Sunday, 30 June 2013

Slave population of the Dutch Caribbean in perspective

To get an impression of how important the Dutch colonies were in the Caribbean, let's look at the most important staple crop of the region: sugar. While yesterday I looked at the numbers of slaves in the Dutch Caribbean, it was clear that the Dutch import of slaves was significant, but minor. This was also the case in terms of sugar exports.

Sugar exports of main producers in the Caribbean and Surinam just before
the French Revolution. Knight, The Caribbean p 365-370

Surinam was only a small producer of sugar compared to powerhouses like British controlled Jamaica and French St Domingue. And although the French Revolution ultimately destroyed sugar production in St Domingue (which continued independently as Haïti), Surinam was unable to capture more of the sugar market..

Sugar exports of main producers in the Caribbean and Surinam
early 19th century. Knight, The Caribbean p 365-370

In terms of slave population, Surinam was more considerable, although it was still dwarfed by Jamaica, St Domingue and Cuba.

Slave populations of the largest Caribbean colonies in the
early 19th century. Knight, The Caribbean p 366-7

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Slavery in the Dutch Caribbean: numbers

Okay, so how many slaves were there in Surinam and on the Dutch Antilles?

First, let's look at the number of slaves coming in to the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean. Numbers are difficult, because the Dutch Antilles served as an entrepot and a number of slaves may have finally ended up elsewhere.

Over two centuries around half a million slaves were imported to the Dutch colonies, out of more than 9 million slaves brought to the new world from 1600 to 1870. That's a significant bit minor share. Brazil, Spanish America and the British and French Antilles received much larger numbers.

Knight, The Caribbean p 364

The high watermark of slavery in the Dutch Antilles lay in the late 18th century, when there were well over 20,000. More than half of the the slaves worked on Curacao, the main commercial center.

Slave population of the Dutch Antilles
Dalhuisen, Geschiedenis van de Antillen p55

Immediately after the British occupation and the abolition of the slave trade (effective in 1808, but officially confirmed by the new United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1814), the number of slaves had dropped to 12,000 and remained mostly stable after that.  Natural population growth was positive and balanced manumissions and several thousand slaves emigrating (ostensibly as freedmen).  The excess of births over deaths was probably mostly because the economic focus of the Dutch Antilles was on trade and self sufficiency instead of export of plantation crops for the world market.

The late 18th century was also the prime time for Surinam. There may have been as many as 60,000 slaves at that time. In the 19th century the numbers declined.  This was mostly the result of negative natural population growth, a common feature of plantation slave societies. Combined with manumissions and escapes, the only possibility was for a decline in the number of slaves. By 1863 there were only some 35,000 slaves left.

Slave populations in the 19th century
Staatkundig en Staatshuishoudkundig Jaarboekje
After abolition in 1863, the freed slaves between the ages of 15 and 60 were required by the Dutch government to work as contract labourers on the plantations for another 10 years. They were nominally under state supervision, or staatstoezicht. As soon as the requirement to work under contract disappeared, many former slaves left the plantations. This signalled the start of an era where plantation owners imported contract labour from India, Indonesia and China.

Until 1863 the population of Surinam was dominated by slaves. The white population was a small minority, living mostly in the capital, Paramaribo. In Paramaribo also lived the freed slaves, but while the colonial records account for 600 in 1844, Panday lists over 5000 of them in 1835. I have no way of reconciling those numbers.

There was also a significant group of maroons, called Bosnegers in Dutch, that lived in the interior. The were reckoned at 7 to 8,000 in the middle of the 19th century. The Surinam jungle also provided a refuge for maybe around a thousand Indians.
Population of Surinam 1844
Staatkundig en Staathuishoudkundig Jaarboekje 1850

Considering that about half a million slaves came in to the Dutch Caribbean, the death rate must have been horrendous if you consider the slave population at the end of the 18th century (just over 80,000). Apparently, slave owners felt no need to be careful with their investments as replacements were relatively cheap.

Bruce Schneier´s Liars & Outliers

We learn to trust strangers from a very young age. Not just uncles, cousins and neighbours, but also teachers, policemen, doctors and even newsreaders on TV. Compared to our ancestors and other animal species, humans have raised trust to unknown heights. Bruce Schneier , in his new book Liars & Outliers, takes us on a tour of how that trust came to be, how it manages to work in the majority of cases and why it doesn’t work in the rest.

Schneier uses Francis Fukuyama’s definition of trust, which holds that other members of society act in a predictable, honest and co-operative way, based on shared norms. This is enormously helpful for society as a whole, because there are costs and risks involved in dealing with others and establishing their trustworthiness. If society can organise itself so that we can safely trust other members, that save sus a lot of time and money.

Liars & Outliers most pressing question is how society can function based on trust when the short term and selfish interest of it’s members are often contrary to the long term benefit of the group. Put in different terms: people continuously decide whether to co-operate with the group or to defect.

There’s a number of pressures that society exerts to keep its members in the fold. Moral pressure makes us feel good or bad about our choices, reputational pressure makes us worry about the judgement of our peers. In a small group, those pressures are quite powerful and will generally convince us to stick to the norms.

But in bigger groups this no longer works as well, as fewer people know us and not as well. There is also less social control and more alternatives if our peers ostracise us. In these larger groups, the maintenance of the group norms has been delegated institutions: the church, the state, the council, the company.These institutions work with officials and formalised rules like laws, regulations and protocols.

Finally, there are security systems designed to keep you conformant. Locks and keys keep you out, your antivirus software protects your computer and cameras in the public space watch your movement and actions.

All these pressures determine the parameters in the trade off that every member of a group makes dozens if not hundreds of times a day. In simple cases, all these pressures point the same way, but often the pressures compete. You conscience may guide you one way, but the pressure of your peers keeps you from speaking out. You may be desperate to get food for your kids but gates and walls keep you from taking it from others. And group loyalties may conflict. Your membership of a gang may be more important than that of your local community. In some cases this can make decisions to co-operate or defect very difficult.

Societies have built institutions that can set these parameters. It can hire more policemen, set tougher penalties, offer more aid to potential victims (easing your conscience). However, this not easy to get right. First of all, there is delay in adjustment and longer in more complex institutions. Legislation may take years and funds allocated to execute policies take years to get in the budget. The transgressor are ahead of you all this time. Which gets worse if the technological advance is very fast. It takes even longer to measures the effects of new policies, and it´s hard to tell whether the policies were responsible for the observed changes at all. And even if you get the desired result, it may have unwanted side effects that require new policies to deal with.

Also, society sometimes goes after the wrong problems. The fact that we have the illusion that we can actually handle risk, that we can eliminate it, is very dangerous and makes it hard to remain objective. We tend to overstate the risk of catastrophic, singular and unexpected and understate the risk of what is familiar and controlable. That’s why more money is spent on counter-terrorism than road safety, although the latter causes more deaths. In fact, the most scary things imaginable are unknown risks.

Therefor it is all the more surprising that most people (to paraphrase Lincoln) stick to most of the rules most of the time. The first part of Schneier’s book deals with the theoretical and empirical evidence from evolutionary psychology, (socio)biology, game theory and other fields of science on what makes people so surprisingly co-operative. Especially when you compare it to our cousins, the baboons, who will defect from co-operating midway through a chase for prey. In some way humans have developed a wide array of pressures to get people to put their own short term interests aside and join with others for future benefit.

Schneier uses defection and society in a neutral sense. His view is that nobody sticks to all the rules all the time, and that this is natural. Moreover, some societies, or aspects of societies are bad (or can be seen as bad) and worth changing, and defection thus can be a good thing. This is different from the good/evil dichotomy that some people work by.

Schneier in action

The pressures mentioned above are strong positive feedbacks loops to conformity and they tend to stifle societal change. So an important question is whether we should foster non-conformity more? What I missed in Schneier’s book was that long term vision, maybe because I’m a historian and he’s a securitarian. By keeping society abstract, he doesn’t touch the subject whether certain societies have been better at dealing with non-conformity and whether they profited from this. For example democratic societies with free speech and protection from violent and legal repression by other members of society, the church and the state?

Modern societies have developed ways for people to defect without being ostracised from society as a whole. We have since long given artists more room for individual expression and have accepted that they not only break artistic rules but also have looser morals, dress more extravagantly and permit themselves a more critical stance towards authority. More recently we tolerate conscientious objectors, encourage whistle blowers and cheer on noble bandits like Robin Hood.

Has western society struck a balance between individual and collective that is superior to authoritarian societies? Not for nothing do most comparative studies show that western societies are more trusting in general than other societies? So can the lesson be, even if Schneier doesn’t make it explicit, that a society which allows its members to break some of the rules is stronger, as long as they don’t break them all?

Full disclosure: I won a galley copy of this book in a competition because I promised to give it away 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Warfare in Al-Andalus

It took me a while to finish this last part of the Al-Andalus project because I needed to sit down and have a look at the books again.

My reading list for Andalusia

These three books are  bound together by the author and illustrator and this results well researched books, which draw their strength from David Nicolle´s good knowledge of Arabic sources and the in beautiful paintings of Angus McBride. But there´s also a broad variety of photographs and maps that add to the text without overlap between the books.

The weakest of the three books is El Cid and the Reconquista, 1050-1492. Spanning four and a half centuries, it suffers from bad organisation. By splitting up the discussion of the armies over different periods, any sense of continuity of change is lost. There is quite a lot of emphasis on equipment at the expense of other subjects, which feel rather general.

This is the only book of the three giving much detail on the armies of the Christian kingdoms. They relied on royal retainers, military religious orders and later urban militias to expand to the south. Their equipment and tactics were heavily influenced by their Arabic opponents.

One of the important lessons is that it is hard to talk of Christian or Muslim armies, because both sides employed warriors of both faiths and many different ethnicities: Spanish born, but also Arab and Berber Muslims, and Spanish as well as French Christians, not forgetting renegades. El Cid’s story is the best known of these soldiers fighting on both sides.

A model showing the Gibralfaro and Alcazaba of
Malaga and the double walls connecting them

Much better is the Moors, where the development is much better explained. Organisation, equipment, architecture and naval warfare are all better structured. It details the change from a Ummayad caliphate based on Spain to Almoravid and later Almohad empires that were both rooted in North Africa. These were seen, by the Muslims as well as the Christian, as foreign invaders. Their fundamentalist teachings meant that they remained separated from the Spanish elites.

Interesting is that these invasion always followed on fragmentation of the previous Muslim empire. Encroachment by Christian kingdoms then forced the Spanish Muslims to call for help from the south. They would have rather remained masters of their own fate.

The walls of Ronda served the town well, but the town
surrendered after its water supply was compromised
Granada 1492. The Twilight of Moorish Spain, on the last campaign is well structured, but has the advantage of a limited period of time with relatively few changes in equipment and organisation. It rolls like a narrative of the campaigns, with good analysis of the strategic considerations on both sides.

The war was pretty one-sided due to the infighting among the Granadese pretenders, although the financial burden of the war would have set limits on the Spanish side had it lasted longer. On the other hand, the quick progress was probably a factor in the ability to gain new loans.

The walls of the Alcazaba of Malaga
One of the few fortresses to stand up to Spanish cannon

But it was not only the internal strife on the Granadese side that won the Spanish the war. This war was about raid and sieges. And while the Granadese gave as good as they received on the first count, the Spanish enjoyed a marked advantage in the latter department. Although there was some artillery in the forts, the Spanish had more and better. Most sieges against smaller towns were therefore resolved quickly. Only Malaga and Granada could put up prolonged resistance. 

Having seen the terrain around Malaga and Ronda, I got the impression that the war in Al-Andalus was a struggle over valleys, with fortification providing control over the areas. This suited the Spanish well as fortifications could be taken at ease most of the time.

The church door of Alozaina commemorating the capture
of the town by Spanish troops on June 21st 1484

Looking at the long term, Granada’s long survival had only been obtained by bending its knees deeply to the Christian kingdoms, war among the Christians and support from North Africa. When these points were resolved in the late 15th century with the unification of Castile and Aragon, and the loss of connections to Muslim rulers across the Straits of Gibraltar, the days of a Muslim state on the Iberian peninsula were marked.

One minaret remains of the mosque of Ronda

Check out my earlier post on the struggle between Christians and Muslims from the perspective of the other side of the Mediterranean, that is from Rhodes.

Surinam exports in the age of slavery: sugar, coffee, cotton and cacao

This is a bit that I didn't put in next Monday's article, partially because not all of this data is from a source I could use, and partially because it didn't fit in the article.

These are export volumes of the four main plantation staples from the early 18th century until the end of slavery in 1863 and a little bit further. For ten years after 1863, the former slaves of Surinam were forced to work as contract labourers on the plantations.

Sugar exports from Surinam in tons
Sugar was the main plantation export product throughout the Caribbean. Surinam was a relatively small producer.

Coffee exports from Surinam in tons
Coffee exports peaked late in the 18th century but all but disappeared by the end of slavery

Cotton exports from Surinam in tons
Cotton had a short period of success in Surinam but like coffee, didn't live past the end of slavery.

Cacao exports from Surinam in tons
Although cacao wasn't a major export product, it was the only one of the old plantation staples to to increase with the end of slavery.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Upcoming: Slavery Statistics in the Dutch West Indies

Working on a short article with stats about the abolition of slavery in the Dutch West Indies, 150 years ago next Monday. It will be published in Dutch, but you might like an English version.

My source: Het Staatkundig en Staathuishoudkundig Jaarboekje

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

La Religieuse, Riducule and the War That Made America

I very much enjoyed the French movie La Religieuse, based on the late 18th century book by Denis Diderot, better known for his encyclopedia.

The story is about a daughter of lower gentry that gets send to a convent because her parents can't afford her a dowry. She doesn't want to go but is lured in, then refuses to take the vows. But as she brings shame on her family, it is even more difficult to escape the life of a nun and she goes back, more or less of her own free will. Of course she comes to regret it and the movie then documents her struggle to get out.

It was an interesting look at 18th century society, and gives a bit of background to 18th century gaming.

Another French movie I can recommend for this period is Ridicule. In Ridicule, a lowly nobleman travels to Paris to ask the king's aid in financing a project to improve his village. But as the king is bored with audiences the only way to gain access is through the court circuit in which wit and sarcasm provide the means to attract attention. 

But of course, you guys want hardcore military history, so my last recommendation is through the Bloggers for Charity, not only a lofty cause, but cleverly combined with the miniature refight of the Battle of La Belle Famille in 1759.

The War That Made America is a four part documentary on the French & Indian Wars and has some interesting combat sequences with reenactors. It is also surprisingly good on introducing the perspectives of Britons, Americans, French and Indians of various persuasions. It takes George Washington's experiences as a main lead, and I see this as inescapable if you consider he was involved in some of the actions and that that is the best way to gain the attention of the general audience.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Dutch and Belgians at Waterloo Ospreys

Yes, the day before yesterday was the 198th anniversay of the Battle of Quatre Bras, and so today is that of the Battle of Waterloo. And then I found out I was not the owner of the two Osprey Men at Arms about the Dutch and Belgians in the campaign! Incredible. So I rectified that omission last Friday. I hope nobody noticed them missing in my collection...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Napoleonic and Native American Cavalry

Two more books I ordered some time ago and only arrived recently. I was very much impressed by Paul Dawson's thesis on the rebuilding of the French cavalry in 1813. It had lots of stuff on the organisation of remounts and the corners Napoleon could cut to rapidly increase his number of horses. Dawson argues that it wasn't a shortage of remounts but rather a shortage of trained cavalrymen combined with a breakdown of logistics that hamstrung Napoleon's army in the autumn campaign.

Not surprising that I was interested when Paul's Au Galop. Horses and riders of Napoleon´s Army was published on the French cavalry from an equestrian viewpoint. There is certainly a lot of the stuff in here, but not all the exciting bits of his thesis.

In one fell swoop I also picked up from the same publisher The Warhorse in the modern era by Ann Nyland, which does the same for a much longer period but in less depth. It is also somewhat older. Unexpected boon were the chapters on the use of horses by the Indian Plains tribes.

Of course these books are on the list for reading after this weekend, when we play the Leipzig campaign in one day with over forty guys in two large rooms. It's a double blind map game, with each team representing a headquarters or political leaders. So if I don't post much in the coming days, you know what I'm doing..

ps I vaguely recall a post not long ago in which I said I didn't expect much in the mail for the future. I guess I was fooling myself there.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Maroons and slave revolts

When my interest was raised in slavery at university, I also learned about the maroons (called bosnegers in Dutch controlled Surinam). These escaped slaves formed communities in hard to reach areas of British Jamaica, Surinam, French Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti). I assume there were also maroon communities in North and Latin America.
 These include the French, Haitian, British and even Dutch units involved in the
Napoleonic Wars in the Caribbean, in my possession since last Friday 
The subject has not left me since but was rekindled with the 150th anniversary of abolition of slavery in the Dutch West-Indian colonies coming up on July 1st (more on this later). It made me wonder why there have been no wargame rules that included maroons or slave revolts in their rules, at least none that I know of. But there's references in a few Ospreys (shown above) and at least I've found a miniature manufacture, Trent Miniatures, that offers maroons, Haitian rebels and regulars.

For the rules, I've been looking at Muskets and Tomahawks, as it also focuses on 18th century skirmish wargaming in the North American colonies. I think it can be easily adapted to include actions in the Caribbean. As it uses card driven scenarios, it could be well suited for the raiding, tracking and harassing expeditions of slave societies.

Revolting slaves by Trent Miniatures, from NorthStar website
It could also include scenario's based on the larger slave rebellions, like the one on Saint-Domingue in 1792 that led to its independence. With British, Spanish and French attempts to (re)gain control, there's all kinds of interesting angles to take.

So I've done myself a big favour by getting a few relevant Ospreys and ordering Muskets & Tomahawks, and the Trent minis (as well as some French and Indians for the French & Indian wars). This isn't a project yet, and will have to wait a while, but I'm looking forward to working on it. René, are you reading this?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Crisis in Binni - Operation Succesful, Patient Deceased

Two weeks ago I joined in for Crisis in Binni, the megagame about humanitarian intervention in a failing African state (think of Somalia in the early 1990s) as the commander of the US contingent to the international force. I was going to write peacekeeping force, but then realised that was not our mission. Remember this, because it is important.

When the UN decided to intervene in Binni, there had been low level conflict in the country for some years, with the autocratic government of President Ancongo having suppressed rebellions in the north of the country. The direct occasion for action was a famine developing in the northern region.

While the security council (formed for this game of the US, Britain, France and Italy) worked out our exact mission, the commanders of the military contingents planned for their role, in coordination with the UN refugee commissariat and World Food Programme.

As US commander my aims were to keep the commitment of ground troops to a minimum, but to still be seen as the leading nation. I managed to circumvent this seeming paradox by providing the expensive HQ, airbase and transport and attack helicopters for the mission. A few marines were used for protecting the force HQ, airbase and UN depots in Binni’s capital, out of harm's way. And as the Security Council resolution that formed the basis for our deployment implicitly put the US in command, I just treated that as a fait accompli which nobody questioned.

My briefing material for the game, with extensive historical information

The UN military force got a very limited brief: to protect the aid workers and refugees under their care. This also meant very restricted Rules of Engagement, effectively to only shoot when shot at.

My next priorities were to establish a unified command structure and get men on the ground as soon as possible to get a feel for the developing situation. The first French troops were on the ground in a month, with other contingents following two weeks later.

By that time the north of the country had seen extensive ethnic cleansing, with several thousand refugees shot to encourage others to make a move. The smart warlords then corralled the refugees in their area into large camps and waited for UN officials to turn up.

This actually helped the UN aid operation a lot, because it allowed them to concentrate on a few locations. That also made the military mission easier. Part of the aid flowed through Binni’s northern neighbouring country, which was expensive, but saved us the costs and risks of a very long line of communications. We also established on refugee operation in the north based only on air transport to which the same applies.

As expected, the government tried to squeeze us for money, but I was determined to prevent outright bribes as much as possible. So when president Ancongo demanded money to supply his troops, I agreed to a convention that only committed us to paying government troops that would be used solely to protect our refugee camps. In that way I hoped to limit the amount of units we had to support and also gain some leverage over them should push come to shove.

This deal may however been the reason for government troops to try to forcibly take over protection of the refugee camp at Cleopatra from the local warlord. This resulted in a three week battle over the town which gave us some headaches. Mostly because our forces in the area were split: a single British company guarding the camp to the north of the town and a slightly bigger garrison of the UN depots to the south.

We were afraid some of the indigenous force would find the 90,000 lightly protected refugees as a far more alluring target than the opposition and turn on the camp. We solved this by having our Black Hawks flying constantly over the refugee camp to discourage such thoughts. The commander of the British contingent remained anxious and enquired when and how he would be allowed to pull out. Of course I wasn´t keen on UN troops running off from their primary mission when put to the test, but I also understood that a company would not be enough to hold against a determined attack. So I put a number of transport helicopters on call to extract his force when attacked in force and this seems to have been enough to assure him. Anyway we were lucky we weren´t attacked.

UN military personnel at the gate of Cleopatra Refugee Camp

But apart from this and a few pot shots taken at a convoy the game was rather quiet for the UN military. In this we were really helped by the ´constructive´ stance taken by the warlords and the government. As long as they could make some money from us, they had no incentive to create trouble for us. In all I think that the level of bribing in this game was probably lower than in reality, and it was definitely only a small part of our total expenses.

Meanwhile, another neighbouring country had decided to take advantage of the internal turmoil in Binni to invade a disputed region. The Ancongo government therefore kept holding its hand up for money, but the US Ambassador was eventually able to wrench a promise of elections from the president for it.

The Battle of Cleopatra also proved an incentive for the US president to take an interest in the operation, and the US ambassador managed to broker a ceasefire and peace talks. This resulted in a government of national unity and a photo opportunity for the US ambassador.

Of course these peace talks were mainly meant to allow the government to turn on the invaders, which they had duly expelled by the end of the game. On the other hand, the power sharing didn’t fare well with Ancongo’s other clan leaders and rumours were rife of a coup by that time.

Nothing of the sort happened

The generally cooperative behaviour of the warlords and Ancongo government gave the UN a relatively easy game. Those refugees that we got to in time were saved and the concentration worked to our benefit. However, outside UN reach the world was less safe. The Security Council whisked away independent reports on human rights violations by the Ancongo government and evidence of ethnic cleansing and death marches in the north in order to maintain a working relationship. Of course, that didn’t mean that by the end of the game Binni was in a better position for the future.

I think that the UN could have had a lot more criticism in how it dealt with the crisis: the limited brief, the bribes, the support for an autocratic government, no attempts to create peace or safety for ethnic minorities. From all sides there was a lot of Realpolitik and very little principled behaviour. I guess that is due to a general disillusionment with human intervention and what it can achieve in the long run. As far as I understand, UN forces in earlier games were more ambitious and ready to get stuck in. So after six runs of Crisis in Binni, maybe it’s time to shift the situation in Binni by 20 years as well.

... and I approve of this message

Friday, 14 June 2013

Go There Rather Than Here

After yesterday´s general dissing of blogs, I´d like to counter by pointing you to one of the best wargaming blog posts ever: Sidney Roundwood´s ideas on creating a game that feels like being there. Very much enhanced by excellent pictures and illustrations.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Wargames magazines vs blogs

Let me draw your attention to a very good post by Keith Flint on wargames magazines. I think Keith is entirely correct when he writes

"there are far too many trivial posts and comments out there that contribute very little to our hobby, and which fail to communicate very much in terms of ideas or inspiration. Indeed, some forum posters seem to have quite a lot of trouble spelling words properly and grasping the basics of punctuation, let alone having anything worth saying. Far too many blogs make do with battle reports featuring no maps or scenario outlines, thus giving no idea of what's going on, and support this thin fare with a series of badly lit and/or out of focus photos."

There is a lot of low quality stuff out here (including mine) that is only relevant to a few people that know me well. On the other hand, that's the essence of a blog. It's a trade of between personal and immediate and objective standards of quality. That is also the reason why there will always be room for magazines (in paper or digital form).

On the other hand, it was a long time ago that I was subscribed to one of the glossies and I frankly lost interest because of the indifferent quality of the articles. I'm glad that the both revamped Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy and Miniature Wargames seem to be improving on that.

For me Keith's crie de coeur is a good reason to think about what I can do to improve my blog, without it becoming an online magazine.

The front of Keith's own blog

Keith's criticism is not limited to the blogs however. He is also critical of the 'rather bland and forgettable' contributions of 'prominents figure in the hobby' like Rick Priestly and Richard Clarke. And he engages the debate about the quality of painting shown in magazines and
"articles that purport to pass on their 'secret' of producing wonderful figures in record time. [...] Unfortunately, amongst all the tips and wrinkles, one does not have to read between the lines of such articles very much to discover that the real 'secret' is to spend every waking hour painting figures, often with as much shading and general fiddling about as possible."
 Also Keith argues that
"The emphasis on painting creates a distraction from the task in hand, which is of course to get some wargaming in."
 So by all means, read Keith's blog and take up his recommendations to read the magazines involved.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

All Shill For Quatre Bras book by Erwin Muilwijk

Also in the mail last week: Erwin Muilwijk's second volume in his history of the Dutch army during the Waterloo campaign: Perponcher's Gamble. This concerns the Battle at Quatre Bras, where a Dutch vanguard managed to hold out long enough for the rest of the Allied army to come up and hold the cross roads at the village.

The black & white and the colour version

Erwin's book fills some gaps that English (and other) writers have neglected to lack of Dutch language skills or the fact that Wellington was having a chat with Blücher somewhere else at the time. For them the battle only starts when Wellington returns.

The maps and illustrations add a lot to the story, because some episodes were confusing even to the participants. It helps to figure out what was going on and where. I heartily recommend the colour version to take full advantage of them, but for the cheapskates (and all others) there is a downloadable version of the maps.

The two extra contributions by Ab Küchler on the Quatre Bras painting by Pieneman and Marco Bijl on the Bois de Bossu also provide added value.

I did have a small role in getting this book to the printer, although I still think a native speaker would have done much better.

Next up is the book on the Battle of Waterloo itself, to be published in about a year from now. Must read for anyone that is interested in the Waterloo campaign or the Dutch army of the Napoleonic and restauration period

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Fitter, healthier...and more productive - A Year Of Blogging

I started this blog a year ago. Officially it kicked off on June 4th with an obligatory introduction, explaining who I am and why I returned to blogging.

"So think of this blog as a rearguard action. An attempt to retain some of the ground lost to age and commitment (and lose some of the weight I've gained). Think of it as a means of putting dots on the horizon and enlisting the help of others to stay on course."

Me with a WWI A7V tank on display at the Tank Museum in Munster, Germany

But my first real post was on June 10th. On June 14th I set out the projects I had in mind. It may be useful to review to what extent I have persevered with these projects, given that this blog was partially meant to provide focus on a few projects that I could see through to completion.

Grand Projects

Maximum Effort, World War I Megagame. Shelved to focus on another grand project, but I still have it in the back of my head and keep buying books. Reviewed a few on Italy after my holiday there,  the Battle of Adua, then Why Italy came to dinner with only a plate and no cuttlery and Arditi del Popolo. The Maximum Effort blog is now in torpor.

Waterloo, books. Is now a Grand Project. Bought many books in the past year.
Hero of Waterloo? and  Hero of Waterloo II onto 1813-5 battle casualty rates
All is fair in love and war and history and Prussian Infantry Tactics

First Dutchman to lounge in the chair of the First Sea Lord
Admiralty Board Room, London

Minor projects

Mother Russia, the political economy game for WWI. Shelved with the megagame.

Ypres, books. Shelved after reading half to move on to other projects. I reviewed Belgian Patrouilleurs. Unfinished, but drawn the line.

Through the Mud and the Blood, WWI miniatures. Although delayed many times, I have actually started on them recently. However, this is all prototype and no production line. I'll get back to this soon.

Barbarossa, books for the megagame. I did review one of the books I'd read, but not all. Unfinished, but drawn the line.

Dux Britanniarum, Dark Age skirmishing. Bought minis, had them painted (also here), generated my characters, bought more and had them painted too, played a battle. Read a few books but did not review all of them. Here´s Britain After Rome. Even played Struggle for Rome. On slow burn now.

King John, books and possible megagame. One of my first posts. Bought more books, read none. Founded the King John Appreciation Society in response to the resurgence of love for Richard III. On slow burn.

Essen 2011, boardgames. I did play most of the stuff bought in 2011. Like Guards! Guards! Unfinished, but drawn the line.

Leipzig, books and megagame. Now a sub project for Waterloo. Been doing my reading, but not much reviewing. Game is played in two weeks so maybe I can do some more reviews afterwards.

Playtest for Master of Europe and Maps for Master of Europe

Me posing with a T-33 trainer on Vancouver Island

Projects started later

Vietnam, megagame Lost Youth. Read about counterinsurgency, played the megagame. Finished.
Essen 2012, boardgames. Started October 2012. I have played most of the games I bought at least once, but still some work to do in the coming four months, like Signum Mortis. And there's reports of games played as planned, games played unplanned, games unplayed and Metro 2033. Ongoing

Al-Andalus, books. Reading up for my holiday in Andalusia last May. Read the books, but only finished my review of the big one. Others to follow.

Humanitarian intervention in the 1990s. Preparation for Crisis in Binni megagame. Read the books. Finished and reviewed. But I need to get the report on the game itself on screen from my notes. Soon! Posts: Zero Dark Thirty, Lessons of Humanitarian Intervention, Crisis Caravan, Black Hawk Down, Crisis in Binni Game Materials 

Me in 2008: fitter, healthier, but not as productive


I still get distracted too easily. A megagame or a holiday is enough to get me sidetracked for a few weeks. And that´s only the projects. I also lost weeks on analysing what makes a real wargamer, reports on boardgames such as Civilization (the game I have played the most over the last two years), bookshops and general musings about the state of the hobby.

For the coming weeks I plan to close off the humanitarian intervention and Al-Andalus projects, then in the following months I should try to focus on Waterloo and Essen 2012. I hope to play some Dux Britanniarum. WWI and King John will be on hold until better days.

The temptations of Essen
Weight loss. On aggregate, I have lost no weight. It was no official project, so I'll make it official now. Let's get it structurally to under 90 kgs by next blog birthday.

Closing remarks

Although I have been graced by many viewers over the year (not all of it referrer spam), the best experiences for me have been to get comments from you. The blog soapbox is nice, but I actually prefer discussion and exchange. Thanks to all of you who have honoured me by entering the conversation.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Chemin des Dames books

Last week I brought Some books for Michiel, since he's going to camp around Compiegne in France this summer. Right in the middle of a number of WWI battlefields.

For a number of years I used to go to the nearby Champagne Ardennes region for a weekend in summer with a bunch of friends. On a few occassions we visited the Chemin des Dames battlefields, and I picked up the books in the picture.

One local guide, with a cover by Tardi, the French comic artist who has had a great impact on the way we see WWI. And another a more extensive account of the many battles fought on the Chemin des Dames, starting with the 1814 battle of Craonne (Napoleon's Last Victory), the 1914 battles, the disastrous 1917 offensive and the German offensive of 1918.

Added are two monographies: Pyrrhic Victory by Robert Doughty on the French Army in WWI and Pierre Miquel's book on the Chemin des Dames. And finally an issue of the French WWI magazine Tranchées, dealing with the offensive with limited objectives, among which the capture of Fort Malmaison on the Chemin des Dames in October 1917.

So Michiel is well prepared for his holiday.

Michiel bought me a Dutch translation of Albert Nofi's book on Waterloo for my birthday. An interesting take, you can spot the wargamer from miles away.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Flat Earth News - The Dumbing Down of Journalism

Hopelessly late in reading this, but Nick Davies´ Flat Earth News is probably more true now than it was when published first in 2008, before the great culmination of scandals that brought down the Sun and threatened the Murdoch media empire.

Davies argues that by the establishment of media empires in the 1980 and 1990s there started a trend towards rationalisation of news production. Budgets were lowered, fewer journalists were required to produce more news. This has led to a decline in the quality of journalism as there is not enough time to check facts and dig beyond what is delivered to them.

News is now delivered by press agencies with similarly reduced staff, but increasingly directly by PR organisations from the government, interest organisations, companies and intelligence agencies. Davies notes that the time is fast approaching where PR personnel outnumbers the journalists.

PR people have become much better at offering journalists ready-made news items. Political press officers provide Sound bites, arrange exclusive interviews and plant scoops. Interest groups selectively quote-mine scientific reports to support their arguments. Businesses subsidise related research that draws headlines, so that their message gets across. This is just what allows journalist, short of time, to meet their expected levels of productivity.

How journalism is squashed between rationalisation 
on the one hand and expanding PR on the other

The lack of time available has led to several sub-trends, picking stories which:
  • Are easy to process. So only give the facts, not the context
  • Carry low risk. They come from 'trusted' sources like the government, don't offend those powerful/wealthy enough to sue you or block your access to new stories, present both sides of the story as is they are equal. It also means that news media tend to hunt in packs, because a story published elsewhere is a safe source. Esepecially when there's a moral panic.
  • Are guaranteed to sell. So no news from far off places that nobody cares about, but endless celebrity gossip. And nothing that challenges the preconceptions of your audience.
The most interesting development is the support of astro-turf organisations, that is (fake) grassroots organisations supported by companies or intelligence agencies. Look for instance at the many patients representation groups supported by the pharmaceutical industry and non-representative expatriate organisations like the Iraqi National Council.  Or the dubious think tanks and research establishments used by the oil industry to sow doubt about climate change.

Most worrying is that the intelligence agencies have found their way to the newsrooms as well. It is not entirely new, as Cold War agencies also had their journalistic ´assets´, conduits through which they could convey their message. Or undermine the credibility of someone who lifted the lid on them. But since the 1990s they have used their information monopoly to steer reporters in their desired directions.  Their power is as big as those of the independent press agencies. The War in Iraq being a case in point.

Davies´ chapter on The Observer shows how the CIA led reporters astray by misinforming them (through the Iraqi National Council) while the political editor was bagged by Downing Street. But the chapters on other newspapers are as chilling and depressing, especially the collusion with private investigators and policemen that bug phones, gather private information from protected databases and harrass victims to get their side of the story even when all they want is to be left alone.

Tragically, it seems that this book has not been able to change much, although I can see an undercurrent of journalists trying to wrest away from Big Media. And judging by the results of the Leveson Inquiry and the opposition from the media to its conclusions, I have no confidence that it will prove more than a dint in the trend, let alone a break.

Even though this book isn't directly about gaming and history, I think it holds very important lessons when it comes to current military subjects. We cannot assume that information on opponents of the intelligence agencies is truthful. Information is leaked, planted through 'assets' and distorted. It also hold important lessons about the role of the press and the way in which it can be used to keep the truth from the public. We should be thinking hard about how we integrate these lessons into our game design.

It would be nice to say that this trend is only confined to the UK or the anglo-saxon media, but there's enough signs that it also applies to the Netherlands. Joris Luyendijk, writing about the same time, showed the weakness of foreign correspondents in the Middle East. He argued that in countries with hardly any room for independent public opinion, lacking social scientific research or even opinion polls, if not controlled by security services, how could the foreign correspondent really know what people felt?

And when you cover such a large and diverse region, you end up doing a standup from your hotel roof 30 minutes after you'd flown in based on nothing more than what you got from the newsroom and a quick chat with your taxi driver on the way in from the airport. But his criticism of the work of foreign correspondents was met as much by indignant replies from his colleagues as by others commending him for his bravery to be open about the limitations of his job.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Maps for Master of Europe

Jim gave me a set of maps to take with me to the Netherlands: player and umpire maps for Master of Europe. The game is on for June 22nd in Nijmegen. Casting is done and handbooks and invitations will go out later this week.

Note the larger scale umpire map!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Movie education

Saturday my host Richard delighted me with two excellent low budget movies. They prove that a good story and creative use of limitations can beat million dollar budgets.

The first was The Call of Cthulhu by the Lovecraft historical society. Although fairly recent it was shot in black and white and in a 1920s silent movie style. This worked excellently.

The second was Dark Star by John Carpenter (who went on to make other great movies). It is the story of group of astronauts after 20 years of their scouting mission, charting the stars and blowing up instable planets.

You could see how it had influenced later sci fi movies. But it has more merrit than that. There's great dialogue (especially with the intelligent bombs) and monologue, hilarious chase of the pet alien and like in The Call of Cthulhu , creative use of materials to create props. And it's given me a few interesting quotes to throw at people.

Both movies come highly recommended.

Richard and Jim also educated me on sci fi novels. I'll see if I can fit that hobby in somewhere.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Books bought in London (and Leiden)

For those of you who wondered whether I'd bought any books this weekend, the answer is yes. Of course.

Friday's reluctant loot: in the end I didn't do too much book shopping and my heart wasn't in it, I guess. Nevertheless, I picked up a book on the end of the Russian Empire because it had lots of social economic stuff linked in to the politics. Then 1815 The Road To Waterloo by Gregor Dallas as an old school introduction to the politics behind the peace process of 1814-1815. And finally The Verdict of Battle, a correction copy. I read a review of it recently and the book argues that battles became accepted as a legitimate way to solve political differences. And in this way, they could become decisive.

On Monday I picked up the catalogue to the exhibition on George Catlin's portraits of North American Indians

Last minute buys at the airport: Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise and Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. The first on scientific approaches to prediction, and why we are still so crap about it. By one of the smarter guys in electoral predictions. The second decision making and why it is often not economically rational (as economists expect us to do) but rational from the perspective of time and experience. By one of the leading economists.

Also one book I bought in Leiden just before I left for London. It's the travel account of a Dutch reporter in the wake of WWI to revolutions and internal conflicts all over Europe between 1919 and 1923. Should be an inspiration on the postwar situation from the view of a non-participating nation.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Catlin's paintings of North American Indians

Yesterday Nick and I went to the National Portrait Gallery and among other stuff, we saw George Catlin's portraits of North American Indians in the 1830s and 1840s.

Catlin began his project because he saw the Indians as a vanishing culture and wanted to conserve as much of it as possible. At the same time he needed to make money and these two goals didn't always go together well. But it has resulted in a unique collection of hundreds of portraits and paintings of most of the tribes of the east and west.

Apart from the information on the dress, appearance, customs and beliefs of the Indians, the paintings offer beautiful facial expressions. It's evident that Catlin empathised with his sitters. Not all paintings are of even quality because Catlin did many of them and fast, but even some of the unfinished ones are fascinating.

Catlin's other interest like geology also feature on the side of the exhibition. And since the National Portrait Gallery is free to visit, make sure you give it a try when you get to London. The turnover of exhibitions is quite high and there is lots to see.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

How I love going to Chestnut Lodge

Sunday I joined a meeting of Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group, a rare pleasure because megagames and CLWG don't often coincide.
We had 3 great sessions, the first set in the A Very British Civil War alternate universe where Britain descends into vivi war after Edward decides to ascend the throne with Wallis Simpson as queen.
It was a tactical scenario by John Seaton on attempts by fascists and worker militias to capture the neutral borough of Croydon, including the important airport.
Next was a session discussing Muku Patel's design for an army group level game on the opening stages of WWI on the eastern front.
We discussed some design parameters (which period, what area, at what level of resolution, the character of combat on the eastern front (and how it differed from the west) and some mechanics (trading speed for combat effectiveness, effect of terrain, intensity).
Last was a meeting of the board of a large multinational discussing how it would make the best use of revolutionary new technology.
We faced several fundamental decisions. Given its cooperation with a superpower, how would that affect it's ability to trade with others? What was our window in which we were the sole owners of this technology, and how could we leverage this towards customers and competition?
A busy day with some fascinating insights, good discussion and inspiration

Judd books

One of my favourite bookshops. Always something special to pick up.