This is the second part of a three part series (I) examining the historical assumptions of Paradox Interactive’s 19th and early 20th century grand strategy game, Victoria II. Last week, we looked at how Victoria II handles its central, defining theme, the industrial revolution, and the mechanics it employed. We also discussed how Victoria II is unique in the Paradox catalog for being a game centered on ‘pops’ – that is on population – more completely simulated and more necessary to the player than other games. That pop-centric design is going to matter this week as well, precisely because of the way it reorients the player to think about people instead of merely thinking about states when assessing the value of various actions.
This week, we’re going to turn to how Victoria II treats war and peace. The military-diplomatic game is the most consistent element in Paradox’s titles and the one set of mechanics that appears in all of them. It is also an expected convention of the genre in that it is a theme that players expect from strategy games. Consequently, in all of Paradox’s titles, war is a central activity (although perhaps less central in Victoria II than in any of their titles, but then the fact that war consumes 2/5ths of the tech tree should tell you ‘less central’ does not mean ‘not central.’). As we’ll see, Victoria II has its share of war, but perhaps the most interesting part of its treatment of war is how it – perhaps alone in the Paradox catalog – has a set of emergent mechanics which openly question the efficacy of war in achieving aims, either for individuals or for the state.
We have spent all of our last post building factories so we can churn out a lot of things which go ‘boom’ so let’s go ahead and set some of them off! Or – perhaps – not.
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The Dust Settles
We need to start by reviewing the situation as it stood in EU4 (or EU3), not only because that provides a set of baseline expectations most Victoria players (II or III) will have but because it also generally reflects the conditions present at the start of any given VickyII game. The basic outline goes thusly:
The world consists of states which are not restrained by any meaningful laws (at least against aggressive warfare). Those states seek first and foremost to survive. Since the best route to survival is military power, states seek to maximize their military power at nearly all costs. The most efficient way to maximize military power is for the state to expand, absorbing new peoples and new productive resources (which in a pre-industrial context, is almost entirely about large amounts of agricultural land); because productivity in society is very low, absorbing new lands and peoples – even at very low efficiency (say, from tax resistance) – is much more effective than attempting to increase domestic productivity. Consequently each state, in looking to survive, is always looking to expand in order to gain more military power in order to be more secure. But precisely because every state is doing this, most efforts to raise new military power leave states no more secure, because they are matched by all rivals (this is called the security dilemma or, more colorfully, the ‘Red Queen effect’). The only sure thing is that failing to violently expand, failing to engage in ruthless conquest, sets a state up inevitably to be a victim of the states that do.
As a result, this creates an international system of dog-eat-dog competition where war is normalized and societies essentially compete in the degree that they can successfully militarize themselves and their resource base. If you ever wondered why it seems like most societies in the past held a fairly high opinion of war and those who performed war, this is why; the pacifists, generally speaking (there are doubtless exceptions to everything) did not survive. Meanwhile, the societies that were the most bellicose, the most willing to sacrifice people and resources expanded and thrived. The fancy term for this system of unrestrained state competition in political science is a ‘system of interstate anarchy.’ It is a very common system of international relations and the Europa Universalis games reflect its brutal logic well.
The Europa Universalis games (both III and IV) are set up so that this violent escalation reaches a crescendo towards the end of the game. State resources for war expand over the course of EU-games and also the casus belli which govern the ultimate peace terms of wars become more powerful, allowing for bigger land grabs which in turn means that the pace of consolidation (or sudden, violent deconsolidation when a large power is defeated and broken up) increases, while the giant colonial empires that emerge in the late game make the wars that result truly global. This is meant, one assumes, to mirror the events of 1740-1815, with the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the American Revolution (1775-1783) and the connected Anglo-French War (1778-1783) and finally the Wars of the French Revolution (1789-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) making that crescendo of violence, albeit one where no one power was able to quite come to dominate the others.
Victoria II picks up as a shattered Europe emerges, fitfully, from the smoke of the Napoleonic Wars, although by setting the date at 1836 instead of 1815, the player picks up with the new system already in place. Conveniently for us, people at the time had a name for that system.
The Broken Concert
They came to call it the ‘Concert of Europe,’ a system whereby (in theory) a general European war (that is, a war involving most or all of the Great Powers) could be avoided by resort to diplomacy and early on congresses, meetings where all of the great powers would get together to hammer out an agreement rather than resorting to war. Victoria II simulates diplomatic ebbs-and-flows of this system its own ‘crisis’ system where territorial claims and independence movements can trigger crises which draw in the Great Powers, with a ticking timer before war breaks out. These are often resolved diplomatically before an explosive general war, reflecting something like a Congress of the Great Powers hammering out a conclusion.
At first, this looks like one of our other Neo-realist systems: it looks like a system of international law. But attentive readers will recall that in the last series we noted that no one has ever actually managed to tame war with international law before. This is no exception. What is at work here is not the Congresses themselves and certainly not law (indeed, the individual Congresses could be startlingly inconsistent), but rather balance of power politics. The pressures of anarchy aren’t restrained, but instead there are a sufficiently small enough number of major players that they can form into a handful (typically just two) major ‘camps’ which end up roughly balanced. The reason they end up roughly balanced is that it is it is counter to the interests of the lesser powers to allow the top few (that is, the greatest of the Great Powers) to have the clearly strongest alignment because then that bloc could wage war without fear and thus compromise the security of the lesser powers. Consequently, as a bloc gets stronger, the tendency is for lesser powers to leave it (a behavior known as ‘balancing’) to try to preserve the balance of power which allows them to avoid the fatal pressures of interstate anarchy.
(As an aside, Vicky2 achieves balancing through some odd mechanisms, mainly by limiting how many Great Power alliances each Great Power can have for most of the game, which tends to ensure to opposing blocs of roughly 3 powers each of the 8 Great Powers, with the rest more or less isolated. Crises themselves also encourage balancing behaviors in which sides the AI tend to join. Overall, Paradox’s AI has always struggled with implementing balancing behaviors; Vicky2 seems to essentially fake it, but it fakes it better than probably any other Paradox product. To be fair, I’ve never seen any strategy do balancing behaviors well; most don’t even try.)
That this system hasn’t solved the pressures of anarchy becomes obvious the moment we look beyond the Great Powers to what those powers are doing outside of Europe. Still trapped in the security dilemma, the Great Powers are looking to maximize power in order to maximize security, because there is always the other big bloc of Great Powers to worry about. This effort to ‘outflank’ the balance-of-power stalemate in Europe (and the fear of what happens if someone else does it instead) produces the same rapacious colonial policy in Vicky2 as it did in Eu4; the only difference being that as technology advances the ability of the colonial powers to do colonialism begins to radically increase.
But that brings us to the first interaction between the economic simulator and war.
Spheres, Gears and Rounds
In most Paradox games, things like military equipment, uniforms and such are abstracted away, typically into a single resource (money). But Vicky2 doesn’t do this: instead each and every unit requires finished goods – clothes, small arms, ammunition, etc. – in order to be trained and maintained. This is important: military power in Vicky2 is not a one-time cost, but a continual investment, a constant flow of goods (the demand for which increases massively in war time). Soldier pops, representing professional soldiers in service in peacetime, also require these goods as continual maintenance. Navies require tremendous amounts of increasingly complex goods as well. Consequently, maintaining military force requires industrial production in the long run. While artisan production might be sufficient at the outset, failing to industrialize and thus harness the much larger amounts of production means accepting an 1830s-size military, which even by 1850 means accepting tremendous, typically fatal, military weakness.
But industrialization is complex. As the Great Powers pile on factories, they’ll rapidly outstrip their own RGO’s ability to provide raw materials. At the same time, war consumes massive amounts of supplies; to have production that can cope with war means over-producing some goods in peacetime (or at least having lots of production slack, like oversized ammunition factories that spend peacetime producing at much lower volumes. Because factories require maintenance goods – mostly machine parts – based on their size, not utilization, simply over-sizing your factories also induces extra costs). That’s really expensive – unless you can find someone who wants to buy all of that stuff. If you can do that, suddenly that overcapacity becomes revenue which you can use to buy things (like more weapons when war drives the price through the roof). So the Great Power wants to lock in resources and customers.
There are, in practice, two ways to do this. The first is simple conquest. European conquests are expensive and difficult, but because by this point the armies of the Great Powers are so much stronger than the militaries of most of the rest of the world, conquest outside of Europe is comparatively easier and cheaper. And since the demand here is for resources and markets more than factories, less industrialized countries will serve just as well.
At the same time, there is the sphere system. Great Powers can use diplomacy to extend their influence in weaker powers, eventually pulling them into their ‘sphere of influence.’ ‘Spherelings’ (junior partners in this relationship), you may recall, buy and sell as part of their overlord which means their resources and customers might as well be part of the state market of the Great Power. In return, the spherelings get a protection guarantee from the sphere leader, which massively raises the cost for any other European power looking to opportunistically prey upon them since any predatory war against a sphereling risks bringing their Great Power patron into the fight; in most cases in practice it takes them out of the land-grab-game.
Now, we’ll talk more about this system from the perspective of its victims in the last post in this series, but I want to note that the pressures of the security dilemma are not gone, the balance of power system has merely channeled them outwards into these colonial ventures designed to fuel the industries of the Great Powers, which in turn fuel their militaries which in turn must grow in order to match the growth of their rivals. The Red Queen still reigns as everyone runs and runs and no one can quite ‘get ahead.’
I want to make a point here of just how vast the increase in military capabilities and costs are. At game start, France has 47 standing brigades (141,000 troops) and can mobilize another 106 brigades (309,000 troops) in a war; a maximum all-call army of 450,000. Jumping to the end-game, the France of my Ottoman play-through – which has been AI controlled and so not benefited from the efficient sort of play that a human player can bring (indeed, it has expanded only outside of Europe and even then rather less than would normally be expected) – has by 1921 a standing army of 192 brigades (576,000 troops) and can mobilize for war another 555 (1.66 million troops); an all-call army of 2.24 million men. Nearly five times larger than its army of a century prior. Naturally, the increase is even more dramatic for a well-run player-country; the all-call figures for the Ottoman Empire in that same game went from 183,000 to 1.98 million in the same period, a ten-fold increase.
Moreover, those aren’t the same basic types of soldiers. That AI army has lots of new and expensive troop types that weren’t available in 1836, like airplanes, tanks, elite guard infantry and so on. And we haven’t talked about navies, but the introduction of ironclads, then pre-dreadnoughts, then dreadnoughts make navies both much more powerful but also massively more expensive. Note also that not only has the total army size increased, it has increased faster than population growth. France in the above example starts with 8.78 million males in 1836 and has, by 1921 20.5 million, merely 2.3 times as many, but its army has basically quintupled. It’s actually worse than that because many of those new pops aren’t natural growth, but added colonial possessions; very roughly the population of the French core (which will provide most of the soldiers as pops in colonial states provide troops at lower rates than pops in fully integrated states) has gone around around 7.9m to 16.4m; just about double. Consequently the mobilized manpower has gone from around 5-6% of the core population to around 14%. A much larger slice of the population now fights in war, drawn mostly from the farmers, laborers and craftsmen, while at the same time it now demands massively more resources.
And finally, with all of that ground laid, we can get to the point that made me want to discuss Victoria II in the first place.
In Flander’s Fields…
The nature of the sphere and colonial activity of the Great Powers means that, as any game progresses, the globe is steadily carved up, one way or another. Meanwhile, technologies like nationalism and rising consciousness in multi-ethnic empires will also tend to stir more – and worse – crisis events (especially since backing down in a crisis doesn’t have a fixed prestige cost, but costs a percentage of current earned prestige making the prestige hit in the late game massive). Importantly, there is a smaller prestige penalty for declaring disinterest in a crisis, which tends to get players in the habit of declaring a position on each crisis on the assumption always that some deal will be struck before war actually breaks out; the system encourages exactly the sort of ‘mailed fist’ brinksmanship that typified a lot of European diplomacy in the 1910s. Moreover, many of the ‘Culture’ and ‘Social Thought” technologies and inventions (reflecting greater intentional manipulation of public opinion) increase national resistance to war exhaustion. Finally the game will unlock around 1890 ‘Great Wars’ – making it such that any war with at least two great powers on each side becomes a ‘Great War’ which allow for much broader and more severe peace terms and also makes it easier for Great Powers to ‘jump in’ on an on-going conflict. This last mechanic strikes me as a bit of a kludge – Europe, after all, had a bunch of general wars before, it is not as if the idea of a war between all of the Great Powers was a new discovery – but I understand its purpose.
Taken together, the game’s mechanics are designed both to slowly push the Great Powers towards a powder-keg situation where any conflict is going to blow up into a very big war and then furnishes any number of sparks. In short, the game mechanics are designed to produce World War I. They need not always do so, nor does the World War I need to look like the historical thing (though the game is also set up to encourage the formation of Germany and Italy and both of those states will either have revanchist claims on other Great Powers, or be the subject of them themselves which tends to fray European politics in historical ways; e.g. Germany and France can basically never be friends due to competing claims), but they do all push this way. We discussed last week the problems of deterministic thinking in the design of Victoria II (and other Gen2 Paradox games), though many historians also regard World War I as an ‘overdetermined’ event (that is, when there are more causes for an event than are necessary to make it take place such that any one cause could be removed and the event still occur in some form). Consequently the deterministic thinking here puts Victoria II pretty squarely within the realm of active historical debate (where ‘to what degree was a world war, if not this world war, inevitable’ is an active question); and of course we must note it is also possible to not have a great war (the Ottoman Empire game I’ve pulled screenshots from didn’t have one, for instance).
In some ways, World War I, in whatever form it takes, is essentially the ‘final boss’ of Victoria II – have you, the player, sufficiently prepared your country so that it can make it through the military, social and economic crucible of the First World War without being defeating or ripping apart under nationalist pressures? And I suspect that was the game design vision, moving towards this final test. Except.
Except the best way to win World War I is not to fight in World War I. Actually preventing WWI in Vicky2 is usually challenging (but not impossible!), since there are 8 Great Powers, you are – at most – only one of them and if the other seven decide to have a war, well, you can’t stop them without having a war yourself. But you can choose to sit it out, and this is frequently the best score-maximizing decision. Even winning WWI is generally worse for your score than not fighting at all. How is that?
Well, first remember that not only has your country’s military gotten bigger, but so has everyone else’s. By the 1900s, all of the Great Powers are industrial to at least some degree – or they wouldn’t be Great Powers anymore – and so have those massive industrial militaries which can now mobilize large proportions of their total pops for war.
Next, we have to look a bit at how battles are simulated in the game and how that changes; I’m not going to get too deep in the weeds here because this area of the game is complex. But in short, Vicky2 largely borrows EU4‘s model of battles; one feature of this is the way it handles ‘frontage.’ When two armies meet, only so many units (brigades) can be in combat at once. In Eu4, over the course of the game, that ‘frontage’ generally increased, reflecting the greater ability to control large armies, making late-game battles big, violent and often more decisive because more units are engaged at once (although this trend is substantially counteracted by the larger and larger armies). Vicky2 does the reverse – reflecting greater and greater amounts of firepower forcing armies to disperse in combat and use cover more, mid- and late-game military technologies reduce frontage, even as they increase the damage land units do to one another and increase the ability of land units to sustain their morale in the face of damage. Consequently, early game battles tend to be quick, unpredictable and decisive, but often with fairly low casualties (one side runs out of moral and retreats, forced to spend weeks recovering before trying again).
(Because this doesn’t fit anywhere else, I want to note that the combat model and operational-level game in VickyII feels perhaps the most awkward of any Paradox game. Crusader Kings, Imperator and Europa Universalis all share an operational level combat model, where battles initiate when two opposing armies end up in the same province. This is a good system to produce battles at a point, which makes a lot of sense for pre-1900 warfare. Hearts of Iron, by contrast, breaks formations down to individual divisions, rather than armies, and has combat occur when a unit begins to move into a province occupied by another (so the fight is not notionally at the center of a province, but at the meeting point of two). That model enables situations where armies are ‘in contact’ but not fighting, creating these clear operational-level front lines (the frontage and supply systems also play a role here). VickyII is caught though; at the start of the game (even as late as the 1880s), the EU4 model makes more sense. But trying to simulate World War I, with its vast trench stalemates, really demands the HoI model. The designers for VickyII opted to go with the system that makes sense for the first 4/5ths or so of the game, but the efforts then to simulate WWI in the end-game feel quite awkward as a result: instead of a western front, one often gets a western point – one massive battle sucking in all of the armies and leaving the rest of Europe nearly empty, save for reserve armies waiting to reinforce into the one maelstrom battle. I’m not sure how this could be resolved except by having the game actually transition combat models in the middle, which seems very difficult to design.)
In stark contrast, late-game battles are blood baths. Late-game bonuses to morale (which really ought to be ‘cohesion’ given its function in game) are massive, so units hold in the fight much longer, taking heavier casualties. Meanwhile, the narrower frontage ensures that battles last long enough for other reinforcing armies to arrive, turning into exactly the kind of whirling maelstrom of death we see historically at places like Verdun, where one relief units after another was fed into the maw of the war for months on end.
Something else happens here. The game simulates each army at a depth of two – a front line and a reserve line. The advantage of artillery is that it can fire from the reserve line, allowing two units (the front line infantry and the back line artillery) to engage one unit (the enemy front line infantry). And now we have to go back to that mobilization vs. standing army distinction. Artillery has to be raised as part of the standing army (you can do this in war, mind you), but when you mass-mobilize the working class, they mobilize as infantry. Once in battle, unless something has gone very wrong, the infantry is taking all of the casualties, but the firepower of artillery means they (should) be dealing more damage than the infantry shielding them – you should voluntarily retreat long before things get bad enough that your (expensive, limited) artillery gets ‘reinforced’ to the front line and engaged directly. Consequently, late-game battles consist of each side using their infantry to shield their artillery and using their artillery to mulch enemy infantry; the first guy to run out of infantry loses and retreats. Flanking or overwhelming with infantry quickly isn’t an option anymore, because the frontage is so low the battle is guaranteed to fill all of it, leaving no flank.
Now take this combat system and add in countries whose industrial base (and nationalistic resistance to war exhaustion) means they can mobilize 10+% of their population and stick in the war long enough to keep reinforcing those brigades with fresh bodies and throwing them back into the fire and the one by one the little changes begin to add up to a big change in how wars are fought.
…The Pop-pies Blow…
But we need to talk about what this all means for pops.
Remember pops? This is a game about pops.
When it comes to manpower, most Paradox games basically ‘cheat’ in one way or another. Manpower is generally a resource required to create new military units or reinforce old ones, but in most Paradox games, while it is created by your economic resources (like development in EU4, pops in Imperator or population in HoI4) it doesn’t feed back into those resources. Instead, manpower is produced by your country, the same way money is; it flows into a pool at a steady rate and can then be ‘spent’ to fill up or make new military units. Manpower ends up not so much reflecting your population as it reflects a product they produce, as if instead of men your armies were composed of little toy soldiers being churned out in your villages.
Victoria II does not engage in this cheat. Each brigade you train (for regulars) or mobilize (for reserves) is tied to a pop in a specific province in your state (soldier pops for regulars, working-class pops for reserves). This has significant ramifications – even a victorious war has negative effects as pops are mustered out of the factories and the fields, resulting in lowered production (even as demands for war materiel spike); players are likely to raise taxes to compensate (while also spending down reserves and taking loans) but that has further downstream impacts on pops. The factories in occupied provinces also shut down, which causes those workers to be unemployed, which again matters because remember that pops use the money they get from their jobs to buy the goods they need; with no money, they buy no goods and militancy begins rising. Even a successful war can thus produce economic slumps afterwards which can in turn lead to militancy and from there to emigration or increased violent agitation. In the early-game, having your factories shut down isn’t too bad, but in the late-game where most of your production is factory based, this is a catastrophe.
The situation is even more pointed men die. When a man in abrigade is ‘killed’ in combat (or by attrition), the game checks your hospital modifier (to simulate medical technology) to determine if he dies or not, with surviving pops returned to their parent pop and dead pops removed entirely. If the main pop grouping (the actual ‘pop’ in game terms, rather than the individual unit of population) is exhausted in war, then its attached unit won’t reinforce anymore and eventually you’ll have to disband it. If you recruit a pop into the army and get it killed, it is gone. It can’t work in factories or work on farms; not only that, because pops reproduce, not only is that pop dead but its death reduces your population growth (because pop growth is simulated as a percentage of pop size; smaller pop, lower absolute growth rate). That pop and everything it would have ever produced – including other pops – is gone. Forever. Even in the early game, this fact radically re-conceptualizes the player’s military activity, because every battle represents some quantity of pops permanently lost.
And because the player cares about pops – they are the fundamental unit of production – this matters to players too. I suspect a lot of players (especially playing small countries) will have the experience of an early war where heavy losses to their standing army leaves their ‘soldier’ pops so heavily depleted that their army is crippled for decades to come, which ensures that they are thinking about this mechanic in subsequent games – especially when they are mobilizing not merely small armies of mostly professional soldiers but mass armies.
Already this represents a serious departure from the attitudes about war encased in the mechanics of Europa Universalis IV because it foregrounds the loss and human suffering that EU4 mostly obscures. But then this system collides with the build-up to World War I and all of the systems designed to produce that conflict. Because by the late-game, we now have a situation where all of the major Great Powers can and will muster mass armies consisting of many hundreds of brigades of both professionals (the correct strategy is to heavily tilt your professionals towards artillery) and many more hundreds of brigades of mass mobilize conscripts. High unit morale and low frontage means that in the long, grinding battles of late game wars, even with high medical tech, units will take mass casualties before retreating, often being entirely depleted. And reductions to war exhaustion coming from technologies linked to the rise of nationalism and jingoism mean that these great states will stick in the war long enough to reinforce those brigades, drawing yet more of their mass work-force, again and again until the thing is done. The low-frontage long battles in turn ensure that the war is unlikely to be decided fast enough to win before these huge armies are mobilized. But the fact that the ‘Great War’ system radically increases the scale of peace demands in a Great War – demands which can be added by any participant – any such war is likely to be a total war as every major participant tacks on their own little goals.
All of which in turn means that as the game advances, the wars in it get more and more ruinous. Early game wars are often small affairs mostly between professional armies, or one-sided fights between major European powers with modern, early industrial armies and other states which lack the industry and technology to effectively fight back. Mid-game wars can still occasionally be swift, but by the late-game those quick decisive victories are almost impossible to achieve against all but the smallest enemies.
And that steady increase in the destructiveness of war culminates in one (or more) ‘Great Wars’ which are likely to be tremendously destructive, killing a significant portion of the working classes of each country involved (or at least, each country that isn’t rapidly occupied and then forced to watch its suddenly unemployed factory workers slowly ground to dust for years while the remaining great powers bleed each other white). But while these late-game wars can also produce very large land-grabs, the game doesn’t score land. It scores military power, industrial power and prestige. Winning a Great War nets a bunch of prestige (but losing one costs a bunch), but in terms of industrial and military power the best thing you can do is not join the Great War and therefore not incinerating hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of your pops and crushing your economy (of course, sitting out the Great War is also a great way to make a bunch of cash selling to the combatants).
…Beneath the Crosses, Row on Row…
Historically speaking, there is actually something to this. As Azar Gat notes in War in Human Civilization (2006), for most of human history, war ‘paid,’ at least for the elites who made decisions. In pre-industrial societies, returns to capital investment were very low. They could – and did – build roads and infrastructure, irrigation systems and the like, but the production multiplier for such investments was fairly low. For antiquity, the Roman Empire probably represents close to the best that could be achieved with such capital investments and one estimate, by Richard Saller, puts the total gains per capita at perhaps 25% over three centuries (a very rough estimate, but focus on the implied scale here; the real number could be 15% or 30%, but it absolutely isn’t 1000% or 100% or even probably 50%).
But returns to violent land acquisition were very, very high. In those same three centuries, the Romans probably increased the productive capacity of their empire by conquest 1,200% (note that’s a comma, not a dot!), going from an Italian empire of perhaps 5,000,000 to a Mediterranean empire in excess of 60,000,000 (and because productivity per capita was so relatively insensitive to infrastructure investments, we can on some level extrapolate production straight out of population here in a way that we couldn’t discussing the modern world). Consequently, the ‘returns to warfare’ – if you won – were much higher than returns to peace. The largest and most prosperous states tended to become the largest and most prosperous states through lots of warfare and they tended to stay that way through even more of it.
This naturally produced a lot of very powerful incentives towards militarism in societies. Indeed, Gat argues (and I agree) that the state itself appears to have emerged as a stage in this competitive-militarism contest where the societies which were best at militarizing itself and coordinating those resources survived and aggregated new resources to themselves in conflict; everyone else could imitate or die (technically ‘or suffer state-extinction’ with most of the actual people being subjugated to the new states and later empires). Those incentives produce exactly the behaviors we see in EU4 and in the early-game of VickyII where the most successful states are the ones that are rapaciously expansionist. And this makes a lot of sense if you think about the really basic energy economy of these societies: nearly all of the energy they are using comes from the land, either in the form of crops grown to feed either humans or animals who then do work with that energy. Of course small amounts of wind and water power were used, but only small amounts.
As Gat notes, the industrial revolution changed this, breaking the agricultural energy economy. Suddenly it was possible, with steam power and machines, to use other kinds of energy (initially, burning coal) to do work (more than just heating things) – for the first time, societies could radically increase the amount of energy they could dispose of without expanding. Consequently – as we’ve seen – returns to infrastructure and other capital development suddenly became much higher. At the same time, these new industrial technologies made warfare much more destructive precisely because the societies doing the warfare now had at their disposal far larger amounts of energy. Industrial processes not only made explosives possible, they also enabled such explosives to be produced in tremendous quantities, creating massive, hyper-destructive armies. Those armies were so destructive, they tended to destroy the sort of now-very-valuable mechanical infrastructure of these new industrial economies; they made the land they acquired less valuable by acquiring it. So even as what we might term ‘returns to capital’ were going wildly up, the costs of war were also increasing, which mean that ‘returns to warfare’ were going down for the first time in history.
It’s not clear exactly where the two lines cross, but it seems abundantly clear that for the most developed economies, this happened sometime before 1914 because it is almost impossible to argue that anything that could have possibly been won in the First World War could have ever – even on the cynical terms of the competitive militarism of the pre-industrial world – been worth the expenditure in blood and treasure.
At the same time, Gat notes that human societies didn’t suddenly reinvent themselves in 1900. We have all of these institutions, these social habits, these values, these works of literature and culture which were produced to help our societies survive in the environment of competitive militarism that existed before 1900. It is hard to stress the magnitude of the shift Gat is talking about here – taking the modern state, the most efficient violence-machine ever developed by humans – and putting it in a world where war is maladaptive is roughly like dropping a polar bear in the Serengeti. Everything that bear has ever learned is suddenly pretty useless or actively harmful. So societies entered this brave new industrial world with a whole lot of habits and institutions designed to push them towards war because war used to be how one profited and survived.
And I think it is the commanding triumph of Vicky2‘s design that this very effect is produced not out of some railroading nor because the game makes a ‘war-is-bad’ sad-face at you, but as a product of the mechanics. I do not actually even think that the designers here had Gat or his theories in mind (Johan may happily correct me if I am wrong). Rather, the triumph here is that in producing a historical simulation which came close enough (with all of its many flaws) to simulating both the rising gains to capital and the rising destructiveness of war, Vicky2 produces this interaction as emergent gameplay.
And the game also simulates that sudden mismatch between the social values of societies born out of competitive militarism and the new industrial world quite brilliantly on two different levels. On the first level, we have the player. They have almost certainly been ‘trained’ on other Paradox games or at least on VickyII‘s early game, where war still ‘pays.’ They also have a set of expectations, much like these societies do and those expectations include that ‘final boss fight’ of World War I at the end of a game to prove how well or poorly they’ve managed their country. In short, they – like the leaders of Europe in 1914 – are primed by their own socially embedded expectations to walk into the First World War without ever really asking if they should in the profound sort of terms we’ve laid out. War, after all, is the doing thing!
At the same time, the game’s systems are going to pressure the player in this direction too. Your public wants that war; you have revanchist claims that are fueling the rise of dangerous nationalist and fascist parties after all. Even if the player has a long last recognized that building a new factory in Marseilles will do more good for the French people than retaking Alsace-Lorraine, the political pressure reflecting a populace whose social norms haven’t caught up to their new reality pushes you to that war anyway. Meanwhile, the crisis system creates a prestige cost for refusing to get involved! Prestige is funny – as a resource it has no value except that it contributes to score (I was wrong before, it doesn’t determine buy-order, rank does), but players want it. Taking that big prestige hit for just ‘noping out’ of the Great War before is starts hurts a little and reflects the sort of concerns for ‘national greatness’ which fueled countries which often had no business being in the First World War to join anyway.
And then, before you know it, 10,000,000 pops are dead (in a game where that matters and the player is made to care), everyone’s score is now lower than it had been at the start, even the winners. But because these games are meant to be played multiple times, the player learns – in the same way that, after a couple of disastrous playthroughs, the industrialized world is beginning to learn – that war doesn’t pay anymore and it is simply better not to be in World War I.
It is also, by the by, a brilliant refutation of Steven Pinker’s related argument in The Better Angels of Our Nature (and yes, I am aware that Gat blurbed Pinker’s book and thinks well of it; but for my part, I think Gat has the far better argument). Pinker argues that the decline in violence we see today – and yes, violence has declined (many people find this position unacceptable, but it is absolutely true; per capita violence and violent deaths have declined as a function of time over human history, though not evenly so) – is a result of changing social norms and values particularly focused on the Enlightenment. But a simulation like Vicky2 presents, in I think some startling clarity, the strength of Gat’s argument which is rooted in the raw economics of warfare. It doesn’t take new, enlightened people to realize that war doesn’t pay in Vicky2 – and indeed, the enlightened men of 1914 certainly didn’t seem to know that it wouldn’t until it didn’t even with their enlightened values! – it takes the experience of a war whose expense couldn’t ever possibly be justified by the return. Cynical human profit-maximizing does the rest.
(This may also go some way to explaining why the ‘Long Peace’ has fallen unevenly over the world. For less industrialized, poorer countries, the old calculus still might more-or-less hold (again, at least for the elites who reap most of the rewards in war, but don’t do most of the dying). In countries with resource extraction economies, grabbing the resources by violence may still be the ‘profit-maximizing’ route in a way that trying to do the same in highly productive industrial societies is counter-productive because the violence destroys the very human and physical capital you want to control. Gat’s thesis would lead us to expect that while there might be a lot of tensions and occasionally war between industrial powers, most conflict will center on developing countries with economies that are still largely pre-industrial (or resource-extractive); that is a pattern that seems to largely hold true (though those conflicts may draw in industrial powers, especially if intra-national conflicts produce international violence; e.g. transnational terrorism).)
The Larks Still Bravely Singing, Fly
This interaction, I must confess, was what moved me to write this whole series – not just Victoria II, but on the whole of Paradox’s catalog.
Azar Gat, after spending 600 pages building to it, closes by noting the enhanced ability for destruction unleashed by the industrial revolution, culminating in the taming of the atom has not undone the centuries of cultural evolution (or, he argues, many millennia of biological evolution) which predisposes humans and human societies towards war, leaving the open question of if we can avoid using all of these terrible weapons we have invented long enough for our cultural and biological evolutionary processes to catch up. For the attentive player, Victoria II can deliver, in microcosm, much of the same analysis.
As I said, I strongly suspect that this interaction was entirely unintentional on the part of the developers. They produced an economic simulation which captured the rising productivity of industrial economies and they also produced a military model which would capture the rising destructiveness of war (because they wanted the player to have a WWI experience) and the mechanics handled the rest, simulating a very complicated theory about warfare.
I am not at all exaggerating when I say I think this stands as Paradox’s single greatest achievement in game design, even embedded as it is in an often flawed, janky game. Many games have historical settings, some even have historical themes; I can think of few other games which are able to produce historical theories in an emergent manner like this. I hope – and this seems to be true so far – that Victoria III will resist the urge to gamify these systems in an effort to make World War I ‘fun’ and thus break this element of the simulation. Instead, my hope is that the developers on Victoria III approach this emergent mechanic more intentionally, making sure to fully capture the shift in ‘returns to warfare’ over the game.
I think these mechanics also speak to something I mentioned when we talked about EU4 which is the way that the Paradox oeuvre, when taken together, is more than the sum of its parts. If every game in the Paradox library was EU4, with its implicit endorsement of aggressive warfare and mercenary diplomacy, that would be a real problem. But VickyII, with its pop-focused system and stubborn insistence on making the player care about the destructiveness of their wars, serves to complicate the narrative of a game like EU4 (Imperator also does this in its own ways, by the by) in a way that renders the whole catalog richer. Playing Vicky2 coming from EU4 or CK3 ought to make the player stop, think a bit about the ramifications of the things they did in those games without thinking – because that’s the social script we still have – and stop and question that script and its values.
All of that said, no game is perfect and Victoria II is perhaps more imperfect than any other mainline Paradox game. That’s no where clearer than it is in how Victoria treats the non-industrial states outside of Europe and so that’s where we will turn for our last installment next time.
215 thoughts on “Collections: Teaching Paradox, Victoria II, Part II: The Ruin of War”
Hm. Is the United States a possible state in this? Because being “neutral” until the end and selling stuff seems to be the way to go…
It is, and frequently the United States (sans a few wars with Mexico and itself, plus a handful of colonial ventures in the Caribbean and sometimes beyond) will be very neutral through the entire game, generally ending up as the #2 or #1 Great Power. Neutrality has another positive effect for New World nations as well, beyond economics and pop-preservation: during war, as war-exhaustion increases in belligerent nations emigration explodes and neutral, wealthy new-world countries like the US can see immigration reaching as high as the tens-of-thousands of pops per month. However, sometimes the US (When human or, humorously, AI-controlled) somehow ends up in dozens of wars with Britain over Canada and ends up being a gutted carcass torn apart by continental wars/the bloodsoaked master of North America.
I guess that’s fairly realistic – the one war fought over Canada between them didn’t end all that well for the US (speaking as a Canadian). More wars during the 19th century likely would not have ended any better.
The other problem was that the war between USA and Great Britain didn’t really have a clear end condution, which can well be seen when studying how United States prepared for those wars: For USA, the maximal target would be capture of Halifax and most populated areas of Canada. However, while these would make British land operations almost impossible, they wouldn’t destroy the Royal Navy that would blockade US ports and stifle its international trade. US Navy had no possibility of threatening the British homeland nor its colonies.
Similarly, Great Britain could, at the best, wish to keep Canada and have some successes in raiding American coastal cities and areas. In addition, they would be able to take all American overseas possessions. However, these wouldn’t really destroy American production capability. Neither side had the capability to end the war decisively.
I think you’re leaving out the French in this analysis… in the alternate dimension where the French don’t invade Russia and perform better in the Peninsular War, they certainly could have threatened Great Britain. Maybe they use the freed up forces to take proto-British India instead or the like. Sure, the UK isn’t going to be overthrown by Jacobites or something crazy in this era, but losing most of their colonies (like happened to Spain & Portugal) would certainly count as losing the war.
The British government tried to put Wellington in command of the War of 1812. He refused on the grounds the public would expect him to make the US sue for peace, which he did not think possible.
Forcing the surrender of the American colonies during their war of independence in the 1770s might have been possible for the British, simply because at that time, there were plenty of colonials that would have been willing to go on as British subjects given the right incentives. Meanwhile the Americans only kinda sorta vaguely had a state capable of putting together a viable army. I don’t know if the war was in fact winnable for the British, but I can easily believe that it would have been, if luck had broken their way, if divisions among the colonies had been stronger and prevented unification, or for other reasons.
But forcing the surrender of the United States by 1812 sounds virtually impossible, yeah. There were fortresses dotted all over the landscape, significantly more domestic arms production, and the population was both larger and much more accustomed to political independence… and British capacity to sustain large armies on the wrong side of the Atlantic hadn’t grown that much larger.
The sheer scale of the territory that would have to be occupied and subdued would result in the British either never being able to control more than a small fraction of the United States at once while the rest fought on, or in the British being spread so hopelessly thin that even the chronically feckless American militia units would be able to roll them up in the long run.
Success would have required the British to be able to recruit one group of Americans and arm them to act as the bulk of the forces keeping the rest of the Americans in line- and that wasn’t in the cards with 1812-era political sentiments, I think.
Throughout the Revolutionary War the British demonstrated a truly stunning ability to alienate Loyalist Americans. They seem to have been incapable of recognizing them as an asset that needed to be cultivated. The size and decentralized nature of the nascent United States also presented a problem. Victory in one theatre just led to resurgence in another. Taking important cities like New York and Philadelphia proved equally futile.
The US did as well as it did during the War of 1812 because Great Britain had other things on its mind.
You will note that peace was negotiated before Waterloo. I suspect things might have been different otherwise. Not saying that Britain would have been able to conquer the colonies entirely, but I think the map afterwards would have been quite different. On the other hand, without Napoleon to distract them, I doubt the Americans would have declared war.
Without a war to require so many sailors, would they have impressed men off American ships?
I’m not really sure how much of a casus belli impressment was vs. the Americans wanting to go after the Loyalists who moved to Upper Canada vs. “we want more space” people seeing a northern expansion as being easier than moving west. The post-war expansion to the west is suggestive.
I think you’re leaving out the French in this analysis… in the alternate dimension where the French don’t invade Russia and perform better in the Peninsular War, they certainly could have threatened Great Britain. Maybe they use the freed up forces to take proto-British India instead or the like. Sure, the UK isn’t going to be overthrown by Jacobites or something crazy in this era, but losing most of their colonies (like happened to Spain & Portugal) would certainly count as losing the war.
That’s already leaving it too late; there was no serious prospect of France being able to conduct overseas operations after Trafalgar, and even before then their naval strength was severely impacted by the Revolution. The most France could hope for would be to damage Britain’s economy by locking it out of Continental trade, which Napoleon had already tried and failed to do anyway.
But forcing the surrender of the United States by 1812 sounds virtually impossible, yeah. There were fortresses dotted all over the landscape, significantly more domestic arms production, and the population was both larger and much more accustomed to political independence… and British capacity to sustain large armies on the wrong side of the Atlantic hadn’t grown that much larger.
The US was more or less bankrupt by the end of the War of 1812 anyway, if the UK had kept the war going for another year or two the US would have been forced to seek peace due to economic exhaustion anyway.
Well, by the same token, what was intended to become the Second U.S.-Canadian War turned into the Fenian raids instead, where the U.S. treated the Fenians not as a stalking horse but as terrorists, and pretty much conspired with Canada to reduce the Fenians to helplessness. (Not that they weren’t doomed anyway: has any other invasion depended ln buy commercial railroad tickets to get them where they were going?)
Actually, Britain was quite concerned about war with the US in the lead up to WWI and developed extensive war plans for such an occasion. All of these plans included the abandonment of Canada except for maybe some fortified East Coast ports that could be defended and supplied by the Royal Navy, and most plans even abandoned those. Canada by this point in time, and to this day, is geographically indefensible from an attack from the south.the real bloodbath would be the occupation, the resistance and the naval war.
Yes, and by the end of the game the US is almost always the #1 greatest power in the world (the only other rivals are the UK and Germany). America rarely gets involved in the great power wars in Europe, and if it does it’s isolated – it’s land is not occupied. And the immigration features that Brett mentions means that by the end of the game, when states in China and India become “civilized” and effectively “normal”, america then gets absurd amounts of immigration, as lots of extremely poor Chinese and Indian people leave their homes because they can’t afford to buy things, so America (and Canada too) gets the benefit of all those delicious pops (who then assimilate to “american” cultures quickly)
Picking America would seem to be playing on easy mode…
Hmm. How does the Civil War turn out?
There are scripted events that force the Civil War to happen (somewhat dynamically, not every slave state joins the confederacy). But if you’re a player it’s easy to game because any military unit raised from pops in a confederacy state switches sides.
Players can either not raise any military units from those pops, which forces the confederacy to scramble to raise its own units while the union army occupies everything. Easy win for the player. Or the player can park all the future turncoat confederacy units in Africa, Liberia is a common location. All the confederacy’s armies are stuck across an ocean and it’s an even easier win for the player.
The player can also choose to play as the confederacy instead of the union and they can game things in reverse to cripple the union’s military.
Since the AI presumably does not deliberately game the system this way, how does the American Civil War usually turn out when the AI is running both sides?
@Simon_Jester. The North usually walks over the Confederacy in the games I’ve played. I’ve never seen an AI Civil War result in southern independence.
South can win but usually only if someone else takes the opportunity to attack the Union
I’ve played at least a dozen Vicky 2 games and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Confederacy last more than a year. The US usually crushes it immediately.
So that seems quite unrealistic if what actually happened is not in the realm of possibility.
The first couple of years of Our World’s ACW was notable for the fecklessness of the Union High Command. The Confederacy had (on the whole) better commanders to start and enough of a population that wanted war to support their military.
And the Union wasn’t particularly efficient in our world, because it didn’t need to be. The ACW was won by the Union in the finest tradition of Americans Doing Modern War – by smothering the enemy in logistics.
“God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.”
Indeed, though it will certainly get a lot of destruction in the American Civil War (which is not quite inevitable, but it takes a good player to abolish slavery before the “Slavery Debate” modifier kicks in which does make the war inevitable).
Hmm. Can you delay the invention of the cotton gin? That would have helped in real life.
The cotton gin was invented in the 1790s- that is to say, about two generations before Victoria II’s game start.
Well, even more pedantically, cotton gins were probably in use in India since around 500 AD, and sophisticated forms of gin were ubiquitous in the Old World since the 1500s. The problem was they were only really suited to long-staple cotton–the ‘staple’ being the length of the individual fibers (which in short-staple varieties is around 1/8 inch vs. 1-1.25″ for long-staple varieties)–and long-staple cotton tends to be pretty finicky about its growing environment, which has to be hot, wet, and stable. Old World cotton cultivars grew fine in the historic production regions (after all, they’d evolved there), but the US cotton belt was much more suited to more robust New World cultivars, which were generally short-staple. US cotton growers were using Indian-style gins wherever they could grow long-staple cotton (whose longer fibers already make it preferred as a luxury product, since it’s smoother and more durable than short-staple–Egyptian cotton (for instance) is a mark of luxury today because it’s long-staple cotton (even though most Egyptian production is a New World cultivar that was developed in the 1800s).
Anyway, Whitney didn’t invent *the* cotton gin; he invented a form of gin that would work on short-staple cotton.
I mention this because Whitney is yet another one of the “Great Men” who gets lionized in histories, which fail to acknowledge the waves and waves of prior art. When Newton said he was standing on the shoulders of giants, he wasn’t being modest; he was accurately saying that scientific & technological progress is incremental.
Terrific article, and Paradox should (a) take this as high praise and (b) be reading these articles obsessively as they work on Vicky III.
I think this model of war goes a long way to explaining why World War II unfolded the way it did. The three major coalitions (ideologies, if you will) approached war in different ways. The Fascist/National Socialist Axis still looked at war as resource-enhancing, as in the old model you describe here. The Communists looked at war as a way to increase the power of their ideology by sweeping more people into their system. (Whether that was ideologically-driven or an attempt to maximize the power of the elite is beside the point.) The Democracies/Western Allies had internalized the lesson – at least in part – that the returns to war had become negative. (“Why die for Danzig?”)
That means that in the thirties Hitler could push the rest of Europe around because he had a glorious view of war that would enhance the power of his state at the expense of others, while the Western powers were anxious to avoid war because their experiences in the Great War had primed them to consider it a last resort.
Which is kind of bizarre when you come to think about it, as all three main blocks had been major players in the last war. Why was it that only the Western powers who understood the cost of war twenty years later?
If World War I had been worth it, it would have been the Western powers who saw the benefits. So they were the ones who saw that it wasn’t worth it.
Not just the Western Powers – the Soviet Union was very war-averse too (not surprisingly – after WWI and the 8-9 million dead in the Civil War), as well as preoccupied internally. It did not start to re-arm until the mid 30s, in response to German and Japanese belligerence.
“Soviet Union was very war-averse too” – citation needed. Facts of the matter are: it invaded Poland two weeks after Germany did and went on to subdue the Baltic states and attack Finland. This doesn’t seem very war-averse to me.
I mean, Stalin was for sure no pacifist, and had no problem grabbing free land (Poland) or bullying what he thought was a defenseless country (Finland). But actual war with a major power? Hell no. First, it would have completely disrupted his industrialization plan (capital goods now, consumption goods later) by switching production to the only kind of consumption nobody actually consumes (war material), secondly war requires skilled officers (not even Stalin was crazy enough to purge them before the war with Japan was over) and he wanted the freedom to dispose of them as he pleased, third arming the people is never a good idea for a dictator.
Re-wording. Stalin wasn’t a pacifist, but he did not want a major war with no allies. The USSR had few friends in the UK, France or US, and was well aware of the many voices that were gladdened by Hitler’s crushing of communism internally and only too happy to see Hitler go east. He was also cognisant that the industrial and military transition of the USSR was not much more than half-way there (military exercises in 1938 had shown the Red Army was some way from being able to implement its doctrine).
After he failed to get an alliance with the UK and France to contain Germany in 1938, he switched to a policy of appeasement with Germany. After 1940 he could see the USSR being the next target (although he seems to have calculated that Germany would not go east while heavily engaged in the west), and embarked on various policy moves to shore up defences. One was to move the border west (Poland), another to regain the Baltics. He made an offer to the Finns to swap a large chunk of Karelia for more room around Leningrad, and launched the Winter War when that offer was refused (helps to remember that Finland and the Baltics had all had red vs white civil wars post WWI). He also leaned on Romania. He was trying to gain strategic depth and make enough show of strength to keep Hitler wary.
Don’t forget the Polish-Soviet war in the 1920’s, which the Poles won.
I don’t know if it’s the actual reason, but it seems relevant that the entire pre-WWI elite establishment of Russia was gone long before WWII came around.
Now, you’d think the new leadership, which had been able to seize power in no small part thanks to the consequences og WWI on the Russian people, would think twice about going to war, but they may well have fallen into the common trap of thinking that they could have managed the previous war better than the people in charge at the time.
Remember that the Communists fought a nearly six-year-long civil war to establish their control over all of the Russian Empire. To them, war was resource-enhancing, since they effectively began it with nothing. That said, I am not entirely convinced that the nature and use of war in the modern era can be so easily resolved down to economics. Plenty of people want a great deal more than money, or simply don’t care about the resources they could gain with territorial ambition. The changing nature of states makes territorial acquisition difficult, and the fact that some major powers might force you to leave any gains, or force a political elite from power, has to be factored in.
It is profoundly unclear whether or not the Soviet leadership ever did want a major war with a great power.
They were happy to attack small countries that had no allies protecting them and couldn’t fight back very hard, there was obviously no hesitation to use force.
But as far as I know, any argument that the Soviets actively desired full-scale war with Germany (or any other major power) tends to be iffy. Most arguments I’m familiar with revolve around “the only rational explanation for X is Y, and the only rational explanation for Y is Z.” Such arguments are deeply flawed within the context of the Stalinist era, because:
1) The analyst is very often ignoring alternate explanations that are little or no less rational.
2) Even in normal times, governments don’t always do what is rational.
3) Governments are particularly prone to irrationality when ruled by a megalomaniacal tyrant whose grasp of reality gets a bit tenuous when it conflicts with his favored ideology.
I think it is somewhat wrong to say that only the Western powers learned the lesson, the Soviet Union very clearly did not want a war with Germany, to the degree that Stalin disregarded intelligence that the German army was mobilising as a British plot to get them involved. While the USSR was most certainly opportunistic and tried to expand through military conquest in seizing the Baltic States, eastern Poland and attacking Finland, Stalin (and through him the rest of Soviet leadership) had rejected the “international revolution” that Trotsky argued for in the 20s in favor of a much more internally focused policy.
The USSR spent a lot of time in 1938 trying to get the UK and France into a defensive alliance – which would have stopped Germany in its tracks. France and the UK were not interested, so Stalin switched to a non-aggression pact with Germany (basically, gambling that he could stay out, that Germany would not attack while it was at war in the west, and that by the time it might be able to do so, the USSR would be too strong to defeat). He over-rated Hitler’s rationaility.
I don’t think that the overall economic lesson was not to destroy physical or social capital. USSR and USA were still adapting their armies and civilians in 1960 in order to fight a nuclear war. Military personnel and devices were placed close to nuclear detonation sites and evaluated afterwards.
WW2 has shown that countries can fight and rebuild their economies even after tremenduous destruction (Germany and USSR) and also after being attacked with nuclear devices (Japan). Japan had been both devastated by submarine campings and bomber campaigns, twice attacked with nuclear devices and it was still ready to fight. The surrender of Japan came when their hope of forcing US to negotiate through a large casualty rate was shelved by Soviet entry in the war. The Soviets were rather unimpressed by large casualties and they could have been used as cannon fodder by US.
The reluctance to wage war against another industrialised state came only from 1970 onwards. The arsenal of nuclear devices plus the fleets of ICBM, nuclear submarines and bombers were so large at this point that Mutual Assured Destruction became a real possibility, not just some scary idea.
Wasn’t Germany in quite a lot of debt to France after WWI? The war was also as a reaction to how badly Germany got treated after they lost (and the resulting economic and social problems).
Germany made a huge deal of war reparations. In fact, they were less proportionate to GDP than Germany had imposed on France after 1870 – which France paid. When the key German decision-makers (essentially Hindenberg, Ludendorff and like-minded military officers) realised in late 1918 the war was lost they rapidly handed over to the Social Democrats so that they would be blamed. Then they cultivated the “stab-in-back legend”, did their damnedest to evade paying reparations and kept the army out of civilian control. In effect, Hitler was the last throw of the dice for the Old Regime (a coalition of the military, the political right and the top industrialists) in Germany (the anti-semitism was well there, but not to the extremity of industrial murder – lebensraum in the east was an ambition that dated back into the1890s or earlier).
There was also the debt. Germany went deeply into debt to fight, on the presumption that they could force France to pay it off.
Lebensraum dates back to the Crusades, but you’re spot-on. Germany still treats national debts in a hugely hypocritical way: the Nazi-forced forgiveness of German dept held by Greece can never be questioned, but asking modern Germany to forgive a much smaller amount of Greek national debt nearly dissolved the EU.
Ah, but it wasn’t just the reparations themselves, they were also forced to not impede imports from the same powers, which also became fashionable, which then lead to failing industries, rising imports, and a scramble to find foreign reserves by any means possible to pay debt denominated in the them- the infamous badly explained money printing that doesn’t apply to fiat… except in the eurozone, thus Greece and all the rest of us.
Great article! Another thing about Great Wars leading inexorably towards a World-War One scenario is that they don’t just increase the *potential* losses in peace deals-they increase the minimums as well. While before Great Wars are established wars can end in white peace-especially in multiplayer, with theoretically rational people at the helm rather than AIs-once it becomes clear that no great victory will be achieved. But in a Great War, *every* country on the loosing side must be a victim of ‘Great War Capitulation’, which is basically a combination demilitarization/economic reparation which is enough to convince everyone that they should stick it out to avoid being crippled by the peace even before wargoals like ‘Dismantle Empire’ start being added.
Sounds like a dollar auction.
I have nothing to say about this article except “Bravo! “
“reaches a crescendo”
No, Bret! No, no, no! Please do not contribute to the spread of this horrible misusage which has grown like a fungus across the language of late.
Please go look up the proper meaning of “crescendo” (or just work it out from its Latin/Italian basis)
You don’t get to tell people what the “proper” definition of a word is. Language is use.
Bill, I regret to inform you that the dictionary definition of the word crescendo now includes the secondary meaning of being itself “the peak of a gradual increase.”
“Crescendo” was doomed to decay to that new meaning, because of Plato.
“Crescendo” is a continuous process of gradual change. It describes a sound whose intensity has a positive first derivative.
Western culture is based on Plato, and Plato’s ontology can’t accommodate derivatives, or any other way of conceiving of gradual change. It’s entirely state-based. There are no gradual changes. Verbs generally denote transitions between states: “Bill walked to the store.”
Change, in Plato’s ontology, is non-material, and can be only caused by spirit (as in Hegel’s theory of world history). It amounts to destroying what exists and replacing it with something different. (This is why radicals always want to destroy the existing society; they can’t conceive of changing anything gradually, so they believe that real change requires destroying what exists and putting something else in its place.)
A strange game this World War 1 is. The only winning move is not to play.
But it’s a game that any of your neighbours can force you to play. It only takes one.
It depends. If you are Belgium, yeah you are in whatever you do. If you are the US or Japan or Italy, your neighbors would quite literally pay you to stay out.
They might be wise to do so, and unwise to attack you, but people can still choose to do something unwise.
Weird thing about Victoria 2: it’s actually pretty easy for Belgium to stay *out*, unless it gets unlucky enough to be the target of a major power. Unlike history, it probably won’t be! The war model is relatively simplistic and it ultimately doesn’t matter that much how “wide” an invasion is. Likewise, flank attacks through neutral countries basically offer no value.
I haven’t played Hearts of Iron 1/2, but I understand that game takes the resource model of Vicky2, then runs wild with it, and adds much better land-warfare simulations. AFAIK, in HoI2, you can do things like declare war on neutrals to open up a rear attack or whatever. It may be limited by your government / political culture however. I think most countries can’t get away with declaring war as a convenience without suffering internal backlash.
Maybe they could try introducing a mechanic which makes your armies more effective if attacking the enemy from multiple directions at once, to replicate outflanking manoeuvres and the like. That would incentivise Belgium-style flank attacks and race-to-the-sea-style extension of battlefronts.
Congratulations! You just made a(nother) Victoria III customer! I’ve only played Crusader Kings II and Stellaris, and I’m waiting at least a year for CK3 to get patched up before I inevitably sink hundreds of hours into it. I concur that the dynamic you’ve identified here is seemingly unique in this genre of games, and I’m genuinely excited to see if Vicky3 carries it forward.
How common are balance of power international systems?
I can only think of a handful of examples:
– Greek city states, with Thebes balancing between Athens & Sparta.
– Early Modern & Victorian Europe, with lots different balancing.
– Cold War, with China and India balancing between the US & USSR.
Are there more pre-modern examples that I am unaware of? Or is this mostly a modern / European phenomenon?
– The later Roman Empire – balancing the various barbarians against each other, with the threat of the legions as a backstop. They couldn’t use the legions too often because they would exhaust them.
– Renaissance Italy had a system of diplomats and mercenary wars, which ended by the French being invited in…
There were probably others, but I’m only an amateur at history.
Three Kingdoms and late Warring States periods in ancient China
Some echoes of it in the Diadochoi states post-Alexander
Warlord-period China in some years
The (narrowly-defined) Middle East today, where the positioning of the Gulf Emirates and Egypt and non-state actors in Lebanon is all about the Iran/KSA/Israel balance of power.
Balance of power only works in the longer run if some underlying condition limits the pay-off from conquest. In classical Greece, this was the attachment to the ideal of the independent polis, in western Europe from 1300 or so the norm of territorial rule plus hereditary right, in the modern world the expectation of national self-determination. These make ‘snowball’ conquest difficult by creating strong short-term negative feed-back from conquest. Wrote my honours theses on this :).
Aristotle observed that Athens was actually awkwardly large.
If your government does not scale up, that’s a good reason.
I’ve posited that history would be very different if any ancient democracy/republic had invented representative democracy. Like Athens selecting Boule-members from colonies, or Rome letting colonia send tribunes to Rome.
Rome kinda sorta did – the army was the unofficial electorate, and it was drawn from all over. As the emperors were over time. The incorporation of local elites through citizenship and graduated forms of status (and the emancipation of slaves) also helped. So Rome – unlike any other Mediterranean city-state – did get the snowball rolling (Persia kinda did it earlier in the Near East).
As Roel Konijnendijk (u/Iphikrates) has described here (https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/oemmpc/in_387_bc_the_persians_funded_a_spartan_fleet_to/) Persia also sometimes acted as power-broker between the Greek city-states
I think in the pre-modern times balance of power is rarely the primary limitation on countries. Internal instability is often just as much of a threat as external enemies. And empires also often reach geographic areas in which their way of waging war becomes less effective or which would be difficult to incorporate into their system of administration. If the most powerful countries are close to the limit of their territorial extent, wars aren’t really an existential threat for them anymore. Take Rome and Parthia for example. Every few decades they would fight over Mesopotamia, Armenia, or Syria, but the Parthian horse-archers already had trouble operating in Syria and the Roman legions would be hopeless against these horse-archers on the Iranian plateau. Or, another example, in the medieval Holy Roman Empire the emperor needed to personally travel around the country and show presence to keep local nobles loyal, so his empire couldn’t be arbitrarily large.
I suppose what I described is called “regional hegemony” in IR Realism. But I have to say in the forms of Realism I have learned about, limitations that aren’t competing states were mostly ignored. The assumptions were (1) that states are unitary actors and what is going on within them is not relevant for international policy, and (2) that a states ability to project power depends only on its military strength, not on where it wants to project power to. Which does seem like a modern European phenomenon.
In the EU4 post the possible forms of international relations were described as, from most common to least common:
1. Interstate Anarchy
3. Balance of Power
4. International Law (theoretical, never implemented)
I’m not sure if this was meant only for the timeframe of EU4 or in general. My impression from history is that regional hegemony (with hegemons competing over border territory) is actually the most common.
Another traditionally-postulated limit is that ancient empires have to be small enough that the army can march from a centrally-located capital to the frontier, fight, and return, all within a single campaigning season of about six months. Using Prof. Devereux’s estimate of ten miles per day, that means an empire with a diameter of at most 1800 miles, which actually does match many ancient empires.
This was a constraint on the Ottomans – the sultan could not delegate too much, so campaigns had to be either Vienna or Tabriz – and back to Constantinople from one before the other heated up.
I think this constraint is better expressed as the general had to be able to travel from the capital, fight and return.
Many of the troops in the later Roman Empire at least would have been from the frontier or some other place than Rome.
But generals who stayed in the frontier too long were either forgotten by the emperor, or the emperor became suspicious of the general and relieved him (possibly triggering the revolt he was paranoid about).
The late Bronze Age Near East, possibly? With the Great Powers being Egypt, Hatti, Babylon, Mitanni (later effectively replaced by Assyria) and maybe sometimes a Mycenaean Greek polity.
I don’t think the Cold War qualifies as a balance of power situation. It’s not the case that India or China habitually supported whichever side was weaker, thereby preventing either side from achieving decisive victory. Nor is it the case that they were waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces, and thereby discouraged both sides from initiating Hot War. It was mutual assured destruction that prevented both the US and the USSR, both governed by rational if not virtuous men, from full-scale conflict. In the end, the US achieved about as total a victory as we could have expected from successful military conflict anyway.
India certainly tried to do this (see non-aligned movement). They didn’t succeed though.
China very quickly saw themselves as fighting the Soviets more than the Americans (they actually shared a border after all), so there was a little bit of a three-cats-in-a-sack going on there.
Localized balance-of-power systems emerge naturally as the first, often brief, stage of detente and confederation around the periphery large empires. Pre-modern large empires don’t need a 5000-year view of history identifying the detente as an emerging threat to drive them to interfere and end the balance, they just do it for the loot; so you don’t see a lot of stable small-scale balance-of-power systems in history.
> All of that said, no game is perfect and Victoria II is perhaps more imperfect than any other mainline Paradox game. That’s no where clearer than it is in how Victoria treats the non-industrial states outside of Europe and so that’s where we will turn for our last installment next time.
If it helps with your compilation, we already have a good idea of how Victoria 3 will handle what in Victoria 2 are considered “primitive” or “uncivilized nations”. It isn’t in the dev diaries yet, but rather was mentioned at PDXcon amongst the information that was compiled in this handy reddit thread.
The relevant snippets:
> Well over 100 playable countries, but not all countries are playable. Most of Africa, parts of inner South America, and a few surviving native tribes in North America (including the Lakota, Dakota, and Cree) were not playable. These are “Decentralized Countries.” Post-launch, they want to make them playable eventually. But they want to do them right because the gameplay experience should be significantly different. All the Decentralized Countries have names and governments. There are no “uncolonized” provinces, but you can colonize on top of a Decentralized Country without declaring war.
> No more “uncivilized” nations. Instead there are “Unrecognized” nations, which basically means they weren’t seen as equals by the Great Powers at the time. They do NOT get any arbitrary debuffs to technology or combat just for having the “unrecognized” flag. They play by the same rules as everyone else for the most part.
> They will start out technologically behind in many cases, based on historical circumstances, and the social and economic conditions they have to deal with will generally make it harder to become an advanced, industrialized, technologically competitive nation. But that’s all tied to the laws, POPs, Interest Groups, resources, and starting infrastructure, not their Unrecognized status.
> The one direct, mechanical difference is that it’s cheaper and generates less threat for Recognized nations to take land from Unrecognized nations.
> You can go from Unrecognized to Recognized, for example by beating up a Great Power. The Russo-Japanese War was given as an example of an Unrecognized nation becoming Recognized.
> Colonization works in two different ways: Colonization against Decentralized Countries can be done like in EU4, where you can theoretically do it without open conflict. You establish a Colonial Institution back home and employ POPs as Colonists who will slowly build up the colony in the target province. During this time, you will generate a Tension score with the Decentralized Country you are colonizing on top of, which can result in open warfare. The natives will annex your colony if they win.
> Colonization against Unrecognized nations, it’s more like declaring a regular war. You can make them your colonial subject, or you can demand a Treaty Port, which will create a new State under your control and give you access to their market.
> Outright annexing overseas territory by either method will create a Colonial State, which is not the same as an Unincorporated State. They are affected by colonial policies, have special migration rules, and distinct mechanics.
Oh beautiful. So disconnecting the local factor of state-vs-prestate peoples and polities from the relationship to the European-dominated international system.
To be clear, the “recognized/unrecognized” divide maps fairly closely to the era’s Western perception of whether a nation is “civilized” or not, yes? For example, I imagine that in 1836, Portugal is “recognized” and China is not? Again, this doesn’t make Portugal fight better or China fight worse, just checking.
Yup. Basically, they’re splitting the “civilized/uncivilized” flag into two separate flags, one of which affects international relations and one of which affects economic and military performance.
i.e. China’s lack of “recognition” makes diplomatic repercussions for attacking it low, but because it’s “centralized” the military options it has to defend against that attack are the same as any other state.
I love that they bring up the example of the Russo-Japanese war in that dev diary, because it encapsulates this perfectly – a strong, industrialized state which has no diplomatic protection against aggression, but has the military power to protect itself anyway.
The colonization system actually sounds more like the one from EU3 than EU4, I wonder what that tells us about EU5?
I have a story about emergent strategies.
I once observed how a younger family member played a browser space strategy game. Rather primitive, as they all are. Long story short, kid tells me how in the late stages of play, a server becomes dominated by two alliances, neither of which attacks in fear of losing the battle, and with it, the fleet, without it being unable to further resist. So, they always ended up just eyeing each other, in spite of fleets built up to the brim, maintaining them as a check on the other alliance and waiting for the other to do something.
So, I hear that, and something clicks in my mind.
A bunch of frickin’ thirteen year-olds just reinvented the doctrine of Fleet-in-Being.
What you’re describing is more a general sort of deterrence than Fleet-in-Being. Fleets-in-being are a bit more operationally complex, built around the difficulty to directly force a battle and a coping strategy for a “player” in a weaker position by forcing the enemy to consolidate for fear of being picked off piecemeal while their own fleets are out of the safety of their ports.
Like Adam said, it might be more of deterrence, but this invention does not exist in vacuum. Your 13-year-olds have grown up in a society where it is considered legitimate to calculate whether fighting is worth it, and where fighting is, in general, severely discouraged. This makes accepting the idea of deterrence relatively easy.
Our society discourages real violence, but in a war game the assumption that you’re going to fight is baked in, usually along with the assumption that there will be exactly one winner and everyone else will lose.
Has there ever been talk of a post WW2 game (not counting Stelaris) from Paradox? Would the pops system work as well with say a “Cold War” game 1946 to @1990 ?
Oh my. Ah, yes, sort of. There was an effort by BL-Logic, which I seem to recall was a fan studio, to develop (with Paradox publishing) a standalone translation of Hearts of Iron (HoI3 in particular) into the Cold War, a game to be called “East vs. West: A Hearts of Iron Game.” Its production was apparently deeply troubled; announced in 2012, it blew it’s 2013 release date and was cancelled later that year. That happened around the time that a similar fan-project (in this case, I’m sure it was a fan project) Magna Mundi, which started as an EU3 mod but was licensed with Paradox to be released as a stand alone game, was also cancelled. Both of these projects were plagued by development issues, presumably due to inexperience with the developers and a lack of Paradox publisher oversight.
My sense from the outside is that these two debacles, coming alongside some similarly disappointing releases caused a shift in Paradox’s publishing strategy. Pre-2013/2014 or so, the strategy seems to have been that, in addition to the Paradox Development Studio which makes the core Paradox games, that Paradox Interactive would have something of a scattershot publishing strategy backing a lot of projects, some of which worked (Magicka, Cities in Motion) and some of which didn’t work (A Game of Dwarves, Defenders of Ardania, East vs. West, Magna Mundi, Warlock: Master of the Arcane, Impire etc). My guess is that the absolute disaster of Sword of the Stars II, which Paradox published but did not develop, there was a realization that this shotgun approach was damaging the brand (in part because, I’d guess, consumers didn’t keep a strong mental separation between PDS the developer and PDX the publisher) and there was a big, visible strategy shift as a result. Much more emphasis was put on making sure subsequent releases by PDS were fully and completely polished before release (as opposed to the ‘release-it-and-fix-it’ mentality of the earlier Gen2 games) while a lot of those side projects that looked like pending disasters were torched. East vs. West, already in development hell, seems to have been a casualty of this.
Paradox has not looped back to the idea since.
Side note on the business/branding considerations:
Another strategy they’ve taken is to play up the non-Paradox brand of the studio in order to dissociate any badness from their brand. So e.g. HBS is still prominent in the marketing and internal-to-game branding of BattleTech, Cities: Skylines seems not to be so strongly identified as “a Paradox game” in gaming culture, &c
But of course, that is mostly useful for games that are not in the traditional genres of Paradox-the-studio. If you’re going to release a grand strategy game, the Paradox brand is a big asset to have and if you’re not going to use it then there’s no point doing it in the Paradox umbrella.
Hmm, I don’t *really* buy it – was the Paradox brand really been played up before ?
(Well I assume it was for the games on their engines, like *Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game*, but what about all the others ?)
And post-SotS 2 Paradox has released quite a lot of Grand Strategy and Grand Strategy-adjacent games NOT by PDS :
Supreme Ruler: Cold War (BTW, fits the timeline that BernieR was asking for !)
Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game (literally based on Paradox’ Europa Engine !)
King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame
Warlock: Master of the Arcane
Warlock II: The Exiled
Supreme Ruler Ultimate (ditto)
Supreme Ruler 1936
Hmm, but wait, I guess that what our host said would indeed explain the lack of games in the genre in the years that followed ?
But then looks like Paradox is now feeling confident again with :
Age of Wonders: Planetfall (!!)
Surviving the Aftermath (?)
Can you point me to stuff about Sword of the Stars II being a disaster? I mean, I know it never really worked properly but I loved the first one and wish the second had moved things forward. What happened behind the scenes?
Stellaris includes a Human/Sol start, and also a few Tomb World archeological sites. Narratively, either your HoI game ends in a century of stalemate and gradual peaceful unification in which nothing interesting enough to build a grand strategy game around happens, or your HoI game ends in eternal fire.
I’d really like to see a Sunrise/Paradox collaboration though, as long as it doesn’t result in Bandai buying out Paradox too.
Possible typo: “The situation is even more pointed men die.”
Is there a “when” missing there? Or a missing comma?
Given the discussion last week about the pops only being adult men, with women and children abstracted away, I wonder what this means for the gender imbalance from wars. Does the effect of this get abstracted away also?
If most children come from married couples, and there aren’t as many couples, the replacement of the lost population will be slower. (Which gets me wondering about how or if the game models people moving from one pop to another.)
Of course, I’ve never gotten clear on how this works out in reality. I see regular speculation on what happened to all the women in France who couldn’t marry the men who’d been killed in WWI, but am not sure what actually happened.
I believe that the Soviet Union adopted informal or defacto polygamy (or just widely accepted infidelity) following WWII in response to the massive casualties among young men after WWII. There were as few as 60 men per 100 women born in 1924, for example. This is the only source I can find on it though
And as early as the American Civil War, women were recruited for war work in factories.
Paraguay is a very interesting case–after the War of the Triple Alliance, women outnumbered men in the country by over seven to one. They seem to have resolved it by informal means, however, since the percentage of illegitimate births skyrocketed in the years after the war and remained so for some time.
RE: The situation is even more pointed men die
I pondered over that too, and finally say it as meaning
The situation is: even more
The situation is that even more
But of course in English, if Bret were speaking this, he would probably include a micro-pause, causing us to “hear” the meaning without needing to add either that or your when
Orwell mentions in “Down and Out in Paris and London” that it was the policy of the French government at the time (1930s) to provide free housing and food on request to women who were pregnant (for which others were not eligible), and that this was specifically to “encourage childbearing”. So de facto encouraging pregnancy outside marriage without actually saying that.
It occurs to me that historical changes in attitudes about which gender is hornier, and toward polygamy, may have to do with shifts in the gender ratio caused by warfare being more or less frequent and deadly. Today, with little war, gender ratios in the West almost even, and women much less terrified of ending up “old maids”, men are the ones with more trouble finding partners.
Very interesting stuff!
In nitpicking, you fixed one “moral” but there’s still another left (“one side runs out of moral and retreats” – yeah, hate it when my soldiers lose their morality and start violating religious strictures too.).
I’ll just say that reflecting the tension between population & military service is something that a lot of games get very wrong. Good on Paradox for seemingly getting it right here – in early Modern conflicts from 1400-1789 or so, the number of actually rallied soldiers was a fraction of the total population, so tying rallying soldiers to population loss is fairly rare (maaaybe Frederick the Great’s Prussia had this issue?). It’s more the places the soldiers GO that loses the population. Napoleon gets into mass mobilization, and the American Civil War (at least for the Confederacy) and World War I start showing the havoc wars of attrition can wreck on a society. Definitely a case where the US was the true winner of WWI simply for losing the least and attracting a ton of refugees. I can think of various other games that simulate this “too soon” – in Imperialism II, army size is harshly limited by food & population size, but that game takes place in a janked Age of Exploration, where Cortes’s tiny army conquering the Aztecs was hardly a major section of Castilian economy or demanding wheat to be shipped from Spain to feed them. That kind of army-losses-equals-population-losses mechanic makes the most sense for Napoleon to Hitler. And from your previous posts on Rome, sounds like they had some pretty insanely high rates of conscription too, so perhaps them as well. (Since the Cold War, I guess we’re back to small professional armies rather than huge drafted masses of infantry, mostly for the better but with certain downsides as well now that declaring war is “easier” with fewer societal consequences.)
The Europa Universalis style mechanic of having soldiers as a resource produced by an area makes sense for early modern Europe, because in a sense, the soldiers of that era were not returnable like a conscript is. The personnel losses of armies in the field were simply huge, and most soldiers died well before being discharged. The soldier was recruited (or drafted, in case of Sweden), at an early age from the dregs of society, and would die in service. In Sweden, it is estimated that 1-5 per cent of soldiers survived until discharge. For this type of military, treating recruits as products of a region is not really a bad idealisation.
You could even make a case that in most cases, military recruitment didn’t even have much effect on the population growth: as there was more population than could be used in agriculture, removing marginal males from population didn’t impact productivity much, and had only a negligible impact on birth rate. However, this requires very low recruitment rates.
Sweden, BTW, did experience the downside of total war very early. They recruited about every second military age male in the country for Great Northern War. For example, my home province’s regiment was refounded seven times from the scratch after being destroyed. After the war, the economy was ruined. This experience shaped Swedish political thinking for centuries, and was, for large part, a reason why they have managed to stay outside wars since 1814.
What game, of any developer or genre, do you think does the best job of emergent simulation of some social theory[ies], besides Vicky II?
Couldn’t help but plug in Sabaton’s “Price of a Mile” while reading this.
I quite confident that you can trace the transition point in warfare first to the mass adoption of rifled muskets, and then breach loading firearms. The US Civil War is a perfect example where they attempted Napoleonic tactics for 3 and a half years until Grant and Sherman are given control of the war machine and just attempt to establish a serious of trench line fronts.
Lee also took understood beyond Napoleonic tactics because he consistently took whatever risk was necessary to keep the Union from forming a trench front against him. Most notably at the 7 days during the peninsular campaign.
For comparable great power wars of this time, there is Crimea, the US Civil War, Denmark-Prussian War, Astro-Prussian War, and Franco-Prussian War. Most of those were just the Prussians proving that they were the only ones internalizing the tactical revolutions of the age, so the Prussians didn’t face the peer competition despite fighting nominally peer states.
John Keegan suggests that the crucial development which created stagnant trench warfare was multiple projectile weapons (i.e., machine guns).
Calvary charges were absent in civil war battles, but Grant and Sherman’s goal was to avoid trench line fronts. Sometimes they were unavoidable at Vicksburg and Richmond-Petersburg, but Sherman continually flanking entrench lines to reach Atlanta and from marching to sea is what won the war not setting up trench fronts where they happened to be.
Well Grant and Sherman didn’t seek strategic investment – Grant and Sherman both intentionally made war against the productive capacity of society at large. Which gave their opposition the opportunity to either entrench in their path or accept the damage the Union armies would inflict.
And, when Confederate Armies either came out and gave battle to Grant and Sherman or, in the case of Sherman and the March to the Sea, attempted to bypass the armies and attack their rear… the deliberate attack on the productive capacity of the South would be consistently a disaster for the South.
So, it wasn’t conscious, but after the American Civil War no peer force would allow the same sort of adventurism in its rear. And the rifled small arms gave enough frontage from fortification that it would kill maneuver warfare.
What the machine gun added was the absolute futility of an offensive infantry attack. In Korea, where the Chinese used largely “successful” human wave attacks against the US Army. It’s believed the US was able to kill 1,000,000+ Chinese to the loss of 25,000-30,000 Americans. On the Western Front where there was interlocked prepared positions from the Channel all the way to Switzerland, the cost of offensive warfare was even greater.
But as early Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, frontal assaults on prepared positions were functionally suicide. With little actual loss of life for the defenders. It was just a question of whether the army had the ability to establish a prepared position across the given front. But, Civil War armies regularly accepted combat casualties north of 25% that would have horrified the most bloody minded WWI generals.
Artillery was the great killer in WWI and II – north of 50% of casualties. What barbed wire and machine-guns did was hold attackers static under the guns (defenders could dig deep and keep the forward lines thinly-manned). By 1817/18 the Allies had learned enough to assault trenches successfully, using ‘bite and hold’ tactics – also applied in North Africa. Coordinate artillery with infantry and engineers on a selected front, short dense barrage, effective counter-battery, assault, entrench, build supply, repeat.
Was “bite and hold” really an effective strategy (or method)? It may have boosted morale, both at home and in the field, by producing “won” battles, but it would have taken a long time for the British to reach Berlin with such methods. My understanding is that it was tactical innovations by the Germans (what they called “infiltration”), and technical innovations by the Allies (i.e., tanks, most effective when combined with air support), which opened up the Western Front. Later, the Germans managed to combine these two innovations into what is popularly called “blitzkrieg,” the precursor to what Prof. Devereux sometimes calls the “modern system.”
ey81 – you did not have to reach Berlin – just unhinge the trench system. The method captured the Hindenberg Line, forcing the rest of the German army to retreat to preserve a front. If bites took out junctions, rail lines or observation points, then each weakened the defence of the rest. Throw in guns lost, prisoners taken and morale. It’s larger-scale siege warfare tactics. German infiltration (storm-trooper) tactics were a parallel attempt but involved less coordination and wider aims – a fatal combination in that they ran out of steam quite quickly in the conditions of 1918.
This is a really fascinating argument. It took me a minute to figure out what was so striking about it—which of my assumptions it was upsetting—and I’m still not sure I’ve got it into words. But let me try.
My basic assumption had been that WWII was the “modernity-defining” conflict. It is the final total war between major powers; it features the development and deployment of nuclear weapons; the post-WWII decolonization has always been associated with that war in my mind and suggests a transition of a couple decades from the mid-30s to the present world order. On the other hand, WWI always seemed like an abortive, inconclusive affair—massively destructive, of course, but midwifing an ephemeral, unsuccessful global order.
But I think I take this essay to suggest that WWI might be regarded more properly as the historical fulcrum. The first great power war that was net-negative for all its players, the advent of the age of negative returns on war. This casts WWII almost an atavism—a conflict waged in a mode whose time had already passed.
Even decolonization makes a lot of sense here: if we imagine colonialism as a sort of “installment-plan war of conquest”, then the rapid collapse of the formal colonial empires that had defined the previous half-millennium makes perfect sense. So I think the “returns on war” model is pretty compelling, even if it seems to invert which events I had considered foreground and which background, as it were.
Part of what makes WWII stand out so much is that, as an ideologically-motivated atavism, the forces which made it irrationally destructive were even greater than they had been when that kind of war first lost its self-interested rationale.
The longer you ignore the lessons of WWI, the more it costs.
And this mattered to decolonization! WWI might have made an expensive process of colonial expansion impractical, but I can’t imagine the rapid collapse of the colonial empires without the losses of capital and people and will to fight that WWII created.
In part. But India was on the path to independence before WWI (which then accelerated it). A more or less explicit condition of India;s participation in WWII was independence asap afterwards. Without the Indian Army (5 million) and bases, the rest of the Empire goes pretty quickly. France and the Netherlands might (did) try to hang on through force, but that quickly proved futile. Hard to see them doing better even before the defeat – they simply lacked the means to wage endless war against politically mobilised populations so far away (cf Afghanistan, Iraq). Will to fight they had, means no so much.
WWI kills the Old Regime (see a very good book by Arno Meyer on how dominant the Old regime of aristocrats and landowners was right up to 1914). WWII is its last gasp, revived as fascism.
Uh, no, the radical-progressive fascism is basically what finished the remainder of the reactionary-conservative Old Regime : I’m not sure how it was in Italy, but in Germany the “old guard” absolutely hated the guts of Hitler (see all the assassination attempts, or Tolkien’s letters, or also how Nazis won the elections with the help of the bourgeoisie).
Most of the assassination attempts happened late in the war. When the Nazis rose to power, it was who Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor, it was the DNVP went into a coalition with him to give him a majority in parliament, and it was the military’s aristocratic leadership made a deal with him to support his expansionist plans in return for depowering the SA. The old aristocracy might not have liked Hitler, but they thought he was preferable to socialists and at least no worse than liberal democracy. He wasn’t part of the old regime, but helping him to power was one of their last significant political actions.
If you want to call the Nazi’s ideology of racialism, social darwinism, nationalism, and authoritarianism “radical-progressive”, I suppose that is a matter of definition. After all, these are rather modern ideas and quite different from traditional aristocratic values. But they were quite popular among the German aristocracy after WWI. The largest association of aristocrats in Germany (Deutsche Adelsgesellschaft) started to require an Aryan certificate for its members in 1918.
In the end, Hitler’s regime and loosing WWII did finish off the reactionary conservatives in Germany as a political force. But that wasn’t something they expected.
Pulling out all the social welfare elements from their program does not make them actually cease to exist.
Bismarck enacted social welfare programs too, ones quite a bit more ambitious than those found in the states a modern political scientist of the time would characterize as “liberal democracies” (e.g. Britain, the French Third Republic). Are you going to tell me that Otto von Bismarck was a “radical progressive?”
No, Bismarck was not a “radical progressive.” Nor was Hitler.
The idea that “conservatism” and “social welfare programs” are mutually exclusive, or that anyone who advocates social welfare programs must logically be a “progressive” or a “socialist” is mostly anachronistic for the time period we’re talking about (1800-1950).
There’s a fairly straightforward political division within European societies if you’re examining the period from the early 1800s up through the Second World War. Victoria 2 replicates most of it rather well.
Conservatives: Supporters of the landed aristocracy, powerful and established state churches- that is, the legacy institutions from the Early Modern and medieval eras. They could be pro-business or anti-business, pro-welfare or anti-welfare, but they tended to be anti-middle class. They tended to be strongly in favor of a restricted franchise and limited access to government positions, and of maintaining their control through traditional institutions like the army at the expense of non-traditional institutions like the press.
Liberals: Supporters of the rising middle class. They tended to be in favor of relatively open voting rights (which favors the middle class and cripples the landed aristocracy’s political power). Often they were supporters of laissez-faire capitalism (which gives the middle class unlimited options for advancement to rival or exceed the landed aristocracy). Not necessarily against the power of established churches, but often so.
Socialists: Supporters of the industrial laborers against pretty much everyone else, including the titled aristocracy, the churches, the business-owning capitalist class and upper-middle class, and sometimes even the rural farming population when the chips were down and those groups’ interests came into conflict. Sometimes in favor of the revolutionary overthrow of the blended conservative/liberal order that dominated most countries at the time. Sometimes not in favor of this (e.g. the Fabians). This faction emerged over the course of the era, being largely insignificant up to the 1840s, but very much on everyone’s mind in 1920.
Germany’s historical trajectory up through World War Two was largely dominated by the conservatives, not least because German conservatives were smart enough to make concessions to business and middle-class voters and avoid creating a situation that would force their overthrow during the late 1800s.
The Weimar Republic forced a liberal form of government onto Germany, but the conservatives had a great deal of influence. The socialists were only partially suppressed and thus still in the picture. Germany fought something like a low grade civil war in the early ’20s, and the conservative-backed militias beat the socialist militias trying to get a revolution going like the one in Russia, but the socialists still had a political party afterwards.
This created an unstable situation in the Weimar Republic. All three major ideological headings were present, powerful, and in conflict. The liberals had the advantage that the government was nominally a republic with the aristocracy’s official power blunted. The conservatives had the advantage that (see what I said two paragraphs ago) they were relatively popular and had done relatively well in Germany compared to almost anywhere else in Western Europe. For a while they wanted to just bring the monarchy back and resume the pre-WWI status quo more or less, but this was impractical given (among other things) how much aggro it would inevitably draw from Britain and France.
But then things really destabilized with the Great Depression. Socialists tended to point to the Depression as evidence of capitalism’s promises failing to materialize, and people with no jobs and no prospects tended to be angry and willing to listen to them on this point. Neither Weimar liberalism nor traditional pre-WWI conservatism really had an answer for this, although the Weimar Republic did handle the Depression with as much basic competence as most other European countries as I understand it.
But angry people with no prospects are willing to ideologies other than socialism too.
This is where the Nazis show up.
Fascism, and in particular Naziism, tended to share of the core justifications you found in 19th century conservatism. Such as “blood and soil” ideology. Such as disdain for ‘effete’ modern customs like women’s lib and tolerance of homosexuality. Such as fixation on martial valor as the ultimate test of the state’s validity and the validity of individual people. Such as the very aggressively upheld belief that humanity can be easily divided into objectively superior and objectively inferior orders of being.
But Naziism was also more prepared to declare that its legitimacy came from “the German people” as a mass body. 19th century conservatives generally didn’t see Germany was or could be a giant angry hive mind that would march out and punch everyone else in the face until Germany-the-hive-mind got its way. They saw Germany as a well-oiled machine that they happened to be the operators of, which is a bit different.
The reason the old-school aristocrats never liked Hitler is not because he was “a progressive.” It was because he was crude and didn’t come from their social class. His life was a very deliberate refutation of the idea that the old-school aristocracy really had the power to control Germany. And he knew this, and sometimes rubbed their faces in it.
Hitler was in his own way a triumph of the middle class over the aristocracy, just a different form of triumph than that represented by liberalism or socialism, and one that left the old-school conservatives with relatively more of what they wanted out of society than they could expect from the liberals or socialists.
Naziism totally rejected most the ideas about the value and freedoms of the individual that underlie the politics of liberalism, and in a different way also the different ideas about the value and freedoms of the individual that underlie the politics of socialism.
Socialists would enact welfare programs because the laborers are the ones who really have the right to enjoy the fruits of society and the idea of anyone owning a disproportionate share of society’s productive power was anathema to them.
Liberals typically wouldn’t enact much in the way of welfare programs for most of the 19th century (see also Victorian Great Britain). Though by the 1930s that was changing as liberals began to split along the lines of, for example, New Deal America. The justification was generally on grounds of humanitarian issues, or something like “people deserve equal access to opportunities, and being poor/widowed/disabled/etc. blocks off a lot of opportunities.”
But Nazis? Nazis were different.
Nazis would enact welfare programs because when you conceptualize the Greater German Reich as a single giant angry hive mind dedicated to the perpetuation and glorification of the German race… Well, a giant angry hive mind takes care of its drones, if only because it needs them to raise the next generation of future drones.
Smuggling in “radical” on your own initiative undermines your case.
Not to mention that socialism’s only quarrel with aristocracy is who gets to be the tiny elite who runs it all. Communism become dictatorship every time for fundamental reasons, and other socialist states are run by unelected bureaucrats.
Indeed, at the time, Progressivism proudly touted how it was leaving behind the antiquated notion of equality, especially racial equality.
As for justifications, a brief glance at WWII show you are arguing that Stalin was conservative.
@Mary “radical-progressive” was the term Peak Singularity used (“the radical-progressive fascism is basically what finished the remainder of the reactionary-conservative Old Regime”); I used it in my response to that (“If you want to call the Nazi’s ideology of racialism, social darwinism, nationalism, and authoritarianism radical-progressive, I suppose that is a matter of definition”). You responded to that comment and then Simon_Jester responded to your comment. So there was no smuggling in of the term “radical”.
And I am not even disputing that many of the Nazis’ ideas were modern ideas and shared by at least some progressives of that time. But this doesn’t change that:
a) by the time the Nazis appear on the scene many of their ideas were shared by German aristocrats (this process actually started before WWI, during the reign of Wilhelm II).
b) German aristocrats helped Hitler into power and many of them remained in important leadership positions through most of his rule.
You can argue where the Nazis and the people who called themselves “conservative” in Weimar Germany fit on an abstract political spectrum. But you can’t dispute that both groups became political allies.
You can’t deny that Hitler and Stalin were allies.
“Progressive” because Nazis (like liberals) completely bought into Progress as a worldview (unlike conservatives-reactionaries, again Tolkien is probably a good example).
“Radical-progressive” because they wanted to create a completely new world (see also : communists and anarchists). (While they also had a mythos calling back to old German and northern myths, it was even more “retconned” than the usual nationalistic mythoses – and some part of it was *probably* designed to endoctrinate childrens of aristocrats ?)
“Radical” because they wanted to achieve it as fast as possible, and wouldn’t shy using the most horrible methods to achieve that.
So I assume that if the Nazis had won, any conservatives-reactionaries would eventually have had to completely fall in line behind the Party (therefore getting eventually rid of any privileges they might have had as nobility), or be eliminated. (And that had already started.)
The “social welfare” aspects were also a part of that, though perhaps not the most important one ? (Of course it’s kind of funny how Nazis helped to get the ball rolling, and how Europe has then overwhelmingly adopted quite “national” “socialist” economic policies, even after the Nazis were defeated…)
>”You can’t deny that Hitler and Stalin were allies.”
By the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler had spent nearly twenty years going on at length about the dangers of communism, and within about two years after the Pact, Hitler was trying to get as many European countries as possible to cooperate with him on the Eastern Front by calling for a “crusade against Bolshevism.” And I quote.
Hitler and Stalin had their reasons for allying, but “the Nazis recognized the Soviet Union as natural allies with a similar and compatible ideology” was not one of them. Quite the opposite, really.
>”Progressive” because Nazis (like liberals)
>completely bought into Progress as a
This isn’t actually a good definition of ‘progressives,’ and either it doesn’t fit the Nazis or it doesn’t fit the people historians and political scientists normally call ‘progressives.’ The Nazis were socially conservative. See also their intense hostility to LBGT rights, see also the Nazis insisting that the proper role of women in society as “Kinder, Küche, Kirche”, see also their essentially agrarian vision of what the German people needed in order to be ‘great,’ that is to say, a lot of farmland in Eastern Europe.
If all of that can be shoehorned into “the Nazis completely bought into Progress,” then it’s pretty difficult to find a 20th century political ideology that doesn’t “completely” buy into Progress. Tying into Dr. Devereaux’s observations about how any 1900-era Great Power must be industrialized or it would cease to [i]be[/i] a Great Power, any post-1900 political ideology that wants to go back to the pre-1900 status quo in all ways would be hopelessly out of touch and powerless.
The Nazis embraced industrial machinery and certain modernist aesthetics even as they also embraced imagined-ancient cultural history and social mores from the previous century. Because it wasn’t about Progress for them; it was about winning, winning in the name of the Race.
>“Radical-progressive” because they
>wanted to create a completely new world…
There’s a name within political science for groups that want to radically recreate the world based on a mythologized version of the past, demanding a return to notional national greatness through deliberate purification and violent aggrandizement of the race, while aggressively rejecting modern political institutions such as elections, minority rights, and the press.
We call this type of movement “reactionary.”
“Radical-progressive” is a term that only gets applied to historical reactionaries when someone is trying to pretend that modern center-left political parties in the developed world (who sometimes call themselves “progressives”) are actually secretly Nazis. Or to pretend that the guys who sometimes bust out the swastika armbands and demand purification of the race are not Nazis, they surely cannot be, because they are allied with political conservatives, which we all know never happened before.
>So I assume that if the Nazis had
>won, any conservatives-reactionaries
>would eventually have had to
>completely fall in line behind the
>Party (therefore getting eventually
>rid of any privileges they might have
>had as nobility), or be eliminated.
>(And that had already started.)
You’re essentially correct in this, but note that this is already quite amply explained by a point I already made. Namely, that Naziism was very much a triumph of the bourgeoisie over the old landed aristocracy, just a different sort of triumph than the kind envisioned by liberals such as the ones in the Weimar Republic.
The Prussian aristocracy aligned itself with the Nazis for a simple reason. Namely, that if they were going to surrender control of Germany to a bunch of uncouth oiks, they would much prefer to surrender it to a bunch of authoritarian oiks. Oiks who could be depended on to keep the Poles firmly in their place as agricultural toilers, the women firmly in the kitchen, and the Jews and gays firmly in the concentration camps.”
As opposed to a bunch of liberal oiks who would allow the Jews and the Poles to act like full participants in society, the women to enter the workplace, and the homosexuals to openly hold hands on the streets of Berlin.
Now, in the end the Nazis would likely have gradually crushed the aristocracy insofar as it didn’t integrate into the Party… But then, the landed aristocracy didn’t fare well anywhere in relative terms, because the Industrial Revolution had knocked all the props out from under their power long ago. The German aristocracy just picked a different bourgeois poison to die of, really.
>The “social welfare” aspects were
>also a part of that, though perhaps
>not the most important one ? (Of
>course it’s kind of funny how Nazis
>helped to get the ball rolling, and
>how Europe has then overwhelmingly
>adopted quite “national” “socialist”
>economic policies, even after the
>Nazis were defeated…)
Post-WWII European economic and social policies generally didn’t resemble Nazi economic and social policies, except where the Nazis themselves were emulating someone else who had done something else.
The Nazis finished autobahns the Weimar Republic had started, and got credit for building them, and after World War Two plenty of other countries built similar freeways… but plenty of countries had been working on freeways before they ever observed the autobahns, and the Nazis didn’t invent freeways in the first place.
Nor did the Nazis invent the concept of universal health care, or old age pensions, or pretty much anything else you might identify as a recurring theme of post-WWII European economic policy. All of it had plenty of roots in places other than the Nazis, much of it was things the Nazis were hostile to, and even the things the Nazis weren’t hostile to were often cases of parallel evolution.
By that logic, the USSR could not have been one of the Allies, given Stalin’s statements. It is patently absurd to offer ideological infighting as evidence that countries are not allies.
WW2 was a great boon for the USA though, but specifically because they managed (yet again) to avoid for it to take place on their own soil !
Also I can see how the initial German Blitzkrieg could have been seen as smart when faced with opponents that were clearly afraid of the destruction from a modern total war (specifically *because* they were still remembering the destruction of WW1 !)
But then Hitler had the brilliant (/s) idea to attack the URSS…
(And would Japan’s Pearl Harbor be rather in this category rather than the previous one ?)
Both errors probably indeed stemming from a very specific view of History ?
But that would be a late-modern radical-progressive outlook-
(see also : Marx => USSR, except they *did* win the war for their Lebensraum and associated oil fields…
BTW, seems like that Stalin just before his death was about to commit yet another extermination, this time still of Ukrainians, but also of Jews, when he was possibly assassinated because his cadres didn’t feel like being purged again ?)
-not a mid-modern reactionary-conservative one !
(At least for Nazi Germany ? I hardly know anything about Imperial Japan…)
No, what indeed ended the modern period were the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima (and Nagasaki – why ??).
The Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine makes it sheer suicide (including for everyone else) for two Nuclear Powers to go to war with each other.
Hence peace between them (fingers crossed), even if a somewhat *mad* one (see Dr Strangelove & Putin’s Doomsday Device).
And proxy wars in the countries still not having Nukes (or very tightly allied, like Germany and Japan) – with the recent example of Ukraine, who can blame Iran and North Korea to try to acquire this kind of ultimate defense ?
There are two unquestioned facts about Hitler’s attack on the USSR.
One was that the USSR built up forces on the border before it.
The other is that they were surprised by it.
Now, why do you build up forces when you do not expect attack?
Hitler might not have had a real choice.
From what I’ve read, Stalin did expect Hitler to attack; he was only surprised because he expected Hitler to wait another year.
That, also, would be a very good reason to attack then.
“Now, why do you build up forces when you do not expect attack?”
Because you have a quite frankly moronic military doctrine written by a political ideologue who doesn’t trust his own generals; one that views warfare almost entirely in terms of national will and ignores things like training, doctrine, equipment, cohesion, and the like. Defending at anywhere other than the border, and staking your entire defense on that border, is defeatist, and if you advocate for it, you can take up residence in the gulag with the most open vacancies.
The USSR also built up forces on their other borders with Finland and the Japanese in late 1940 to early 1941. There is absolutely no indication that the Soviets were planning a war with the Japanese, and after the Winter War, one with Finland either. The Icebreaker hypothesis is laughed at for a reason.
The Soviet military doctrine, just like today’s Russian doctrinee, foresaw “defence” as a strategic issue. A defensive war would be one where the war would be fought with offensive operations, moving the battle to the enemy soil and destroying their main forces there. Thus, any Soviet (or modern-day Russian) military posture looks offensive, regardless of its strategic purpose. The question is only about the intentions of the highest command.
Second, the Soviet Union had annexed the Baltic states in 1940, and they did pressure Finland very forcefully at the same time. In December 1940, Molotov asked Germany for freedom to act in Finland as they wished. It is bit of a stretch of reality to say that Soviets didn’t plan for a war with Finland.
Soviet forces moved forward into occupied Poland, but not in a strength sufficient to attack. For instance, there were two major formations in eastern Poland, totalling 670,000 personnel. Germany attacked with 1.2 million in this sector alone. The The Red Army would have been calling up reserves and moving second line units forward if an attack were planned.
That assumes that attack was imminent. Any sane opponent attacks before then if possible.
(Nods) If you look at Germany and Japan’s reasons for waging war, it’s because they want resources, particularly food. What’s worth noting is that the Germans intended to exterminate the people already there and replace them with German farmers, while the Japanese intended to exploit the local labor.
One might say that in terms of overall war aims, Japan was trying to wage war in essentially “the same old way,” much as one might imagine from an Early Modern power with a vastly less developed and more vulnerable neighbor to its west and a whole lot of lightly guarded resource-rich colonies to grab to its south.
Notably, while Japan was a belligerent in World War One, they did not experience the same kind of massive, economy-crushing, society-rending casualties that the European powers did.
Insofar as World War One taught the world’s major nations a lesson, the United States was late to class and showed up ten minutes before the end, and Japan slept through it all in the back row.
Meanwhile, the Nazis just plain flunked the quiz at the end, being too firmly convinced of their racial theories to understand the material. They and Japan made such a scene at the beginning of the next class session that all the other students had to suffer through a repetition of the lesson.
Alternately, the US was the gifted child who went to math camp and already knew the material. The US conception of war was strongly shaped by the Civil War 50 years earlier, which was about as traumatic and relatively bloody as WWI in Europe, and definitely did not recommend war as a rational, power-maximizing choice.
hey, so you seem super well read about this period in history. do you have any book recommendations?
i’m sort of a beginner but i’m looking for a good place to start and you seem to have a lot of background knowledge that i’m honestly a little jealous of.
hopefully this isn’t a weird place to ask.
The US getting into the usual scattering of colonial wars (typically involving the Marines in Latin America) and the Spanish-American War suggests a somewhat more complicated picture.
The US, being the sole great power in the Western Hemisphere and with utterly enormous amounts of temperate land for internal development, had much less reason to take the risks of fighting a peer competitor over some random flashpoint far away. And, being across an ocean from all the other great powers, the US faced much higher logistical barriers to fighting any other great power directly, while also being much harder to attack in turn.
This combination predisposed the US to neutrality and avoidance of great power conflicts, regardless of whether the US had adopted a ‘more enlightened’ stance on the merits of warfare as a means of national aggrandizement.
I think that you’re on to something here, though WW1 is not just the final war that the parties went into expecting that in the end it would be “profitable” but also the final one where they went into the peace treaty expecting that a negotiated end to the war would be the end of it like in wars previously. At least, the end of that particular spark point for that generation.
Instead it was a demonstration that while the powers that be who were involved in running the war had discovered that Modern War was in fact not going to be profitable, they had not yet realized that the old ways of ending wars was just as flawed as their ideas of going to war in the first place. The older ideas of indemnities, demilitarization and the “readjustment” of borders were going to prove just as obsolete. Instead the new reality of “unprofitable war” was that peace could not be simply negotiated mid-conflict, but would have to be dictated in the burning husk of the capital. One more thing that the American Civil War pointed towards, but was perhaps more understandably missed as a potential lesson.
“War if profitable until it isn’t”: Not what you point this out, this is one area where the 4x game experience doesn’t match up with how actual history seems to work. Most such games seem to do the opposite (or maybe that’s my playstyle), War is often difficult and not terribly useful unless you specifically plan for it early on, while later in the game with lots of technology available, and a heavily built up empire/whatever you are playing as, war becomes a lot easier to do. Or maybe that’s just how i naturally play. MoO2 and humankind are the most recent, but I also replayed some Civ 2 during the past few years, and a couple other ones I’m not remembering. (Space expansion games are obviously not historical, but a lot of the mechanics are similar.)
Seems a mix of a few things. Empires start separated, so conquering someone early on would be like new kingdom egypt attacking the shang instead of its own neighbors, which obviously requires a lot more technology. The empty space instead of surrounding cultures means you need to build and settle everything yourself instead of conquering built up whatever is there like most historical examples. Most militaries are quite expensive, so need special infrastructure to create, and the cost increases over time may be flatter than what actual history (or this game) would be. This means getting an early military going is a big investment. Early game armies can use defensive structures well to counter this, but late game armies move really quickly, so a few decisive late game fights can let you roll over an enemy very fast. (Some space empire games are very extreme about this, with a single fleet battle deciding things and than some mopping up in the late game.)
Is this bad/ Not really, the games are fun, though a rebalanced early game in general with some of these, with more action than “grab territory, build up unless you specifically play otherwise” seems fun.
Hmm, I can’t really agree on Civ2 or MOO2. Those games do indeed reward early warmongering greatly. In Civ5, building a military can be “expensive”, but it really isn’t in Civ2. Units are cheap and the downside is a drag on long-term industrial capacity – but if those units are conquering new cities, you’re expanding your industrial capacity in a way that easily pays for them, so prepare the endless train of Elephants covering the landscape. I agree that you (also) want to expand yourself into unclaimed land, but that can be done simultaneously with warmongering.
I’ve mostly played freeciv, which develops from an imitation of Civ2. Maybe I’m a bad player but early warfare did seem pretty risky. The real cost is producing units instead of buildings that boost science research, like Libraries. If it’s a multi-player game, even if you beat your neighbor, you risk *other* AIs pulling ahead. I’ve had the best success expanding into empty land as I can, then hunkering down until I get harbors+Republic+ (Happiness Wonder), and tripling my population with Rapture. After that I’m producing more gold and science than anyone by a lot, and victory is boringly assured.
Depends on the balance of power, including player (& AI) skill : subjugating a weak neighbor is very profitable – then it tends to snowball.
This is a common pattern in lots of games. You want the game to go slowly at the start so that nobody gets knocked out before they get to the fun part, but you want it to go faster at the end so that it resolves decisively once one player has a clear lead. It also ensures that new players aren’t faced with a lot of complicated decisions at the start before they’ve gotten invested – you start by managing one city and expand from there.
You can see this in all sorts of games in all sorts of genres. Magic the Gathering, for instance, enforces this pattern with mana – more powerful cards cost more mana, and you can only play one land per turn, which means that you can’t get out your most powerful cards until several turns into the game.
A for how to handle the change from ancient “fight on a field” battles to modern “spread out over the landscape” battles:
I could see doing this by a mix of AoE and range. If I’m understanding the frontage system properly (I may well not be), militaries fight on long lines, dealing damage to units near them in the lines, and flanking/ganging up on emey units if their frontage is longer,. It some AoE were added to the system, where modern rifle units, artillery, etc. would deal damage to larger and larger areas of frontage, this lets those units disperse and fight effectively, encourages other units to disperse, etc. If you than have a system where units in neighboring (squares/ hexagons? mini hexagons? Whatever the smallest area measure is within a province, if one exists) could effect each other, than artillery can bombard, for example, from neighboring areas and the battlefield grows bigger.
In earlier times, concentrating everything in a single battle makes sense, you get to overrun an enemy and clean them up bit by bit (I think), but as units get more powerful with AoE, trying to do this just gets a lot of your units killed for a small amount of theirs, and the more spread out enemy gets to grab lots of surrounding territory. You also get stuff like british vs. zulu, where non-AoE zulu or equivalent wants to concentrate because they don’t have awesome firepower for 1vs, while “british” than kill a lot of enemy clustered units. Cover and terrain might reduce the effect, so that infiltrators and such could be effective.
If I haven’t understand the system properly…darn. Other issue is this would incvolve some more micromanaing, which iIget the impression the game is trying to avoid (you’d have to tell your soldiers to disperse.)
As for other games:
Humankind which just came out handles this change by increasing the size the the battlefield, increasing ranges, and letting units like artillery fire from outside. However, I haven’t had enough modern battles to see how any of this works. Humankind’s combat system (Similar to endless legend, a portion of the world map becomes the battlefield terrain in a separate area) is already kind of abstracted/stylized, and things that work in it may not work for other games.
It’s also kind of funny that Civ games end up using the ‘spread over the landscape” style battles even though they take place in ancient times where this makes less sense. (playing Civ 2 again, I liked it as a kid, I like how some system are simple but effective, but there are a ton of improvements that can and have been made.)
Brilliant post, Brett! If any of your readers have my little Pocket Campaigns game, The March of Progress, please try the World War 1 in the West scenario. There is a possible teaching point in that scenario that the way for both players to maximise VPs is not to fight.
“War is profitable until it isn’t”
“now that you point this out”
I should have learned to read over my comments before I enter than, and never remember to do so.
Why Americans think war is a boon for the economy…
It’s in the language – America “Goes to War”, everybody else “Fights a War”.
Wow, it’s impressive how many similarities I see here with Shadow Empire – a post-apocalyptic 4X-wargame with a dash of Crusader Kings thrown in released last year – I wonder how much is inspiration and how much is convergent evolution ?
Let’s see :
1.) Also simulates a (post-) pre-industrial situation : the collapse of the Galactic Republic is several hundred years behind, but things have only started to pick up population and industry-wise :
for instance a common new player complaint is that they don’t have the Industrial Points to build Roads, which requires Industry buildings, which require IPs *and* Metal, which requires Mines, which require IPs, Metal, *and* Roads !
(And the logistic aspect seems to be much more important in SE compared to V2 : without being resupplied by (mostly) road, troops move and fight worse and eventually starve.)
2.) However, this is still somewhat similar to other 4X with their very exponential growth, the following is much closer to V2 :
– early on you have more population than you can employ
and recruiting troops costs population
and early on you’re desperate for Metal & IP due to the above-mentioned reasons
– while later on you’ll be desperately short on population which is required to work the buildings
(which seems to be growing even slower than in V2 ?)
– so early on (if forced to fight for your life) you’ll probably have vast (but weak) cheap infantry armies
(especially on Earth-like worlds, where you can make infantry without Envirosuits)
– while later on they will all be mechanized, with quite expensive to build and operate tanks
Also mid and late game units and buildings start to require Machines and Hi-Tech parts, which you’ll want to produce as soon as possible in your own factories, rather than relying on buying them off the market where they will get ever more expensive until most players start producing them.
3.) Large losses of recruits also have an impact on population happiness, which can rebel (cutting off supply lines at the worst possible moment !) or emigrate.
While high QoL and Happiness will increase immigration.
4.) Sadly, the diplomacy is not nearly as fledged out in SE.
(The win condition is 50%+ of the combination of planet’s territory and population and can be done as an alliance.)
While buildings can be destroyed, and countries bled out of their population, war doesn’t seem to be *as* destructive as in V2, probably because modeled on WW2 – a well-executed blitzkrieg can still be particularly worthwhile (mostly thanks to the captured population !
(Also the operational combat relies a lot on surrounding and cutting off enemy units.)
However there *is* still the risk of ending in a trench war if things go poorly, which is bad for both the attacker and the defender, and benefits all the others,
that’s why the privileged strategy is usually still to take over (ether via military or diplomacy) the Minor Regimes first, which only have Militias rather than the equivalent of standing armies.
(While the (Non-Regime) Territories are often not worth conquering – they don’t have population in cities that can be captured, and you sometimes have to deal with giant Arachnids or ancient War Machines first !
Also, even resources aren’t as important to capture later on : mines are cheap to build but deplete, while planetary crust extraction plants, while cheap to setup, keep producing forever.
Not to mention that this involves diluting population, while bigger cities are quadratically more productive per population.
Oh, and the most important factor is probably that before even knowing whether some hex has resources or not, you need to capture it first, and spend some bureaucratic points into prospecting, which randomly scans all the captured but not yet prospected hexes.)
5.) There is probably a similar breakdown of the war mechanics in the late game : SE doesn’t simulate Mutually Assured Destruction well, because as a turn-based game, the first player to launch nuclear missiles wins (there’s no “counter-launch before the missile lands” mechanic), and this only gets worse as the missiles get longer ranged and more destructive…
6.) Meanwhile there’s also a bunch of Leaders in Factions “bickering” with each other.
This is done through “you”, a disembodied representation of the Regime, in a very panopticon-like way.
While not realistic, it at least makes viable managing dozens of Leaders, each with its own likes and dislikes of your scores in the 3×3 Politics/Society/Psychology Profiles.
A much more detailed (p)review :
Spherelings don’t join the market of the spherelord, what happens is excess goods produced by any member of a sphere get duplicated across all sphere members. That means you’re not making money by selling things to your spherelings, they get it for free. Joining or expanding a sphere trades tariff income for access to goods and resources.
“Prestige is funny – as a resource it has no value except that it contributes to score (I was wrong before, it doesn’t determine buy-order, rank does)”
But prestige is one of the 3 factors contributing to rank, so prestige is not meaningless since it impacts buy-order.
Note that the notion that ‘elites’ start wars because they personally will benefit but not suffer is probably not factual for most of history. In martial societies elites have to fight – and die – proportionately much more than the general, as leaders – eg deaths among the British aristocracy in World War I were 50 per cent higher than for other classes. And then there’s the fact that they are targeted by the winners (common victory cry in the Wars of the Roses: “Spare the commons, kill the lords”). This may be balanced by the elite reproducing at a higher rate.
In evolutionary terms we may have slowly domesticated ourselves, by killing off the more belligerent at a higher rate. We are certainly rather un-aggressive at an individual level for primates, if violent socially.
I doubt WWI Britain is a good example to generalize from, here. For one thing, the war wasn’t fought on their territory, so non-elite civilians were rarely targeted by the enemy. This is the exception, not the norm, for most of the history of warfare.
The aristocracy of that time is also something of an anachronism- the ghost of a Medieval martial elite, hanging on long past the time when wealth meant you could defend yourself with plate armor. It’s possible that class norms which developed at a time when elite warriors dominated the battlefield simply persisted, long after they became maladapted to actual warfare, because said elites were unwilling to surrender the social position that came with them.
Speaking of Medieval aristocrats, “kill the lords” was hardly a universal policy. The Wars of the Roses were civil wars in which enemy lords were also leaders of a rival political faction and therefore traitors (according to your side, anyway), but commoners were the winning side’s lawful subjects. This isn’t the case in an international war, in which lords were far more valuable as hostages than as corpses.
Look at the French casualty list at Agincourt. Or the fact that the officer corps in almost all early modern and modern wars is drawn very largely from the upper classes. Junior officers suffer higher casualties than privates do, as they are expected to show courage by leading from the front. Or read Gat and others on warfare among foragers – it was an affair of ambushes and dawn raids, with ‘big men’ and their families the prime targets. Add in the habit of hunting down the leading enemy elites after victory (the Chingghisid Mongols were particularly ruthless at this, which is why Chingghis’ line displaced pretty much all other elite lines across Central Asia).
In the age of sail this was true in naval battles too – captains commanded from the exposed quarterdeck, while common sailors were behind a foot or more of oak.
Not just junior officers have been expected to lead from the front. Cardigan–the seventh earl and a major general–led the charge of the Light Brigade, though he was fortunate enough to survive.
> because said elites were unwilling to surrender the social position that came with them
But then the nobility also acquired vast tracts of land (including mines ?) during the Enclosures of the previous couple of centuries.
And while certainly not as profitable as the new factories of the bourgeois (excluding mines ?), they would be a very good reason for the nobility to keep clinging to their social position even in this new world where it was (over)determined by wealth.
I mean, isn’t this still the case *today* in the UK (even excluding the Royals with their special status) ?
No. The landowning aristocracy of Britain was destroyed by the agricultural depression of the 1880s, caused by cheap grain from the plains of America and the steppes of Russia, and from which British agriculture never recovered. Wealthy Englishmen may still buy country estates, but they do not live off the rents from tenant farmers.
David Cannadine (Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy) documented the movement of the very upper classes into the professions, the military and the bureaucracy as their landed incomes declined. They displaced the upper middle classes, which led to great resentment (cf Lloyd George’s Limehouse speech). It also led them to press harder on the rural lower classes, which became more amenable to socialist messages.
But AFAIK the enclosures were about sheep’s wool (which was supercharged by new wool-transforming machines), rather than grain ?
Elites face higher risks, but they also recieve most of the rewards, so it balances out.
And IIRC elites (or well aristocracy) actually tended to reproduce at a lower rate than the middle-class. (at least in socially acceptable ways)
I don’t have middle-class data, but https://www.medievalists.net/2021/06/large-medieval-peasant-families/ says that rural reproduction was higher than urban, and wealthy higher than peasants, at least in surviving children. Actually wait, there is
‘In rural England, between the twelfth century and the Black Death, the
average number of children who survived infancy in poor families was
slightly below two. This average improved to over two surviving children
in landowning peasant families, and climbed to as high as five among the
wealthiest noble households. The situation was similar in the southern
French diocese of Maguelone in the late Middle Ages, where peasant
families had on average two living children at the time they made their
wills, while wealthy families counted an average of three.’
The situation is even more pointed men die. When a man in abrigade is ‘killed’
the societies which were best at militarizing itself and coordinating those resources survived and aggregated new resources to themselves
Taking that big prestige hit for just ‘noping out’ of the Great War before is starts hurts a little
Regarding war in Imperator and its relationship with populations, this has changed with the latest update. While most powers can maintain mercenaries and some a small standing army, most of your army in war will be made up of levies taken from your provinces. When you call a provincial levy, that population disappears from the province until you demobilize it, and casualties will result in a smaller population.
“The sheer scale of the territory that would have to be occupied and subdued would result in the British either never being able to control more than a small fraction of the United States at once while the rest fought on, or in the British being spread so hopelessly thin that even the chronically feckless American militia units would be able to roll them up in the long run.”
Also, going by Mann’s _1493_, the colonies had a home ground advantage in malaria, especially in the South. From wiki: “Malaria was endemic in the marshlands of eastern Virginia during the time, and Cornwallis’s army suffered greatly from the disease; he estimated during the surrender that half of his army was unable to fight as a result. The Continental Army enjoyed an advantage, in that most of their members had grown up with malaria, and hence had acquired resistance to the disease.”
“If you ever wondered why it seems like most societies in the past held a fairly high opinion of war and those who performed war, this is why; the pacifists, generally speaking (there are doubtless exceptions to everything) did not survive.”
I assume you here mean pacifistic societies, and not pacifists as individuals? And do you have any examples of unwarlike societies that were conquered others? The first thing that came to mind was Naath in Martin’s ASoIaF, though that seems to be a fantasy not based much on any real culture
The only example I can think of is the Moriori.
“As a small and precarious population, Moriori embraced a pacifist culture that rigidly avoided warfare, replacing it with dispute resolution in the form of ritual fighting and conciliation.”
“The Moriori genocide was the mass murder and enslavement of the Moriori people, the indigenous ethnic group of the Chatham Islands, by members of the mainland New Zealand iwi (tribes) Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama from 1835 to the early 1860s.”
Thank you! That is interesting (but sad) to read about, I wonder if George RR Martin was inspired by the Moriori
I think the problem with trying to find them is that in Eurasia they would’ve been selected (” “) out of existence in pre-history – in the western regions, for example, by the time of Ur and Babylon when recorded history starts the city-states were already all belligerent.
And in the Americas the historical depth is shallow in comparison, but there’s no pacifists to be found either. It wouldn’t surprise me if the only examples available are Pacific Islanders since each is essentially an isolated mono-state, where regular contact was only established within the bounds of late European history.
(Irregular contact is likely since they spread out to colonize them in the first place, but you can’t have a war or a foreign policy with a place that you only find in a limited fashion once every so many years.)
Excellent post, one of your best! Only very very slightly undermined by the fact that main reason to not be involved with the Great War is because army micro in Vicky 2 is awful, and exponentially more awful the larger armies are, and as such I will happily pay any prestige penalty to not be involved in the Great War just to avoid what would otherwise be an gigantic pain in the ass.
From a strict cost/benefit analyses, it’s still possible to come out of the Great War ‘ahead’. It’s your only real opportunity for significant expansion in Europe at a reasonable infamy cost, and thus your only real opportunity to acquire in bulk large, industrialized states with large, literate populations that you can build factories in. Granted, for it to be worth the cost usually involves stacking the deck extremely in your favor, or cheesing the AI.
It’s amazing how much I learn merely from reading these discussions. Thank you for that!
Here’s a few proofreading corrections that could be made:
than in any of their titles -> their other titles
of this system its own ‘crisis’ system -> [suggest using before its?]
massively in war time).-> wartime
runs out of moral and retreats -> morale
in abrigade is -> a brigade
mass mobilize conscripts -> mass-mobilized
has a long last -> at long last
question of if we can avoid -> of whether we
That’s no where clearer-> nowhere
Answering my own comment in order to try again to tell WordPress to notify me.
While the specific details of who are considered civilized and not have not been fully revealed you are generally correct – it is known that China is unrecognized, for example.
I’ve been trying to work out the precise uselessness of [insert game title here] toward any sort of understanding of history. This particular game apparently revolves around Britain, its Empire and such.
Q: Did Britain win its Empire by a cunning strategy, such as [insert game title here] players might emulate?
A: No, it just kinda happened.
Specific results of state action in various countries were: the Swedish scientific tradition, the Prussian General Staff, the French Academies. Oh yeah and the British… no, we don’t do that stuff
Liberal democracy, laissez-faire economics, and an aristocracy which valorizes military glory (this last is pretty common) are a cunning strategy.
Laissez-faire came in after the empire was won, and was abandoned when other powers industrialised. Before and after was very much state-driven industrial policy. It’s like ‘Free Trade’ – the Only and Obviously Correct Doctrine when one is the beneficiary, quietly abandoned as soon as one is not.
I’m also struck by the parallels between this piece and “The Battlefield After the Battle”. (https://acoup.blog/2019/10/18/collections-the-battlefield-after-the-battle/)
In a world where, as you note, wealth is primarily agricultural, then as laid out in TBAtB, the technologies of war before WWI were in the main incapable of destroying wealth. Even a pitched battle in good agricultural land would leave that land in basically farmable condition thereafter. (As you mentioned, the impact of logistics, camps, etc. might be different.)
Whereas WWI (maybe primarily through chemical weapons?) features the first battles that can truly render large stretches of land economically unproductive—in addition, of course, to smashing the newer wealth of factories etc.
Which makes me wonder—this is a bit afield—about much older systems of war in contexts where wealth did not inhere in basically indestructible farmland, but, e.g., in “forest gardens” or herds or other types of resources. Were there ancient modes of wealth that were, in fact, imperiled in war, such that pitched conflicts were negative on all major combatants?
Orchards would take a while to regrow if chopped or burned, and if they’re staple food orchards (like chestnut forests) you’ve got the “what to live on while we wait” problem. The Mongols are said to have wrecked the long-standing irrigation systems of the Mideast, with effects reaching as far as today, though I don’t know if that’s true. There’s “Romans salted the fields of Carthage” though I think that’s more symbolic than factual. In theory you might be able to actually salt a coastal field by engineering an inundation of seawater. Destroying Dutch dikes en masse seems like it would be bad.
None of that is imperiling all combatants, though, unless everyone lived off of trees which were getting killed.
 Good for creating a tragic retreat of your fantasy elves, if you want that sort of thing: even if they win vs. humans or orcs more often than not, losses of elves and forests might be much harder to recover from than losses to the more annual enemies.
> Destroying Dutch dikes en masse seems like it would be bad.
In WWII the Allies actually bombed some to get Germans to abandon positions threatening the sea approach to Antwerp. The last holes were only closed in 46. This has caused huge deep holes at the dyke (because the water rushes through a point, there is strong current pulling away soil) so the dykes now move around those points. The innundation also caused mass death of cattle which could not be evacuated in time, and caused the ground to be infertile for “a long time”, however in the 50s it was fertile again. An interesting issue is that some old buildings in towns inthe area still nowadays have issues with being very damp because their foundations and lower walls are filled with salt which attracts water when it has rained.
Wikipedia page (I mostly looked at the Dutch one for my comment): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inundation_of_Walcheren
Another case, showing what happens if an area has been under water much longer, is Flevoland. Flevoland is a province of the Netherlands that used to be seabed for the “southern sea”, now Ijssel lake. Making that land productive took much longer and involved seeding it from the air with large amounts of specfic plants such as reeds
Naval battles? If you both turn forests into ships, then both lose lots of ships, that’s a big loss of long-term investment.
Coins were invented when mercenaries came into wide use (around 600 BC) – as mercenaries don’t want to be paid in local credit – they want portable wealth. This meant cash flow became a key resource, at least for states that relied on mercenaries (Carthage, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, some Greek cities..). Which meant either saleable exports or trade. The Ptolemies could sell grain, papyrus and linen, Carthage had a hold on key trade routes and Spanish mines.
Fast forward and Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain are in the same game, with the Indian textile and Caribbean sugar trades the great prizes, as they seek to finance their wars.
I have a few contrarian questions, and they’re not contrarian just because putting up with the total dysfunction of the V2 economy in a multiplayer game under the pressure of twelve, rather than one, optimizing human players, was deeply unfun for me last time I tried it. 🙂
I wonder if the arguments here aren’t a little skewed towards the British perspective (as opposed to Continental) to the extent that they treat WWI-scale casualties as something new and unprecedented. Others have made the argument that such casualties were more normalized, less shocking and unprecedented, for Continental powers than for Great Britain, with France, for example, suffering proportionally greater casualties in the Napoleonic Wars than in WWI.
I also wonder whether the infrastructure destruction argument can be overdone – World War I was not World War II, with cities being firebombed into ruins by the dozen. It’s not like Germany emerged from the -First- World War with its infrastructure shelled to smithereens. And I wonder whether most of the economic damage that -was- suffered was really of the sort inflicted by new military technology in the form of larger bombardments and bigger explosions – as opposed to the pressures of the war economy, sustained mass mobilization, blockades, etc.
Lastly, there’s the historical argument that the positive war goals of wars in the WWI era (what you actually stand to gain, as opposed to negative war goals, i.e., the war goals of preventing the enemy from achieving their war goals) weren’t worth the cost and that this represented a change compared to most previous great-power wars. I wonder whether this is also a universally shared opinion or a predominantly Anglo-American one. Britain and America didn’t even have an Alsace-Lorraine to gain, much less the sweeping territorial ambitions of imperial Germany, but while the Central Powers lost, and thus their war automatically wasn’t worth it, I wonder if the Germans would have developed a corresponding historical tradition about the worthlessness of the war if they had achieved the huge gains they envisioned, crippling France and acquiring a vast eastern empire.
The last question, I suppose, boils down to asking whether the perceived lack of payoff in WWI is deterministic, a result to be expected of any conceivable war fought between WWI-like industrial great powers, or contingent, a product of the particular viewpoint that developed in the great powers that had the least to gain from their participation. If the German 1914 offensives had won them the war (or even the 1918 offensives, though that requires much more handwaving), would Berliners have spent the next hundred years lamenting the futility of their victory?
I think the case for the former is much stronger for WWII (which really featured destruction of infrastructure and of populations on a new order of magnitude) and is fairly self evident in the era of thousands of nuclear warheads, but I want some convincing before agreeing that WWI industrial and technological conditions already foreclose the possibility of great-power wars paying off. I’m not completely convinced it applies without exception even to WWII warfare (the USSR, with huge casualties, major destruction of infrastructure, but also huge war gains, might seriously test the thesis).
Where conflict actually occurred in WWI, the ground was more thoroughly destroyed than in WWII – because even WWI armies on maneuver were both incredibly slow, and had big artillery. Also, the bloodiest periods of the WWI are not from 1915-1917, when the trenches held. The bloodiest phases of WWI were 1914, and late 1918, before the trench lines formed and as the trench lines began to fall apart. So, the loss of manpower was greater in maneuver than in static conflict.
The real answer to your question is: look at the US. The US came out of WWI as the pre-eminent economic power. Much wealthier in absolute terms, and much, much wealthier in relative terms. The US also suffered the fewest casualties of any of the major belligerents. So, how did the US public react to a world where they had become the pre-eminent economic power at relatively low loss of life? By declaring off war forever and becoming profoundly anti-patriotic.
So if that’s how the US responded to 100,000 killed while becoming the most economically powerful country in history, I can’t imagine that the Germans would have responded better to losing several million people for any amount of gain. Mass death that destabilizes all of society is just not conductive to social cohesion.
Re the thoroughness of destruction in the immediate vicinity of the front lines, sure. I too have seen the pictures of WWI battlefields shelled over and over until they resembled a hellish moonscape. The firepower was clearly destructive, but what was the reach? How much of the belligerents’ infrastructure did that firepower reach and destroy? The contrast I’m drawing is between WWI (the armies’ firepower is locally destructive in the vicinity of the fighting) and WWII (where the scope for employing firepower against an enemy homeland, not just the front lines, widened dramatically), and I’m wondering actually how destructive WWI localized firepower was to the infrastructures of France, Britain, Germany, Italy, etc. Even in France, which saw many of the major Western Front battles, didn’t battle never touch infrastructure in most of the country? Let alone Britain or Germany? But anyway, infrastructure destruction in battle wasn’t a major point of Bret’s argument compared to pop casualties (and I don’t think it was something Vicky tried to model), so…
Re casualties, invoking the model of the USA to explain Germany just brings us back to the question of determinism vs. contingency. Is it intrinsic to the nature of 20th-century warfare that any great power suffering casualties like those of the USA (or greater) would retreat into isolationism? Was that reaction one that we can assume would generalize to any belligerent or one that was a result of things specific to the USA, its war aims and their realization (or lack thereof), its domestic politics, etc.?
If, as you seem to be getting at, a good way to understand the postwar experience of any other great power is to take the American experience and superimpose it onto that of the other country, what do we make of – just for one example – the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, in which the French suffered more casualties than the 1917-18 Americans, but the postwar mood was 180 degrees opposite, a major surge of revanchism rather than a retreat into antiwar isolationism?
The answer (at least the answer I’m nodding at) might be that the French and American responses can’t be properly understood by focusing on casualty counts as something that is cross-culturally deterministic, but are better understood as contingent on the different and unique circumstances, history, culture, politics, war aims, security situation, etc. of each country at each time. But if the model of America after 1918 is junk at explaining France after 1871 (or Poland 1918+, which embarked straight into new wars after its territory saw huge WWI casualties and major scorched-earth campaigns… or Italy 1918+, or USSR 1918+, etc.), why assume that America 1918+ would nevertheless be a good model for Germany 1918+?
I’m going to leave that debate there, because whatever we decide, this discussion went in the opposite direction as I was trying to go in my earlier comment.
In his original post, Bret makes an argument that past wars often gained more than they cost for the winning states or at least held out the possibility of doing so, but that the era of WWI represented the passing of an inflection point, such that warfare now cost more than the belligerents stood to gain, at least for major powers. I said that the Anglo-American perspective (the two powers that stood to gain the least from the war in terms of the stuff Bret discusses, like states full of industrial pops) was clearly well represented in that argument, but I wondered how much of the continental perspective was considered (I don’t know; it’s not my argument or my field), and I wondered whether that argument would change at all considering the specific circumstances of Continental powers like France and Germany, with war goals that were much more expansive and/or closer to the heart, with different cultural factors (such as more historical normalization of or conditioning to bloody wars and high casualties), and so on. I don’t know that answer either; it might be no, but I’m curious.
So my question is “would anything change about Bret’s WWI argument if we focus on Continental circumstances and goals and don’t use Anglo-American ones as a model?” The answer of “well, if we use American experiences as a model for the Continent, then no” is an answer that undoes what I am trying to ask.
Good points. I would say that World War I is an inflexion point not because of the casualties or the destruction in themselves, but because it showed that Great Power war now demanded a level and form of social mobilisation which was incompatible with previous social structures. In effect, you had to go communist (rationing, central manpower allocation, requisitioning of key supplies, state direction of industry and more) to survive. Large territorial gains (or losses) would force you in the same direction – and make another Great War likely. So the losses went to the heart of society as it was conceived.
I will jump in and say that I’m currently reading a book about France in the 1930’s, and the impression you get is that France society was completely traumatized by World War 1 in a way the engendered widespread across the board pacifism. Why this was the case then and not in the Napoleonic wars may be a factor of communication technology, perhaps the average Frenchman was more aware of the scope of the loss than in prior eras. Maybe the ratio of those disabled by shell-fire was higher, leaving more visible evidence of the loss. Or maybe the traumatic nature of trench warfare made a different impression on the leaders who fought in the war. Regardless, it’s clear that, for France at least, their was a widely held perception that war wasn’t worth it, even if it meant subjugation by Germans in the more extreme cases.
Scope for some historical research here on your part. Please write say a ten thousands word essay on the European post-WW1 perspective in time for the next Vicky2 blog post 🙂
I assume, as a general reader of history rather than a specialist, that for a period of history that is 100 or more years ago there have been a number of multilingual historians and translations of works to/from English and other languages. (Not in every aspect of history, but WW1 was a very big deal for Europe!) So I also assume – and I’m happy to be proved wrong, but I think it’s safe at this point in time – that if there were significant differences between the Anglosphere and Europe post WW1, they’d show up even in the books written in English.
We can also judge by actions in peacetime. Nation states may go to war, but in this period and just after they also spend a lot of time in diplomatic congresses, conferences, and making treaties. Post WW1 there seems, to my inexpert eye, to be a massive surge in attempts at arms limitations and peaceful conflict resolution. League of Nations, Washington Naval Treaty, expansion of Geneva Convention. The majority of European states were participants.
Yes, they didn’t succeed long term. And yes there is always a certain amount of arm twisting by more powerful states (British Empire) going on. But without some good faith and commitment, brought on by a large scale change in attitude, these would not even have got started.
There are *still* zones of land that were rendered completely uninhabitable, and even *entry* is forbidden:
“Completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to Agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible”
Whereas life goes on in the blast zones of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the formerly firebombed areas of Dresden.
Hmm, yeah, for instance take the mortar that was used to shell Paris from 130 km away :
For all it’s incredible size, it was reportedly more useful as a psychological than a destructive weapon.
(And it seems to be *still* in the folklore under the term “Big Bertha” – despite the fact that the *actual* Big Bertha was a much smaller howitzer – small enough to be towed !)
The thing about the US war effort is that despite losing relatively few troops and seeing their country’s international standing dramatically increase, the main immediate reason for joining the war was that banking/financial entanglements had already de facto committed the US to ensuring an Entente victory even while political elites were still loudly professing isolationism, to such an extent that the US economy might well have been crippled by a German victory, and the immediate payoff for US victory took the quite literal form of wartime loans being paid off — but for obvious reasons, the people couldn’t exactly be told that this was the actual motivation, so the public-facing case for war was a hastily kludged-together facade of trumped-up German pseudo-provocations, brute-force jingoistic propaganda, and nakedly authoritarian clampdowns on antiwar dissent, a case whose perceived legitimacy collapsed in retrospect as soon as the US state was no longer actively engaged in a full-court press to sustain it.
In part, yes (Adam Tooze makes this case in detail in The Deluge). But, as in 1941, Germany saw US backing for the Entente as de facto belligerence, and jumped in diplomatically (the Zimmerman Telegram) and with unrestricted submarine warfare.
As long ago as the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I and her New Men councilors were arguing war as waste in the face of the traditional nobility’s belief that war was grand! All glory and loot.
Not arguing too hard, given she invested in Drake’s piracy and made a profit of 4,600%
Piracy works only in the absence of war – she may have made a profit from that, but if it caused a war with Spain (that wasn’t going to happen otherwise) then she probably would have lost out overall.
She was de facto at war with Spain at the time, so Drake’s piracy was more a not-so-covert operation. War may have been expensive, but it paid for the British who, once they had the mechanics in place (roughly the taxation and naval changes of Cromwell coupled with the financial changes of William and Mary, plus Parliament) went on to make a good living out of it for 250 years.
When the rule is “There is no peace over the line,” what the monarch authorizes is piracy.
Pfft. Mozi’s followers made that argument almost two thousand years before Elizabeth.
Looking at this game design questoin:
I rather liked how Crusader Kings 2 (haven’t played 3 yet) simulated a massive shift in strategic/operational dynamics over hundreds of years by changing the relative viability of levies (forces called up from vassals during war) vs retinues (paid forces maintained long-term by the central state). Leaving aside whether this is historically accurate, because I don’t know, it did this with a system that could simulate each situation when the numerical parameters were pegged to certain extremes, and slowly shifting the parameters from one extreme to the other as technology (mostly in the form of state structures) advanced.
I feel that something similar could be achieved with a system where battle begins at some point between initiation of movement and time of arrival, and that point depends on factors like frontage usage percentage, reconnaissance technologies, and time spent in position (entrenchment, in the HOI4 parlance). At the start of the game all these values are basically zero, so combat initiates at or near the time of arrival; with late-game circumstances of large armies and shrunken effective frontage and long war durations, they’re all more or less at their maxima and the system looks a lot more like HOI4.
I think that you could fairly easily adapt T.N. Dupuy’s mathematical combat model for games of this nature. The model has dispersion changes and quality differences inherently incorporated in the calculations. The model does have some acceptance within the professional wargaming community. One big criticism is that it is deterministic rather than stochastic, but I don’t really see that as an issue in this instance. For those that might be interested look at “Numbers, Predictions & War” by Col (ret) Trevor N. Dupuy, Hero Books (1985).
Time for me to put on my game designer hat and dive in, despite not having played Vicky2.
To this and similar comments elsewhere about the lack of trench lines, I’m going to say that Paradox should not bother. Vicky2 is a *game*, not a simulation.
Games are about giving players interesting and appropriate choices to make in their role / persona / avatar. For Vicky2, the player is the ruling party, apparatus of the state, father / mother of the nation. They are not a battlefield general, or even the general staff.
(For an example of uninteresting decisions, “level grinding” or “farming” in MMOs like World of Warcraft. Most players don’t enjoy such, because it is repetitive and not really challenging either to role players or combat enthusiasts. MMOs get away with this because they make money from subscriptions, the game is not a one time purchase.)
It doesn’t matter in Vicky2 how the battles are fought, what matters are the decisions that the player must make to ensure that battles are won or lost. Producing the weapons and supplies, and producing the means of production for weapons and supplies. Conscription or not (it was a major point of contention in Australia during WW1). Making, and breaking, alliances. Society wide level decision making, not military.
Now it would be a problem if the Vicky2 battle system rewarded players in WW1 for, say, recruiting horse archers instead of tanks. But as far as I can tell from the descriptions by Prof Devereaux and other commenters, in Vicky2 you have to produce the same weapons that were actually used in WW1, and in roughly the same proportions. So while the battles may not be historically spread out enough, the way they unfold is accurate enough to say that what worked, or didn’t work, in WW1 will also work / not work in Vicky2.
I mean, the problem here I think is that Paradox’s OTHER modern-period game, Hearts of Iron, successfully simulates static frontline situations quite well.
(Again, going solely from descriptions by others here.)
Hearts of Iron apparently covers the years 1936 to 1950, basically WW2 style mechanised warfare only. Vicky2 is an entire century of military development, from Waterloo style smoothbore muskets and cuirassiers to machine guns and tanks.
That is way, way, harder to model. If, as Paradox intend, the players are not being railroaded into repeating historical events, you can’t just write code “if (year > 1904) dig_trenches()”. If players aren’t positioning every unit themselves, the semi-autonomous battlefield deployments and outcomes have to arise as emergent behaviour from your mathematical models and heuristics.
In HoI, at least everyone is fighting by more or less the same rules and with the same equipment. In Vicky2, the combat model has to transition reasonably smoothly, without players noticing that suddenly the computer opponents are dumb as rocks, or more dumb than usual, while the “rules” of combat are themselves changing. It would be like trying to design basic infantry recruit training for soldiers who the first week are fighting at Waterloo, the next week in the American Civil War, and then finally at Verdun.
From your description, I’m very impressed that they got so close.
I’m sure that inside the company there are designers and programmers unhappy that they didn’t get trench lines in WW1, and resolved to do better next time. But at some point, as with movies or other creative projects, Paradox had to say this isn’t perfect, but the problems remaining don’t significantly detract from what we want to say/ our vision.
Hence my argument that, for this game about society and government rather than military operations, Vicky2 is good enough. Verdun is still an expensive and bloody vortex of death, which appears to be what the game wants you to experience. Trenches would be nice, but not essential. Conversely if Vicky2 did form trench lines in WW1 but the battles were relatively bloodless and cheap, that would have been a much worse game.
A series of miniature rules covering the period from 1700-1914 written by Col (ret) Bill Grey actually do a rather nice job of simulating brigade level combat with only minor variations for the differing European wars during that period. You do need more drastic modifications for 1915-1918.
One question that I would have is whether you see any differences in out comes on the Eastern Front vs. the Western Front if you have a WW1 in Vicky II.
I brought up the example of CK2 because it was fun – changing de facto rules leading to changing player behavior add a lot of variety to games that can otherwise get quite monotonous.
Another thought about the “returns to warfare” theory—it allows you to derive the “resource curse” as a special case.
Most modern countries have primarily industrialized wealth (or the potential for industrialized wealth), leading to low returns to warfare. This might even be roughly true in poorer countries where, e.g., the maximal economic opportunity is tourism—the building of hotels and airports, etc.
But when a poor country discovers mineral wealth—or is heavily invested in agricultural wealth—the returns to warfare are high, and the risk of violence, either active (invasion, civil war, etc.) or covert (sponsored dictatorships, etc.) rises dramatically.
In this model the “resource curse” is not something new and distinct. It’s just that valuable resources put poorer countries back into the premodern equations of return on violence, with correspondingly unpleasant outcomes.
Basically the Eastern Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda nexus of the last 40 years.
Well, French revanchist feeling after the Franco-Prussian War is fairly well mirrored in German revanchist feeling after WWI. The postulate that I was thinking about is the “They won everything!” feeling. And the closest example would be the US, which became the leading world economic power with little loss of life. It would have been the outcome that most approximated a repeat of the Franco-Prussian triumph.
US strategic and social situation is unique as THE peripheral power, with uncontested regional hegemony. The reason I used the US as an example is that the US had an unqualified victory from WWI which launched the country into economic hegemony over the 20th Century.
The Gat hypothesis as presented in this post–that WWI marked a phase transition after which the return-on-investment for wars-of-conquest was no longer worth it, even for the winners–is really interesting.
However, I think I’m with Aithiopika here that, as I also commented (or tried to!) in the https://acoup.blog/2019/10/18/collections-the-battlefield-after-the-battle/ post, I think this undersells the destructiveness of earlier conflicts & the possible returns of warfare in the Early Modern period.
To the extent that Gat means loss of the productive labor force counterbalances the value of the seized land, that should’ve been clear to any attentive observer of the Thirty Years’ War. Imperial tax receipts took generations to recover; and the history of the players proved (as Julich already suggested) that any regional conflict could be expected to serve as an excuse for major powers to get involved on both sides.
That’s why I think the real inflection point is as soon as outside interference & coalitions become a predictable outcome of temporary advantage–really as soon as you have a coherent state-system. If you can’t defeat or permanently hamstring your enemies in one go, then one war begets another; & once it’s obvious that your other enemies (and even some of your friends) will happily pitch in against you any time you’re preoccupied or look to be getting too big for your britches, then it is very rare to have successful incremental conquest. You either achieve hegemony, or you doom yourself to fighting back and forth over Alsace for three hundred years–meaning the I side of the ROI calculation isn’t just the first war, but all the subsequent ones. Which was, after all, the entire *point* of Concert-of-Europe, Metternich-style diplomacy–the realization after three centuries of mostly-inconclusive wars, that it was better to have an agreed-to stable arrangement rather than actually fighting it out just to return to more or less the status quo.
Basically, it’s difficult to make any argument about the potential return-on-investment from war when you can count on one hand the major long-term territorial gains in central & western Europe from 1600-1900. Those investments just never seem to pan out over even the medium term. Part of the return is *all the subsequent wars*.
This point was made quite dramatically by the French-Revolutionary & subsequent Napoleonic wars, in which twenty-five years of continent-wide bloodshed resulted in an 1815 map that (bar Poland, and Spanish control of Belgium) was basically the same as the 1790 one. But it goes back farther than this: look at the wars of Louis XIV; sure, he managed to claim the Franche-Comte, Alsace-Lorraine, and some Belgian territory in 1678. But this just fed into the War of the Grand Alliance a few years later, financially exhausting all parties and leading him to give half of it back. And it completely torpedoed the chances of his dynasty inheriting Spain, when perhaps more conciliatory relations with the other European powers could have avoided the War of the Spanish Succession, or at least avoided the resolute separation of the two countries; after all, the largest territorial gains in European history came not from wars but from weddings, and the real surprise was that everybody else was willing to fight against inheritance rights in favor of balance-of-power.
Whereas even in the post-WWI era, when Great Powers do not intercede, militarily-expansionist policy is still successful: witness the Chinese takeover of Outer Mongolia (& noose-tightening around Tibet), Moroccan takeover of Western Sahara, Peru’s gains from Ecuador in ’41, Israel’s territorial gains from the ’49 war, Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor, the unrecognized-but-nobody-does-anything-about-it Turkish client state in northern Cyprus, the Russian annexation of the Crimea (mais attendez la fin, perhaps)…
So if there’s an inflection in WWI, it’d have to be around countries’ *acknowledgement* of the inevitability of great-power intervention. Except that that doesn’t really work either, because if it did, whence World War 2?
To the extent that Gat is arguing about destruction of territorial productive capacity or capital goods, rather than population, it seems pretty specious–it’d be hard to credit an argument that WWI ruined the economic value of the Saarland, for instance.
So I think ultimately that the point about the potential benefits to war is a good one–it’s just that war hasn’t really paid off that well for much longer than this theory imagines.
You are entirely right about intra-European wars. Outside Europe – wars of colonial/imperial expansion are another matter.
One thing that I do want to note about how the game mechanics encourage you not to fight in WWI is that that only matters if you don’t use tanks or more advanced warfare. Like you said the game doesn’t really simulate trench warfare well and the ability to grab tanks early kind of proves that. I as the player know that tanks make trenches useless and so I always rush tanks and never run into those huge devastating wars. Instead late game wars for me are quick and decisive since I basically skip trench warfare and go straight to WWII style tactics.
The most devastating time period for war in game is those one or two decades where machine guns and gas warfare are being invented but gas defense hasn’t, that is the only rough time period where devastating defensive focused wars occur.
I hope that Victoria 3’s combat model does a better job of simulating trench warfare and making it harder for a player to skip trench warfare like I tend to do.
I absolutely love your series, this entry included, but I’m delurking to say that you give way, way too much credit to Victoria II and wargaming in general, here. To come to the conclusion stated in the article – one I don’t disagree with! – you have to have ‘enlightened’ values, by which I mean a familiarity with – all of this. I don’t even consider myself a neo-realist, but I am familiar with it.
The primary instrument of Victoria II is not the pop, but the player.
One of your major assertions here is that sitting out of WWI (or equivalent/s) is a good idea. When I was younger, there were plenty of technical AARs (after-action reports, for those curious; a kind of let’s play! some novel-like, others gimmicky, some just numbers and stats) that would do up pacifism runs. There are still a few, but vanishingly small. Reading is awful, writing is awful – why do either when you can make a video, with funny reactions?..
Wargaming has always had a really ugly underbelly, which has only gotten worse, to the point I’d call it the overbelly. (Better term pending.) There are a lot of potential reasons why; the older base of it tended to be old, educated, surprisingly diverse. It’s MORE diverse now, but there is an AGGRESSIVE effort to keep out anyone who looks different, and a hatred of the same educated environment that created the games people play today. A new, youthful crowd of players, inducted firmly into shite understanding of history and right-wing rhetoric is certain of their position, and aggressively shuts the door on anyone who doesn’t look, act, or talk in linkstep with them.
AARs are a good example of this, *even when they are written in a way* that supports the nationalist-chest-thumping that such players tend to seek out. [Keeping in mind that such players don’t necessarily care about their own polity receiving praise. They just want war, blood, and conquest.]
I do not know a single modern player that’d ‘sit out’ of a great war. They’re excellent ways to divvy up land, who cares about the score? It’s about painting the map. It’s about subjugating those lesser_culture_var, here. As a joke. By the by, how do you ‘get rid’ of all ‘undesired culture here?’ As a joke. If I draft them all, can I send only those brigades in? Which mods add genocide? As a joke.
From my perspective, neo-realism tends to take the assumption that war and conquest arise from needs of material and security.
I would posit this is attributing too much conscious thought to things; there are plenty of people who do cruel things because cruel things are fun, funny, and would do cruel things for free if they felt they could get away with it, even if it ‘cost them.’ Which – to their minds – it didn’t. Look at that country name, and how many less unwanted cultures live in the pure monolith… Which’d totally hold together.
But what the hell do I know. It was a lovely article, and though I probably won’t comment too much more, I enjoy reading your work immensely. Keep it up, and don’t let my gloom mean too much. I’m just, see username.
“have you, the player, sufficiently prepared your country so that it can make it through the military, social and economic crucible of the First World War without being defeating” – defeated.
“The situation is even more pointed men die.” – when \ if.
I’m terribly late to this discussion, but I have something to add.
Actually, for a prepared country, WWI is extremely profitable. True, you don’t care much about your enemies land at that point(unless they have really valuable RGO, like Oil), but you care about grabbing their population.
In WWI your people will die, your economy will suffer, you’ll probably lose hundreds of thousands of workers. But you stand to gain *millions*. Ye, they’ll hate you initially, but there’s nothing good social policy and low taxes can’t fix.
What’s even better – the losing side gets military recruitment penalties for the duration of truce, so, if you want WWII, it will be over in a year with minimal casualties from your side and same benefits as the first one.
Regarding your last paragraph, why didn’t WWII happen that way?
Well, mainly because Germany had more time to rebuild.
It Victoria, I think, post-WWI truce lasts like 5 years (maybe 10, been a long time since I’ve played, so not sure), so you can attack your enemy again as soon as he’s allowed to build his army again.
Plus, in Victoria you can’t ignore your demilitarization obligations, in real life Germany first circumvened them then outright ignored.
One aspect you don’t touch on and it seems Victoria II (and III?) don’t is the difference between deaths and injuries. ISTR that in modern warfare it was more “effective” to seriously wound your opponent’s soldiers than to kill them because the costs (to morale and resources) of maintaining an economically less useful non-soldier was higher. Presumably different attitudes towards/capabilities to care for wounded soldiers could be modelled and have an impact in simluations?