[meta] A modest proposal.

Discussions on alternate history, including events up to 20 years before today. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
Posts: 5081
Joined: 29 Apr 2005 01:20
Location: Ontario, Canada

Re: [meta] A modest proposal.

Post by glenn239 » 23 Jun 2020 17:07

daveshoup2MD wrote:
20 Jun 2020 20:55
However, a tabletop exercise, like (as an example) Ugaki's war games before Midway are (generally) designed to explore command-level alternatives. Those are very different fields of endeavor, and confusing them is simply ignorance.
My understanding of the Midway games was that the purpose was to check for tactical flaws in the plan that might require a tweak or two. Not so much in rolling the dice, (since this was all arbitrary), but in the player command decisions when faced with various situations. The plan itself was fixed. It was more redeploying this ship or that, or other such minor corrections. Ironically, the two useful insights from the game - that Nagumo's command was reckless in their tactics and that a US carrier ambush could defeat the operation - were not sufficiently addressed.

I ran a wargame on another site years back about a return raid against Oahu in January 1942. The outcome of the game at the tactical level was not of much interest, (3 US and 1 IJN heavy carrier sunk, several others damaged with heavy air losses on both sides). This was all die rolls. The interesting thing was the command decision of the American player to split his carriers up into three formations and deploy them as picket tripwires. That decision would have translated into lessons for a real early 1942 encounter. Meaning, that a US admiral in the same circumstances might choose to split his carriers and deploy them as tripwires, and the wargame said that, no matter what, the US commander should not do that.

Posts: 4251
Joined: 16 May 2010 14:12
Location: United States of America

Re: [meta] A modest proposal.

Post by OpanaPointer » 23 Jun 2020 17:54

Keep in mind that it's "wargames", not "wargame". The scenario where NKB was ambushed by the USN enroute to Hawaii was studied to decide what actions should be taken if that happened. But they couldn't just call everything off because of what MIGHT happen, so they proceeded to test the next scenarios. If the command is honest in evaluating the possibilities then the games are useful. If they don't then why bother having them at all. No sweeping generalizations can be made about wargames because they're conducted by different militaries operating under different commands with different goals. Check the bathwater for babies before chucking it out the porthole.
Come visit our sites:
World War II Resources

Bellum se ipsum alet, mostly Doritos.

Posts: 1037
Joined: 25 Oct 2014 11:04
Location: Europe

Re: [meta] A modest proposal.

Post by Mori » 23 Jun 2020 19:11

daveshoup2MD wrote:
21 Jun 2020 05:13
Fair question. A lot of popular history tends to overlook such points, in favor of the "juicy" anecdote ... SLA Marshall vis a vis James C. Fry, for example.
Can you explain the "SLA MArshall vis à vis James C. Fry"? I did not catch it.

Posts: 1227
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: [meta] A modest proposal.

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 24 Jun 2020 05:05

Cult Icon wrote:It is hard to believe any of these claims particularly when they strongly depart from what is in the literature
Generally endorse your points but this principle must be applied with care.

Stating something original requires deviation from the (secondary, mostly) literature; we should heavily scrutinize those deviations but always be prepared to see things anew even if no prior commentator has authorized our so seeing.
Another important thing is to clearly define bogus rhetoric/ sophistry is and discourage it. This takes a lot of space and is very annoying, and comes across as people trying to kill time by satisfying their egotism.
Agree but we'd need a specific list for any consistent moderation.

Among sophistical tendencies I've seen crop up:
  • "Area bombing" with figures/statements of dubious relevance, in the hope that one or two bombs hit a target but also (and probably more saliently) hoping to derail the discussion. In other contexts, this debating technique has been called the Gish Gallop. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop
  • "Didn't happen so couldn't happen." Not much more explanation needed... The sophist invokes the supposed reasons things happened OTL, without addressing arguments about the weight/contingency of historical explanations. Often smuggled into these invocations is an assumed historical narrative that is contested generally and that the ATL specifically rebuts.
  • A failure to distinguish intra-OTL comparisons from OTL-ATL comparisons.
  • A generalized contempt for alternate history. This probably stems from the prejudices of the field of history and the academic/amateur interests of most posters here. While the field of history has looked down on counterfactual reasoning, it is an intellectual outlier among its peers in the liberal arts and social sciences. Here's a good summary of the meta-issue from Cass Sunstein:
    Social scientists test hypotheses. They might hypothesize, for example, that if people have to pay a small tax for plastic bags at convenience stores, they will use fewer plastic bags. To test hypotheses, social scientists usually like to conduct randomized controlled trials, allowing them to isolate the effects of the tax. Such trials create parallel worlds and hence alternative histories—one with the tax and one without it. Historians cannot conduct randomized controlled trials, because history is run only once. Yet they nonetheless develop hypotheses, and they attempt to evaluate them by reference to the evidence. Evans [a historian critical of counterfactuals-TMP] is himself engaged in this enterprise. There is no difference between hypothesis-testing and counterfactual inferences. Any claim of causation, resulting from such tests, requires a statement that without the cause, the effect would 
not have occurred.

    Evans appreciates the entertainment 
value of the most imaginative counterfactual narratives, but he doesn’t want them to be taken seriously, or to be seen as what historians do. With Thompson and Oakeshott (and countless others), he thinks that historians should explain what did happen, not what didn’t happen. The problem is that, to offer an explanation of what happened, historians have to identify causes, and whenever they identify causes they immediately conjure up a counterfactual history, a parallel world. Sure, there is a lot of distance between science fiction novelists and the world’s great historians, but along an important dimension they are playing 
the same game.
    https://newrepublic.com/article/119357/ ... r-sunstein

Posts: 1227
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: [meta] A modest proposal.

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 24 Jun 2020 05:10

One reason for historians' general aversion to counterfactual reasoning might be that it requires more mental horsepower than simply describing what happened. History programs tend to be on the lower end of GRE scores compared to other liberal arts, which tend to lag more lucrative professional fields (for economics reasons) in attracting the highest mental horsepower. https://magoosh.com/gre/2013/gre-scores ... -programs/

Within history, military history seems to be a few rungs down the ladder of intellectual prestige:
As a recent chair of a prominent history department recently explained to us, the discipline of history does not consider exploring and understanding the decisions of state leaders or military officials to be interesting, important, or innovative. Not surprisingly, those who study these subjects are a dying breed within major American history departments.
https://warontherocks.com/2018/12/the-h ... n-suicide/

Hopefully it's clear that I'm defending the field of military history with these statements, while acknowledging structural/economic forces that may explain why the field I'm defending is currently occupied by lower-status* intellectuals (obviously with many exceptions). Obviously I value military history or I wouldn't be posting here...

*and of course the correlation of status and merit is far from perfect. The correlation of expectations of status/pay with merit is, however, probably a little tighter.

Return to “What if”