What is it about War?


As has been alluded to by my co-gamers, I’ve been absent from the gaming scene for a few weeks.  My longsuffering girlfriend doesn’t always like being a gamer’s widow and does need attention from time to time.  This doesn’t mean I’ve been totally out of the gamers circuit.  I recently purchased my first Xbox and enjoyed having my rear end handed to me on a plate when I played Bad Company 2 online for the first time a few days ago.

I have also spent the past two days enjoying the company of some fellow gamers.  Yesterday I went the hallowed halls of GW HQ in Nottingham and enjoy a good game with an old friend of mine.  His Space Marines finally managed to beat my Tyranids and much fun was had by all.  Today we went to the Leeds Royal Armouries, and at the risk of providing free advertising I would highly recommend a visit.  I hadn’t been there since I was a teenager and it was just as good as I remember.

This is just one of the many wonderful exhibits on display.  But enough waffle.  What I really wanted to do was ask a very deep, thought-provoking question that may bring out the darker sides of yourselves.

What is it about war that we find so fascinating?

I was thinking about this last night in one of my frequent insomniac moments.  I myself am a very peaceful person.  I don’t particularly like violence; I don’t think I’ve ever been in a fight, even in school, and I often find the cost of war (especially the human cost) too high.  And yet I find military history so fascinating.  I love my war games, both table top and computer based.  I enjoy going round museums and looking at the military exhibits rather than the more arty ones.  In short I am fascinated by warfare.

There is a part of me that finds this disturbing, and yet I’m also perfectly ok with it.  And I think it’s that ‘ok factor’ that probably worries me the most; am I ‘ok’ with warfare?  I think it was the Greek poet Pindar who said that;

“War is sweet to those who have no experience of it, but the experienced man trembles exceedingly at heart on its approach.”

Perhaps this is it.  I find war a fascinating subject, partly because of my love for history, but also I think because I have never experienced it.  In my life time there have been many conflicts around the globe; from the Falklands War to Afghanistan, from the terrorism in Ireland to the Rwandan massacre, and I have thankfully never been directly affected by such conflicts.  My attitude would no doubt be different if I had been and I think it is this detachment that allows me to get so absorbed in the history of warfare and in the various war games that we play.  As a side thought to this, the war games we tend to play are either fantasy or sci-fi so this adds yet another layer of detachment.

The games are just that, games,  no one gets hurt (though a few egos occasionally get bruised).  But as for the historical stuff I find so engaging, from Kadesh to Kabul they’re real conflicts that cost thousands or even millions of lives and what do I do?  I just read about them, and because of my detachment it doesn’t bother me all that much, and perhaps that’s the scary thought.  Though I do feel sorry for all those people who have lost loved ones in war, and its doesn’t matter where they’re from; they were someone’s son or daughter and they will be missed.

This whole blog has been a chance to write down my thoughts, and I’m sorry if it is a bit too deep and dark for some people.  It has provided me with a chance to collect my thoughts.  I also would like to open that question up to you the readers.  You don’t have to answer, but at least think about it.

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4 thoughts on “What is it about War?”

  1. It may sound a bit flippant but it does actually illustrate a thought, in “The Return of the King” Eomer declares to Eowyn that “War is the province of men.” I think this has something to do with it, we grow up playing soldiers, I think part of that is a subconscious playing out of human tendencies. As a species we are aggressive and extremely intolerant of differences and this has been the historic cause of wars through the ages (even though most wars are fought over land the two sides do tend to differ enough to produce a cause to fight over). I too find war a horrific business but have never been in a battle, nor would I necessarily wish to be.

    I also don’t necessarily think that anyone that plays wargames should be demonised as promoting war. I think the use of the strategic and planning portions of the brain that are given exercise in these hobbies, let alone the creative juices used for painting are admirable uses of our time. Violence has alwas been a part of man’s history since Cain slew his brother (over a perceived difference I might add) and it always will be until the entire race can “love thy neighbour as thyself”.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Like I said in the post, my aim was to promote discussion, and you’re right wargames don’t necessarily promote war and there is a real difference between a game and real war.

  2. Humans are individually weak omnivorous predators that have spent the best part of 200,000 years roaming the world working in groups to survive against incredible odds. If another group encroached on your territory they might steal your resources. Your group might suffer, so aggressive behaviour towards the other group has merits.

    To a large extent this is similar to the behaviour of some monkeys who will kill rivals from different
    groups. Luckily for monkeys though they lack the brains to build AK-47s or they would be in a world of carnage.

    My thoughts then are – 200,000 years of hardwiring and the ability to make suitable war tools have made war so prevalent and eerily museum-worthy amongst our race.

  3. Study of and fascination with a subject does not necessarily mean approval or promotion of the same. It’s also worth noting that if we don’t understand our past and those conflicts, we may well repeat the same mistakes.

    As for liking war on a gaming level, I think that it’s a couple of things: catharsis, logic (mental exercise inherent in tactics and strategy is good for the brain), and curiosity. Humans excel at “what if” questions, and simulation games give us an outlet to experiment with things we’d never do in real life, often precisely so that we don’t have to.

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