Minute Men Mark II

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Two texts.

One I have quoted often, one I read today in a blog I read frequently and find wise.

First: James Dunnigan, writing in 1976, in the introduction to the basic scenario of one of my favourite games, Minuteman: the Second American Revolution (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5859/minuteman-second-american-revolution).

In Minuteman, Dunnigan’s objective was to portray the spread of underground anti-establishment movements, the government’s reaction to civil discontent, and the mechanics of fighting a popular revolution. Instead of making up an imaginary country, he placed the action in the United States of 2020. The future history he cooks up as the framework to the basic scenario describes a world largely at peace, with a bankrupt Russia removed from the superpower game and an America preoccupied with profound internal social problems caused by the massive public debt run up in the last twenty years of the 20th century.

“… the trend of the ‘rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’ had been accentuated. The only jobs that paid enough to provide a comfortable existence were to be found in the government, military, and the top 100 industrial corporations. Because of the vastly increased mechanization of work, the corporations employed only some 10% of the working population. The government employed another 12% but half of these government employees were patronage jobs, and the workers served at the pleasure of the elected officials who paid them. Another 4% of the working population was in the armed forces, [which] had become something of a hereditary institution… The government now provided millions of ‘public works’ jobs which … had now become nothing more than another form of public welfare… the police, which amounted one-third of all government employees, were kept busy seeing that over 40 million unemployed and underemployed people did not get out of line. The present situation was not one in which Americans were starving, nor did they lack most basic comforts. What they were denied was any great hope of improvement… only some 20% of the population was going to have any future whatsoever. The rest of the population would subsist as well-fed, uneducated, and most horrifying of all, useless drones existing at the mercy of a small hereditary minority.”

Not bang-on, but prescient enough and a remarkable projection from the distance of 45 years.

Second: this, today, from ianwelsh.net. 

Might seem overstated now but who knows what this will look like from 45 years away?

The Conditions Now Exist For A Long Term Right Wing Insurgency In America
2021 JANUARY 13

by Ian Welsh

Let us understand that the attack on the capitol, while it included many “tourists”, included some very serious, coordinated people who had temporary restraints and a plan.

They genuinely believed, because they have been told this over and over and over again, that the election had been blatantly and massively stolen, and that democracy in the United States had been overthrown. As such, it was their duty to right the wrong that had been done, including taking captive those most responsible like Nancy Pelosi.

It’s hard to find general polling data, but over 50% of registered Republican voters think the attack was justified. Almost half blame Biden more than Trump. Fourty-five (to 43%) think the protest/attack was justified.

Republican support, like Democratic support, is geographically concentrated.

These numbers are more than sufficient to sustain a long term insurgency.

It’s worth understanding how insurgencies get better. Let’s take Hezbollah as an example: if as a Hezbollah member, let alone commander,  you get sloppy in your security at any time, you get dead, because Israel has the best American surveillance and ELINT equipment, plus jets and drones and assassination teams.

Israel, over the years, has killed a ton of Hezbollah officials.

Hasn’t slowed Hezbollah down one bit, instead it has acted as a perfect Darwinian crucible. If you make mistakes, you get dead and probably so does your family and most of your unit.

Israel kept doing that, and now mistakes hardly ever happen. In fact, in the last Israel-Hezbollah war, Hezbollah won the ELINT war (against American equipment, remember) and won the ground-battles. Over decades, Israel had created the perfect enemy, absolutely optimized to beat them, and arguably the best light infantry force in the world.

Nowadays Israel is scared to patrol near the Lebanese border, because Hezbollah has told them that the moment Hezbollah can, it will grab Israeli soldiers, and Israel is now the sort of society that can’t handle that. So Hezbollah has not just beaten them on the ground; electronically and in the spy-game, it has achieved psychological dominance.

Now, of course, an American right wing insurrection is not the same. Among other things, American forces will be operating in their own county; plus, this is the start, not the end.

But boobs like those who went the capitol and live-streamed the attack – those people will quickly be taken out of the picture. Even the slightly smarter will be caught because they wore the same gear as in previous protests or didn’t wear masks and goggles. People who used credit cards to travel and took their phones with them. They go to nasty prisons, and they learn or drop out of active life in the resistance. Over time, security becomes tighter and tighter. People learn.

America is a big country: far, far larger than Lebanon, which is barely a postage stamp. Lots of people and lots of terrain. The security services are at least somewhat sympathetic and clearly massively infiltrated by race-warriors and other “fellow travelers” of the right.

So what seems like a distinct possibility is a low grade insurrection, combined with protests that often turn violent, by very heavily armed people. Biden will pass his Patriot Act II, even more cameras and security checks and intrusive laws and unjust nonsense like the no-fly list (which is not made good or right because it was used against right wingers) proliferate.

The US becomes even more of a police and prison state.

If this metastasizes into the next stage, well, the US is full of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They know how area denial works (repeat after me, IEDs) and there will be techies willing to make them drones and so on. Parts of the country become no-go zones, where the security services can only go in convoys or by air, and even then at great risk.

Far-fetched?

Perhaps. But the US has a large enough and geographically concentrated enough population who genuinely believe that the election was stolen and that it is their patriotic duty to restore democracy to sustain an insurrection. It has compromised security forces, a geography that in many places is almost made for insurrection, and a vast amount of arms spread around the population along with the knowledge and means to make more.

As usual, this sort of thing takes time to really get going and there are actions which could be taken to limit it and drain the swamp.

But understand clearly that the conditions for a long term insurrection which cannot be put down with force short of imprisoning millions of people in prison camps (or killing millions) currently exist in America.

Legitimacy, for millions of Americans, is truly and completely broken. They consider the government about to be inaugurated to one that has no right to be in power.

In the game Minuteman, ultimate victory goes to the player who successfully contends for control of the major urban zones; as always, the bulk of the people are the prize (or at least the bulk of the politically active and mobilizable people). Meanwhile, there are cities aplenty that could serve as hinterland bases.

Some variants and update material for the game are here: Favourites Scenarios and Variants

I ought to take a weekend and get this one out again… and, as I did when I was a student, listen to this on headphones while playing:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now

Transmit the message, to the receiver,
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas,
You don’t even know my real name

High on a hillside, the trucks are loading,
Everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nighttime,
I might not ever get home

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
Somebody’ll see you up there

I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send no postcard
I ain’t got time for that now

Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock
We blended in with the crowd
We got computers, we’re tapping phone lines
I know that that ain’t allowed

We dress like students, we dress like housewives
Or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle so many times now
I don’t know what I look like

You make me shiver, I feel so tender
We make a pretty good team
Don’t get exhausted, I’ll do some driving
You ought to get you some sleep

Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace
The burning keeps me alive

Simulmatics’ shadow

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

A while back I posted about an interesting urban insurgency game I found on the shelves of the US Army War College called URB-INS. It was produced by Simulmatics, a political consulting and analysis company that started in 1959, rocketed to prominence as one of the early proponents of big data for political analysis, and went bankrupt by 1970. 

Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard, has written a book called If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future that traces out just how far, high and fast Simulmatics went in the world of politics, government and academia. Have a look at this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education – if nothing else, for the description of what Eugene Burdick, writer of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe and spokesman for Ballantine Ale, had to do with it all!

https://www.chronicle.com/article/higher-ed-has-a-silicon-valley-problem

“Incipient insurgency”: Kilcullen

[I think I really dislike this new editor WordPress is making people use. I am going to put the link to the Kilcullen piece at the bottom, as it obscures everything under it.]

When David Kilcullen writes something, I pay attention to it. A recent short article by him (though he has been writing in this vein for some time) declares that the United States is showing warning signs of having an incipient insurgency. Final two paragraphs from the piece, though it’s all worth reading:

One possible interpretation is that America may be in what the CIA Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency calls “incipient insurgency.” This encompasses pre-insurgency and organizational stages; it may involve inchoate action by a range of groups, followed by organization, training, acquisition of resources, and building external and public support, then increasingly frequent antigovernment incidents displaying improved organization and forethought. Many simultaneous proto-insurgencies can coexist, and it may be impossible to determine which (if any) of them will progress to a more serious stage.

Clearly, current conditions in the United States match some – though not all – of these criteria. There is no reason why, even with today’s toxic political polarization, we must inevitably slip further toward conflict. But if we want to avoid that risk, it is essential to recognize that it does exist and that, “insurrection” or not, the best thing to do is to treat the current unrest as a wake-up call and act urgently to address it.

Meanwhile, Fred Kaplan give it a somewhat more strident and overtly political context, in a piece for Slate magazine with other references to Kilcullen’s writing. Bonus points for references to focoism and Stathis Kalyvas’ The Logic of Violence in Civil War.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/america-insurgency-chaos-trump-violence.html

The word to apply right now is “inchoate”, and I have a feeling that it will be the one to apply for some time to come… widespread but disorganized disorder that will, possibly, persist until it becomes its own reason for continuing on… but nothing approaching the “second Civil War” that some people seem to love to fantasize about. For one thing, events would have to reach the stage where both sides consistently show up with firearms.

So much more to write on this, but I have to get back to more urgent and better-paying tasks…

The Afghanistan Papers

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Starting today, the Washington Post is running a series of articles on the aims and conduct of the conflict in Afghanistan.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents

It will come as a surprise to no one that the war was a muddled, aimless, expensive and bloody mess. What may come as a bit more of a revelation is how the US military and government worked to “polish the turd”: to misrepresent, embroider, creatively omit, or just lie that the war was being won, somehow… not that this was being done, but how extensively and thoroughly, under two administrations.

The Post obtained these documents through FOI requests and a three year legal battle involving two lawsuits. No purloined photocopies as with the Pentagon Papers, and no hand-wringing over whether to publish them, so no Tom Hanks movie but these are important documents.

District Commander Maracas: interview at The Players Aid

dc_maracas medium

https://theplayersaid.com/2019/07/22/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-district-commander-maracas-from-hollandspiele/

The doughty (now that I’ve looked it up, I’m confident that’s a good word) Grant Kleinheinz over at The Players Aid has published an interview with me about District Commander: Maracas, the first of four modules in the District Commander series to come from Hollandspiele.

Grant says this is the eighth interview I’ve had with him, and I believe it!

(Why wouldn’t I? Well, perhaps I should – these days I’m feeling rather like Hank Kimball from Green Acres.)

Image result for "hank kimball"

It’s quite long – over 7,000 words – but it tells you most everything you might want to know about the system itself, and the changes rung on it for the Maracas module, which covers the action in a made-up large city (the capital of Virtualia, reeling in the aftermath of the sudden departure from power of the charismatic strongman Jesus Shaves).

Hollandspiele will bring the game out in probably late August; I’m not sure of the price at this point. But in the meantime, you can still score a free print-and-play copy here, if you want a closer look at the rules and mechanics of play.

Free Games!

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

 

Interview with Scott Cole

photo: found on goodreads.com

Scott Cole, Wargame Wednesday blogger, recently asked me some pointy questions about my take on the current situation in Venezuela, points of designing games on insurgencies, and other such thoughtful stuff. A bit disjointed but then so is the situation, so is my body of work… pop on over and have a look!

https://wargamewednesday.blogspot.com/2019/03/brian-train-game-designer-interview.html

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

Rebel, Inc.

Screenshot: Ndemic Creations

https://www.c4isrnet.com/it-networks/2019/02/22/what-if-anything-can-the-pentagon-learn-from-this-war-simulator/

An interesting article mostly on a new computer game called Rebel, Inc. designed by James Vaughan of Ndemic Creations.

The writer introduces the game, and writes more broadly about the value of and use of these kinds of games for educating policy makers and other interested parties. He contacted Volko Ruhnke and me for some quotes and background. The conclusion is that “it’s complicated”, which is fair enough!

Rex Brynen already posted a review of the game a while back, here:

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/review-rebel-inc/

I’m waiting for the forthcoming Android version myself, since I can’t stand to play things on that tiny iPhone screen. (However, if anyone wants to take a crack at making an iOS version of Guerrilla Checkers, I’d be pleased to talk to you!)

iOS version here, for $1.99:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/rebel-inc/id1439187947

EDIT: the game is available on Android! Appears to be free, but there are a lot of in-game purchases to make.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ndemiccreations.rebelinc

Uploaded about 10 days ago and over 50,000 downloads and over 4,000 ratings already. No indication of total downloads for the iOS version, but it has over 9,300 ratings, so following the same ratio – let’s say at least 150,000 examples of the game are being played, or not.

For perspective, it took five years and two reprints to get 10,000 copies of A Distant Plain out there.

Sure glad I am not in this to make money.

Billionaires Board Games Club comic

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Gee, how did I miss this one?

The March 7, 2016 edition Of “Semi Co-op”, an online cartoon about boardgames drawn by the very clever Rachel Kremer (and coded by Heinze Havinga, also pictured).

https://www.semicoop.com/info/

Thank Rachel and Heinze! I’d like to think that everyone in the world would learn from this game, but likely we’ll have to get it done in small batches….

Meanwhile:

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/america-is-headed-for-military-defeat-in-afghanistan/