Podcast: on Armchair Dragoons’ “Mentioned in Dispatches”, vol 2 ep 9

Recently I sat down with James Sterrett for an episode of Brant Guillory’s podcast “Mentioned in Dispatches.”

The occasion was the recent release of Matt Caffrey’s new book On Wargaming

On Wargaming by Matt Caffrey, out at last!

and we thought we would discuss, for well over an hour in our meandering ways, this book and other books we’ve found useful for thinking about games and game design.

James has a more practical take on this of course, as he teaches game design to his students at the US Army Command and General Staff College.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/teaching-wargame-design-at-cgsc/

Anyway, here is the link, go and have a listen!

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/podcast/mentioned-in-dispatches-season-2-episode-9-the-essential-wargaming-library/

In other news, this weekend is the inaugural Victoriaconn, a mini-convention put on here in town by local gamer Geoff Conns. I’ll be there Friday and Saturday (have to work Sunday), showing the playtest version of China’s War and the near-production copy of the Brief Border Wars quad. Maybe someone will notice….

http://www.victoriaconn.ca/

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Remembering to Forget

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photo: bbc.com

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/03/us-army-trying-bury-lessons-iraq-war/155403

As has been explained to me by senior officers who are still on active duty, the conventional wisdom today is that our military has moved on — and in an odd redux, they note that we have returned to the philosophy of 1973. Similar to how the Pentagon abandoned its doctrine of fighting counterinsurgencies and irregular conflicts in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, today’s military has shifted away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of preparing to fight insurgents and guerrillas, our security establishment has refocused almost exclusively on the realm of great power conflict — in their parlance, peer or near-peer competitors such as Russia or China.

Distressing, but hardly surprising… the same thing happened after Vietnam, though the external circumstances were quite different. The US Army may be a “learning organization” but it keeps forgetting that it needs to retain some of that learning.

As the world continues to migrate to cities and pressures from failed or failing states push populations toward armed insurrection, it is quite possible that our next conflict could be another irregular war fought against guerrillas and insurgents. Even if we do end up facing a peer or near-peer competitor as the defense establishment is predicting, many of the lessons of the Iraq War still ring true. If we find ourselves facing such a foe, it would be highly likely that our opponents would fight us with a blend of conventional warfare—using ships, tanks, and warplanes—as well as with irregular tactics such as we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blending both types of warfare, which has been called “hybrid warfare” or “conflict in the grey zone” enables our enemies to counter some of our conventional advantages asymmetrically, and challenge us symmetrically with forces that are on par with our capabilities. The use of paramilitaries or militias rather than uniformed soldiers, ambushing logistics convoys with improvised explosive devices, and hiding soldiers and resources amongst the civilian population- all staples of the Iraq conflict- are tactics that have also been used by Russia and other states because they make attribution and retaliation more difficult. It would be a dangerous proposition to hope that nation-state competitors we face in the future have not studied the war in Iraq and adapted their tactics. 

The two volumes of the Iraq War Study, completed in 2016 but not released until the very end of 2018, may be found here. Download them if you’re interested, just so you can have them for later….

Volume One (2003-2006): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3667

Volume Two (2007-2011): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3668

 

New on the bookshelf

I’ve recently acquired a book or two on urban conflict:

image: amazon.com

Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities

A 768 page brick of a book, consisting mostly of articles on the subject previously published in Small Wars Journal. I’ve read a few of them but there is plenty more to chew on. Some new material, including a preface by David Kilcullen.

Surprise content: a reprint of the review of Operation Whirlwind Michael Peck wrote for SWJ! link to original is here: Review of Operation Whirlwind in Small Wars Journal

Published January 2019, Amazon.com link

image: amazon.com

Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism

Another interesting title, but I haven’t been able to get into it yet – it has been a busy couple of weeks. Where the above title goes into mainly the kinetic considerations of urban battles that largely haven’t been fought yet, this one stops to consider the extensive and increasing militarization of the largely non-kinetic life we lead in the West, via surveillance, security bureaucracy/ theatre and the manipulation of fear and language.

Published 2011, Amazon.com link

Both of these make good additions to the library I have been building on the subject, which includes:

  • Out of the Mountains: the Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla by David Kilcullen
  • Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare from Stalingrad to Iraq by Louis diMarco
  • Planet of Slums by Mike Davis

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

pentagonurbancoincover

Very new from the History of Wargaming Project by John Curry, is a book reprinting rules for making up and playing a multi-player game on urban counterinsurgency, along with analysis of many urban insurgency incidents… including the Battle of Algiers, which was still quite recent as the original documents are from 1966.

Unless I miss my guess, this is “URB-INS”, contained in the “Report on Urban Insurgency Studies”, done in 1966 by Simulmatics Corporation. I remember examining a copy of this in the US Army War College’s library briefly (Back, then forth); I found it by chance there, but I wasn’t going to pass up a look at such an early example of a manual game on counterinsurgency in a generic city. I recall it was pretty sophisticated for its day – double-blind play with an umpire using a third board; time lag on intelligence and movements; uncertain information on sympathizers for either side; interrogation and arrest; etc..

Buy your copy at:

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/pentagonurbancoin.htm

EDIT: I was wrong! Turns out the game in question is URB-COIN, developed by Abt Associates in 1966. It is related to two other games Abt did for the US military, AGILE-COIN and POLITICA. Faithful Readuhs may recall my mention of AGILE-COIN as an early attempt to model rural insurgency in a couple of my presentations, and the game is described in greater detail in Andrew Wilson’s very good book The Bomb and The Computer (also available from John Curry as a reprint).

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/awthebomb.htm

Clark Abt did very well for himself and the world of simulations and games, as he was one of the first major designers and promoters of “serious games”. He designed dozens of games on a very wide variety of topics, most of them educational and policy games though he had quite a few DARPA contracts too. He is still alive and his company, Abt Associates, is doing very well (and seemingly not doing work for the military any more, at least not overtly). You can see part of his “Serious Games”, a major work, here:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=axUs9HA-hF8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Clark+C.+Abt%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj238Tq8b_cAhWCJ3wKHf0GD0kQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

 

Binh Dinh ’69: review of related book, Losing Binh Dinh

BD02

Kevin Boylan has written several books and articles on the general topic of the Central Highlands throughout the Vietnam War. I wish that I had had his work available to me when I was designing Green Beret and Binh Dinh ’69. Here is a review of a recent book by Boylan on the situation in Binh Dinh. (review originally appeared on the site H-War)

Kevin M. Boylan. Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2016. 365 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-2352-5.

Reviewed by Heather P. Venable (Air Command and Staff College)
Published on H-War (March, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=50993

Kevin M. Boylan’s Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971 seeks to test the revisionist claim that the United States was winning the Vietnam War through its pacification efforts after the Tet Offensive but lost anyway because policymakers did not stay the course. Boylan does this by focusing on a particular province to explore the interrelationships between pacification and Vietnamization, arguing that they worked at cross purposes, ultimately failing both to prepare South Vietnamese troops to fight independently and to eliminate the VietCong insurgency. Vietnamization, in particular, could not succeed because of poor South Vietnamese leadership, which also challenges the revisionist claim that indigenous leadership improved significantly after Tet.

Kevin Boylan draws on his dual background as a defense analyst concerned with Iraq, among other issues, and as a graduate with a PhD in military history from Temple University, where he studied under Russell Weigley. The author recently left his position as a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to support his wife’s academic career.[1]Overall, Boylan challenges revisionist approaches, claiming they rely excessively on top-down assessments made by high-ranking policymakers and overly sweeping views of South Vietnam. By contrast, Boylan takes a bottom-up view focused on the specific province of Binh Dinh in order to better understand the localized and multifaceted nature of insurgencies. While certainly not the first to take this approach, he has chosen a province that represents a geographical aberration in South Vietnam, which made it especially challenging to pacify. In particular, it had poor soil that made it difficult to sustain its overpopulated numbers. Communist ideology thus found a receptive population, becoming entrenched as early as World War II, when the Viet Minh filled a power vacuum enabled by French defeat and gained a reputation as nationalists for battling the Japanese. In short, the province could be considered the Appalachia of South Vietnam.

Ironically, early pacification efforts made significant headway, offering hope that they might be successful. From April 1969 to December 1970, the 173rd Airborne worked in Binh Dinh to “secure individual hamlets” while providing training to the Territorial Forces that ultimately would replace it (p. 8). In this way, the approach certainly represented a more population-centric method of counterinsurgency than the United States previously had attempted in Vietnam, although it would be dangerous to draw many comparisons to recent US COIN efforts in Iraq and elsewhere because this program did not attempt to win “hearts and minds”. Rather, it represented a “quick fix” designed to regain “military control of enemy-dominated communities” (p. 48). This approach rested on policymakers’ assumptions that villagers were “apolitical” (p. 287). By contrast, the VietCong had a more targeted policy of maintaining their “psychological grip” on those villagers most likely to be active in leading their communities (p. 289), which provided them with an important advantage.

If Communist morale and activity did suffer greatly in 1969, however, those gains resulted from the efforts of US rather than South Vietnamese troops. Moreover, all of the US military effectiveness in the world could not counterbalance the local government’s political shortcomings. Simultaneously, the Phoenix program failed to destroy the Vietcong infrastructure even as the Communists increasingly responded to pacification’s successes by engaging in acts of terrorism against local government officials. By 1970, policymakers problematically sought to both enlarge and consolidate pacification, effectively working at cross purposes. The exodus of US troops from the country only made this even more unrealistic.

Meanwhile, the United States hoped optimistically that more training of the Territorial Forces might turn the tide. But Boylan compellingly argues that all of the training in the world could not solve the real reason Vietnamization failed—an almost unsolvable problem with South Vietnamese leadership. He depicts Vietnamese officers who eschewed the support of their advisers, just seeking access to “stuff”—particularly the logistical and firepower support the US provided. Most of their “casualties” resulted from desertions rather than battle. Advisers bemoaned that belaboring Vietnamization just made these patterns worse, because the South Vietnamese only became more dependent on the United States. In short, the South Vietnamese simply had not “commit[ed]” themselves to winning (p. 83). In large part, though, Boylan concludes that this can be explained by the fact that the “South Vietnamese themselves were never fooled” about the depth of US commitment (p. 295). This conclusion, however, rests on the kind of sweeping generalization about South Vietnamese morale that he critiques the revisionists for making, which ultimately challenges his provincial focus. A clearer overarching roadmap to guide the reader either in the introduction or within the individual chapters themselves also might have helped to alleviate some of these problems, as one frequently arrives at the end of a chapter with only the unfolding of the narrative to guide the reader as to the author’s overarching purpose.

It is almost impossible for the reader to avoid drawing tragic comparisons between today’s current conflicts and debates about how and if victory is even possible. Ironically, the United States did make substantial short-term progress in pacifying Binh Dinh, but it failed utterly at Vietnamizing the war, which made victory unattainable. Pursuing both at the same time was impossible. As a high-ranking US official wrote in 1970, “We have gone about as far as we can go in turning this country into an armed camp” (p. 289). This work could have done more to shed light on perspectives from the Vietnamese “camp,” but it does provide an excellent exploration of how Vietnamization and pacification coexisted uneasily in a challenging province in South Vietnam.

Note

[1]. LinkedIn profile, https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-boylan-538835128, accessed January 22, 2018.

Citation: Heather P. Venable. Review of Boylan, Kevin M., Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2018.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=50993

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

New book out – Small Wars

dwtcoincover

Released today, from John Curry’s History of Wargaming Project: Small Wars, New Perspectives on Wargaming Counterinsurgency on the Tabletop.

The book contains six sets of rules for playing out situations from 20th and 21st century irregular wars. It’s a bit unusual in that all but one of them are written to portray the action at the operational/ campaign level, where each stand of figures on the tabletop represents a large combined-arms unit. Using card-based systems, these games are particularly suitable for the solo wargamer.

  • Boots on the Ground: Company Level Actions in the early 21st Century
  • An Isolated Outpost: Six Months in the Sahara
  • Eight Years in a Distant Country: Soviet involvement in Afghanistan
  • Ovambo: Counter- insurgency in South West Africa
  • Good Morning Vietnam: LBJ’s War 1965-68
  • Flying Column: The Irish Troubles 1920-21

Oh, and I wrote the foreword, and supplied a list of readings and games on counterinsurgency! Look in the front and the back, when you are done having fun with these rules.

Buy your copy now at:
http://www.wargaming.co/recreation/details/dwtcoin.htm

Prices are quite reasonable and are printed by print-on-demand arrangement with lulu.com, so your copy doesn’t take very long to reach you.

Book video review: Zones of Control

ZOC book cover

Or maybe it’s a video book review!

Two reviews of the Zones of Control anthology on Youtube: a lengthy one by the notorious Marco Arnaudo.

https://youtu.be/rF0_YiWzlBo

And a shorter one by the Bonding with Board Games group, who also do the HAMTAG (Half As Much, Twice As Good) show

https://youtu.be/mk0UhBAhku4

By the way, MIT Press is having a sale on this and every other book they carry until Monday!

You can get a copy of this for 40% off, or just thirty Yankbucks!

https://mitpress.mit.edu/zones-control

And be sure to look elsewhere in the Game Studies area, as there are some other very good titles there.

https://mitpress.mit.edu/category/discipline/game-studies

Eight pages of stuff and like always 95% of it is about digital games and gaming, but I have bought and liked:

  • Works of Game: on the Aesthetics of Game and Art, by John Sharp
  • Uncertainty in Games, by Greg Costikyan
  • The Well Played Game: a Player’s Philosophy by Bernard de Koven
  • Critical Play: Radical Game Design by Mary Flanagan (excellent book)
  • War Games: A History of War on Paper by Philipp von Hilgers

Use promocode GIVEBOOKS40 at checkout. Hurry, offer ends at midnight 11/27/2017!  (Discount applies to website purchase only.) Service is prompt and shipping is pretty reasonable too.