Wednesday, November 4, 2009

1.0 Introductory Rant: The Ethics of Wargaming and Swearing

I had the great good fortune to learn wargaming at the hands of a bunch of Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans. Several of these gentlemen had spent a year of their lives in the field on front-line combat duty. All of them had seen friends die. All of them resented the fact that they’d been sent to fight an unwinnable war in the name of a corrupt and incompetent puppet regime on the other side of the planet. They weren’t “demoralized”: they were pissed off. And they deeply resented an America which had bought its government’s “light at the end of the tunnel” rhetoric, allowing their friends and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese to be ground into hamburger for no good purpose, for years on end.

None of these men thought that Vietnam had been “winnable”, no matter how much the U.S. would have bombed it. Unlike the macho nerds for Reagan of my generation (who seem to take Rambo II seriously and believe that the all-powerful hippies lead by that renowned and highly influential stateswoman Jane Fonda lost the war for the U.S.) they’d actually been there and seen what they were up against. They realized that they were understood by the Vietnamese – the “Irish of Asia” – to be an occupying army and knew that as long as they stayed there, they were going to be fought to the limit of that people’s considerable will to fight.

And, being that these guys were combat vets and not my male relatives (for the most part), they swore. They swore alot. They had obscene, ironic nicknames for everything on the battlefield and that carried over into wargaming. So I’m proud to say, that aside from teaching me my hobby, these gentlemen (along with my sainted, late Aunt Mary, the hippy pacifist) were responsible for educating me about the finer points of obscenity. Their position seemed to be that nothing could be as obscene as what they’d seen and done in Vietnam, so why sweat words?

I’m writing today about my old mentors because there’s an odd and sickening spirit at loose in our hobby today. Over the past couple of years I’ve been censored on several wargames-related forums for either a) bringing up sex or b) being offended at some moral moron’s postings about how great and good it is to kill [your favorite racist ephitet here] in the name of homeland security.

Now, when I say “bringing up sex”, I’m not talking about trying to open up critical discussions regarding “2 Girls, 1 Cup” on a gaming site. And when I mention being offended by militarist rhetoric, I’m not defending defeatist, American-hating rants against guys who say “Support our troops”. Nothing as extreme as that.

On Steve Jackson’s OGRE/GEV forum, for example, I was recently censored because I mentioned that maybe - just maybe - the military wasn’t a decent career for young people and that, perhaps, the U.S. (like so many other governments through history) was lying about the need for a war in the Middle East. I was subsequently called to order and almost banned for making a crack about telling “male” and “female” Ogres apart by looking at their input-output ports. This, apparently, was not family-friendly material for a website dedicated to celebrating a game in which players achieve victory by nuking their opponents’ civilian populations during atrocity raids.

Then, over on a well-known 6mm Sci-Fi gaming forum, I was censored by the owner for making negative comments about some REMF with a Walter Mitty complex. This mouth-breather’s sole combat experience apparently came from a couple of days of calling in airstikes on t-shirted boys armed with AK-47s during the invasion of Panama from the air-conditioned splendor of his AFV. He was using the forum (frequented at the time by several minors whom I was mentoring) to wax poetic about how “satisfying” shooting up civilian-occupied apartment complexes with a .50 cal machinegun was and how “beautiful” the results were.

And, of course, I have been told to watch my tongue when it comes to swearing on more gaming forums than I can count. Most of these places, of course, have automatic obscenity filters which are so sensitive that even “tits” and “pussy” get censored (but never, for some reason, “cock” or “dick”). Even though they claim to be “family-orientated”, the vast majority of their frequenters are men over the age of 16. But their owners claim, with a straight face, that the site must protect children from obscenity, even while its users portray the mass slaughter and hardship of war as good, clean fun for the whole family. (This, I might add, while the same computer which accesses these sites can quite easily be used by Junior to scare up free porn videos, 24-7).

Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

Steve Jackson Games has made the word “fnord” into a well-known piece of gaming slang, but relatively few gamers know its original provenence. It originates in the Principia Discordia, but Steve and his gang of merry pirates probably hijacked it from Shea and Wilson’s Illuminatus trilogy. In that set of books, “fnord” represented a word which the Illuminati trained people to fear and avoid from from childhood on. The masses were brainwashed so that they literally couldn’t see the word, which gave them a feeling of free-floating anxiety whenever they encountered it. “Fnord” was thus liberally sprinkled through newspaper articles, election propaganda and any other important bit of information that the Illuminati didn’t want people to dwell on or discuss. Advertising propaganda, however, never contained the word, making consumption feel good and safe to the masses. In Shea and Wilson’s work, “to be able to see the fnords” means being able to see under the surface of things, to grasp information and messages that are hidden and, most importantly, to not be affected by buzz-words and emotion-laden phrases.

It seems to me that wargaming today is collectively having a very hard time seeing the fnords.

Folks, I am not a radical nor a flowerchild. I do not think wargaming should be banned in order to protect little kids. In fact, I think that the hobby was instrumental in turning me against war, because it led me to read serious military histories, which led me, in turn, to conclude that governments lie and that 90% of all wars are avoidable and a complete waste of treasure and blood. I think wargaming – coupled with the formal and critical study of history – can be an incredibly useful way to teach children about what war means and why it should be avoided.

What blows me away these days, however, is the sheer number of nimrods, know-nothings and jingos in our hobby who think that war is a manly, enobling enterprise, that bloody-minded patriotism is good for kiddies and yet who simultaneously believe that the mere sight of the word “fuck” or the mention of sex can somehow cause irreparable damage to a child’s eggshell-fragile psyche.

In short, our hobby has been overrun by people who are completely unable to see the fnords.

Now, I don’t think that these people should be censored or expelled from our discussions. To the contrary: if they hang around long enough, perhaps they’ll learn something. But it annoys me to no end to have to listen to modern-day pollyanas tell me to “watch my language” and “avoid politics” in order to save these fuckwits’ oh-so-sensitive, supposedly Christian and Patriot values from offense. Fuck them. Fuck the horse they road in on and, while we’re at it, (in the words of the immortal George Carlin) fuck their children, too. After all, Mommy and Daddy seem to be happy enough to teach the little brats to be wads of cannon-fodder for the military-industrial complex, so why worry about what obscenity and pornography are doing to their brains? Their own parents consider them to be disposable and the U.S. Marine Corps has killed far many more of America’s youth than sex has.

If people want to game at war, they should not be offended by profanity and politics. Soldiers sure the hell aren’t. And if people are worried over the power that “bad words”, improper political opinions and projectionist fantasies have to warp their childen’s minds and bend their spines, THEN WHY THE HELL ARE THEY TEACHING CHILDREN TO PLAY AT WAR?

In the best possible interpretation, such people are unable to see the fnords. They have been so brainwashed by their culture’s hegemonic morals that they can no longer adequately discern what is and what is not a real threat to themselves and their children. In the worst possible interpretation, such people are evil souless fucks, minions of Satan himself, who honestly believe that having premarital sex is more of a sin than killing a defenseless human being or spending the rest of one’s life in a wheelchair.

To the first group I say wake the fuck up. You no longer have the luxury to live in Candyland and I certainly can’t be bothered to be sensitive to your need to stick your head straight up your asshole. You don’t like my tone of voice, my politics, or my profanity? Fuckin’ fantastic. The door’s right there, sister. Don’t let it bang you on your ass on the way out.

To the second group... well, let’s just say that karma’s a bitch of a wheel and it grounds very finely indeed. As an anthropologist, I study whores, pimps and johns for a living and most of the people I have met professionally are far more ethical and Christian-minded than you lot could ever hope to be. If you EVER come near me or any children I am responsible for, you’d better come fast and furious, because I will not meekly submit to your plan to turn children into the Hitler Youth of the New World Order without giving you Louisville Slugger in the teeth. (Rhetorically speaking, of course. Did I mention that I’m a pacifist?)

Have we got that out of the way? Good. Now let me explain why I’ve chosen the rabelasian tone I occasionally use throughout this blog.

War is obscene in the strictest sense of the term, a fact front-line soldiers throughout the ages have unanimously recognized. You want to talk “objectification of the body”, or the “profanation of the sacred”, supposedly two of pornography’s greatest sins? Well, you’re not gonna find anything better than war for turning human beings into disposable garbage. To try to portray war – even as a game – cleanly and antiseptically or, worse yet, as something which enobles man, is one of the worst obscenities of which I can conceive.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that war has its appeal. It is the socialized abandonment of rationality in the face of adversity, the body-politic wallowing in thanatos, pagentry and blood. As individual human beings, we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all felt the urge to smack some fool in the face instead of trying to reason with him. It’s part of humanity’s animal nature, which we can perhaps productively channel, but which we will never get rid of.

This is, of course, why I enjoy wargaming and why I don’t think it’s a danger to kiddies.

Wargames allow us to vicariously live out our natural interest in chaos, destruction and really nifty pyrotechnics with no cost at all to society and the world around us. I’ve seen a lot of strange shit in my life, but I’m happy to say that I’ve never seen little lead men bleed or call out for their mothers as their lower intestines pour out onto the ground around them. Not even while in a non-legal state of mind have I seen this. However, as a resident of Rio de Janeiro, one of the world’s most violent cities, I have seen real people do precisely those two things on several occasions. Believe me, I am WELL aware of the difference between fantasy and reality on this point, even if other people out there don’t seem to grasp that there is one.

The only threat I can possibly see from wargaming comes from the numbnut ignerint motherfuckers who think that it’s a wonderful adjunct to teaching their children proper civic and moral virtues: “Gun those gooks down, son! Y’know, yer uncle did just the same thing in Vietnam. You should be proud of him.”

I would like to see these assholes driven from the hobby. Better yet, I would like for their children to see them as the blow-hard, wanker, wanna-be petty tyrants that they are. I hope their sons become out-and-about leather queens when they grow up and their daughters become radical feminist pacifist civil disobedience earth-mamas (or vice-versa). It is with this goal in mind that I have adopted the tone that I sometimes use here. I hope it brings out the futility of war, its obscenity and lack of any redeeming social value. If swearing, sex and confrontational politics really does warp young minds, turning them away from the beatific contemplation of Church and the Fatherland, then I fervently hope that many youth are corrupted by my words. More realistically, I hope to give a handful of mature readers of every age a few low yucks, some food for thought and decent, wargames-related content.

For those of you who find my words offensive, please take your penny-ante, hypocritical bullshit on down to Games Wankshop, perchance to find someone who gives half of a wet rat’s ass about your complaints.

For the rest of you, enjoy.


Thaddeus Gregory Blanchette

Rio de Janeiro, November 4th, 2009

Well, what can I say, ya know? I play with little toy soldiers.


  1. Ok, I'm at loss of words here save Fantastic, Capital, Classic and Grand.
    Best wargaming-as-a-social-phenomenon-related writing ever!
    I think you've succeeded very well in bringing out certain issues, that are very real in the hobby (and moreso in the general mind-set of our time). Reading this stuff was like listening to one of the Nofx's more sociocritical songs and some passages made me laugh, while I still had to admit you were right.
    Looking forward to more.

  2. Well written - though you could have got a good three or four posts out of it! :-)

    As a bolshie left wing trade unionist I find my colleagues baffled I play with toy soldiers and the right wing militarists similarly (though for the opposite reason). As you say lead doesn't bleed and research shows what a waste war really is...

  3. It must be really hard for an american? to go up against what you mentioned above. I salute you for being so straightforward. Me being from a socialistcountry moving presently to the right definately have an easier time then you. War definately have had a great cultural impact on USA.....

  4. As a marxist-royalist, non-pacifist, realist and ex-reservist I approve this fucking message.

  5. I can't remember the last time I read words that were more straight forward and so lacking in weight from bullshit they can actually get off the ground to be seen. You sir, are now one of my heroes.

  6. Love every word of it! Excellent post!

  7. Fucking excellent message. With you 100% brother. We can watch people's heads exploding and that's ok, but a nipple!

  8. Exceptional and true more so than ever...

  9. I encountered a link to this on an old SJGames thread, and I wanted to say that this is an excellent post and thank you for so clearly outlining the difference between "enjoys wargames" and "enjoys actual war." To say that I have had arguments over this in the past would be an understatement.

  10. I'm always a bit worried when somebody calls themselves "politically incorrect" but this is honestly one of the best takes I've seen from anyone in this hobby. Down with the military-industrial complex!