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Archive for October 22nd, 2008

A “first person shooter” approach to military history?

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Yesterday I advanced the idea of new form of military history – of following a battle or campaign through the eyes of an individual or a group of men as events unfolded, rather than studying it from an omnipotent vantage point. I want to expand on that idea. It’s what I call the “first person shooter” approach to the writing of military history.

The problem with most books on military history – whether written from the perspective of generals or privates – is that we (the readers) know the outcome in advance, even if we don’t know the detail of how the outcome came about. If we pick up Adam Zamoyski’s 1812, for instance, most of us know when we start reading that Napoleon and his army suffered a calamitous defeat in Russia. We read the book to understand how that defeat came about.

But what if we could follow a battle, a campaign, a war, as a participant actually lived it? Without knowing in advance what the outcome would be, without knowing what lay beyond the next hill, without knowing what the next 24 hours might hold, without knowing where the enemy was and what he was planning? That would be gripping – more like reading a novel or playing a first person shooter game than the traditional approach to military history.

Clausewitz wrote that war is the province of danger and uncertainty. With its omnipotent vantage point, military history strips away those elements. The ‘first person shooter’ approach might give us a greater appreciation of the dilemmas that commanders encounter in battle – having to make quick decisions of great consequence in a climate of danger, uncertainty, surprise, fluidity, fear, unreliable intelligence and conflicting information.

Cross-posted at Kotare: The Strategist.


Written by kotare1718

October 22, 2008 at 9:01 am

Posted in Nonfiction

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