this case Corporal John has been an unwitting posthumous puppet! In his name the period of British military awakening 1685-1713 has been used to 'do a Waterloo' 100 years before the big event.

English Fuzileers  - Anyone whistling a patriotic ditty yet?

My instinctive reaction throughout my 26 year continuous interest in the period 1660 -1720 has been to resist the English speaking world's desire to paint the 'British' as in all ways martial, superior to their enemies. Braver, better tacticians, battle winners, inspirational leaders etc .. it is a hugely obvious and to my mind xenophobic trend which unfortunately uses Marlborough as its lance tip and has much traction with a significant body of people.

Scots subsidy troops - a long standing agreement with Holland. 

The English/Scots/Irish/Welsh forces were relatively speaking new entrants into the European competition although many had served in mercenary or subsidy units for the Dutch, Swedes, French and Imperialists since the Thirty Years war and even before.

That suddenly, all military excellence and innovation was emanating from these shores is surely something to be proud of but is it really true? If the platoon firing English-Dutch method was so effective why did the Grand Alliance army lose so badly at Neerwinden and Steinkirk? If the cavalry were so wonderful why were they beaten by Jacobite and French Horse? If the generals were so fantastic why was Luxembourg so successful?

The utilitarian white cuffs a feature of many Scots regiments in home and foreign service

Wargaming has both its roots and core in the UK and consequently self aggrandising propaganda has become part of the tale. Like many countries we don't look further than the end of our coastline for answers and articulate writers peddling their form of the truth have contributed. A point of view, if repeated frequently can become accepted fact against which all challenges are robustly and often illogically rebuffed.. The truth is surely far less well defined than: We are the best at everything and all foreigners are a poor second.

I suspect that remark will be interpreted by many as lack of patriotism, not at all. I just see it as objective and logical. I am patriotic despite the rhetoric not because of it. Since the advent of mass media and cinema Hollywood and the British film industry together with our appalling collective foreign language skills have combined to cut most native English speakers off from valuable non English language sources of information. In an increasingly impatient and superficial world where no one want to put in any effort,  who is going to be bothered challenging what we are fed in 'serious' books?

Whose Guards? King James's? King William's?

Compound this trend with the strong desire in many wargamers to win. It is a game after all like cards or Monopoly or Connect 4. Anything that can give your team the edge is welcome. platoon fire, combat bonuses, Guards rating etc. I have witnessed that starkly with BLB2 and the now infamous (to me at least) All or Nothing charge. I wrote this mechanic as an exception only to be deployed in extremis. It has become the standard operating methodology for cavalry use in the rules much to my frustration.

The glory days of 1704-1709

Why? It gives an edge in combat! Again, about winning! Its transfer to the Optional rules section of BLB War of Three Kings is a deliberate circle of influence' reaction to the high jacking of the rule. Players must now actively discuss and agree its use before invoking it in a game. OK so this is not a BLB 'British' rule but I have been asked before about the dreaded.. 'national characteristics' option which is a perilous path to perambulate.

Laying the foundations for 300 years of campaigning around the globe

The new buzz phrase to describe the dismissal of all other points of view in favour of your own is Post Factual or Post Truth.

I sincerely hope that wargaming does not begin to suffer from this alarming epidemic any further than it has  to date. Much evidence of the trend can actually be found in revisionist American histories of WWII. Folks out there are believing it too!

OK, having pulled the pin on the grenade, I await the bang, smoke, shrapnel and dust!


  1. Berry,

    I find many of my "English" friends to be slightly xenophobic and many of my "American" friends unaware that there is an outside world. Fortunately most if not all of my "gaming" friends are much, much more "enlightened".

  2. Barry,
    You are a one. The 'British'victory at Waterloo was of its time. The leaders of our country in 1815 were hardly going to allow a bunch of German states the credit for digging us out of the mire when Napoleon nearly won. Obviously it would have been far fairer and probably more British to allow Blucher at least some of the credit, but the ruling class could never have allowed that to happen. It didnt make it right, but as long as the better read amongst us acknowledge this fact then whats the harm with a bit of xenophobia,especially in the current rancid climate where our benighted group of nations is talked down at every instance. As for your pet subject of Malborough, well I still like to think he was a pretty good general, but that counts for nothing really, its good to have differing views, and very healthy for history. Good post, as usual.

  3. Just Percy Pongo trying to emulate Jolly Jack...

  4. Robbie.. I hope you saw that for once I actually was on Marlborough's side (well nearly) :)

    History is so much more rewarding if we can take a different perspective now and again.

  5. The prussians didn't do badly out of Waterloo, they looted old boney's treasure :-)

    Martin T

  6. Barry,

    Funny enough, we were having a very similar conversation at the Derby Club tonight midway through a WSS game regarding all conquering super troops, otherwise normally called British troops, and that contrary to the British players view, they were not all drilled and that the guards battalions were not super troops.

    We ended agreeing that the English guards probably would have a morale bonus but not be better in combat than any other unit, that a % of English troops should be raw as they had seen little combat compared to most of the allies and French.

    I think we have had the conversation before that in a Williamite army probably only the Dutch and possible Danish guard regiments should be graded as Guard units.Personally i believe that up to 50% of English Williamite troops should be Raw.

  7. Oh,

    sorry, forgot to say, this is a great talking point.

  8. An excellent post Barry. I think I agree with everything you write,& I've read it twice. Unfortunately xenophobia seems to be emerging more & more in British society. I make a point of avoiding people like that in all parts of my life & especially in my wargaming. It is why I thoroughly enjoy the 'weekenders' in the company of good people.

  9. Hi Barry, first time comment and have enjoyed reading your posts - particularly your Waterloo reporting last year. It is encouraging that you and others on this site have a broader world view and posts like this provide a well thought perspectives on tabletop gaming.


  10. Those are great points, but let's face it, Wellington's presence at Waterloo has as much to do with ascribing it an English victory than with actual numbers of Englishmen (Catholics notwithstanding) present, just as The Boyne is celebrated by Orangemen, despite the presence of a single Londonderry and an Enniskillen regiment amongst thousands of Europeans and Irish Catholics. It's their 'King Billy' that is being celebrated, no matter the level of understanding in the modern times, as to his political aims at that time.

    It's easy to knock history 'written by the victor', though we have to be careful too with the scale of our 'revisionism'. Guy Fawkes night doesn't happen in the UK any more, lest it cause offence, though bear in mind that the actions and reactions were of their time, in an English society where 1% of the population were Catholic.
    By the same token, Marlborough used logistics masterstrokes on what had become a very predictable battlefield, despite his political maneuvering off the battlefield. Are we revising history and its supposed 'heroes' for its own sake? Knocking these apparent English victories is fine, though ask yourself if it happens in other countries. I would suspect it doesn't, as the UK has become so internally divisive and inward looking, that it is searching valiantly for a reason not to celebrate anything in relation to its once 'glorious' but now 'murky' (at least in the eyes of the BBC) past.

    I can wholly appreciate the historian's need to find the 'truth' and celebrate its veracity or otherwise, but there are some elements of history which we should leave alone - as we simply do not have enough facts to the contrary. Let history be written by the victors to a large extent if all we are doing is knocking the written word in order to see more relvance re. the topic.
    We can never be sure how accurate our revisions are for instance - and that way madness lies.

  11. Interesting PoV Anonymous and I appreciate your measured consideration of the points.
    I am not at all attempting to revise history as I would never claim to be a historian. I think most history is 'revised' at source, as you say.. by the victors.
    My aim is to encourage gamers to look beyond the clichés and not to simply join in the din of consensus. Neat and tidy is not necessarily true and accurate. Lazy brains abound out there and often the laziest brains make the most noise.

  12. Some good points indeed, the 'British' allies have often been down played, especially the Dutch, largely because English observers thought they would not stand and became a handy scapegoat for anything that did go wrong. The whole campaign would probably have been lost if a Dutch brigade had not stood and defended Quatre Bras when they had been ordered to withdraw. They chose to stand and defend the vital crossroads when if they were in any way not keen could have legitimately withdrawn. Had the French taken the crossroads then it is doubtful the 'British' and Prussians would have joined up at all. Were any Belgians documented as having gone over to the French? Not that I have seen.
    As a side note as a re-enactor (a French infantryman) I have been to Waterloo and Ligny and have found the locals today favour the French, tolerate the English but a bit coy about the Prussians. At Waterloo 200 the mayor of Placenoit was marching around waving a massive French flag!


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