Friday, January 19, 2007

Why WWII?

So, my draft of the GM's Guide to WWII has been done for a bit and it's moving through the "process". Art selected, editing done, moving on to layout.

After editing was completed, the boss asked me to do a "bloggity" introduction, in the conversational style I use here. You know, something that approximates the way I actually talk. (Yes, I ramble JUST this much in actual conversation)

And what he wanted me to talk about in my bloggity way was why WWII?
It's an interesting question, and something I actually have given some thought to before now. I know, what was I doing thinking about a book before I wrote it.

Anyway, I thought, since it was bloggity and all, it should actually be a blog entry!

Hopefully not too boring.

Although over for more than 60 years, the Second World War is still alive today. Turn on your TV and you can watch a documentary about the war every day of the year. Major historical texts are done examining the major battles and the strategists who fought them. In the realm of fiction, movies, novels and comics are set during the war, either as a backdrop or with the characters actually participating in the battle. In the realm of video games, WWII is the most popular setting for one of gaming’s most important genre: the first person shooter. It’s possible there’s as much daily exposure to the events of the war today than there was when it was happening.

Why is this?

In part because WWII has become a large part of how America sees itself as a nation, in the same category as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the Old West. And like two of the three events mentioned previously, WWII also influenced America’s place in the world. When the war started the United States had the 19th largest army in the world, a smaller army than Poland. At the end of the war America was one of two superpowers, an atomic power and the world was aligned along two poles between the U.S. and another power that ended the war far more powerful than when it began: the Soviet Union.

That conflict, known as the “cold war” lasted for 30 years and was a direct consequence of the war. Not only the way nuclear weaponry (which had been an innovation of the war) influenced geo-politics but also in terms of the organizations that would confront one another politically and militarily. The United Nations, NATO and the Warsaw Pact were all attempts at collective security designed to prevent another war. These organizations, like the nations leading the two poles of the Cold War were a direct product of the Second World War. In fact some historians believe that, as more and more distance from the conflict is gained, historians will simply fold the Cold War into WWII, addressing them as two phases of a much larger conflict.

So clearly, there are a lot of reasons to think about, talk about and research about the Second World War. Scholars devote their life’s work to the endeavor. But this isn’t a scholarly work, it’s a game, which brings about a whole new set of questions. Why a game about WWII?

In part, for all the reasons listed above. Everyone knows that the war shaped the world we live in today. The idea of being a part of that, even vicariously, is a powerful draw to a game. And in part because the war exists in our minds as one of history’s few “good wars”. The opponents of the Allied powers unquestionably needed to be fought. In many cases the Allies were attacked first and so were defending themselves. For these reasons, there’s less morale ambiguity about the war. You can really believe that the Allies were the good guys and the Axis were bad guys in a way that’s much harder than a game about, say, the Civil War or Viet Nam. This is why the Axis are frequently the villains in modern pulp literature. Since they were inarguably horrible, there’s no moral quandary about making them cartoon villains.

But mostly, it’s because the war has become a part of our national identity. Like the Battle of Marathon to the Greeks and the Second Punic War to the Romans, the Second World War represents the Allied powers at their best. A time when nations were tested. While some were found wanting, many triumphed in a way they never want to forget. Simply put it was, as Winston Churchill predicted it would be, our finest hour.

There you go. Hopefully this has made you want to read the book more. If not, um... then the rest of the book is much better than this.

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