Thursday, June 07 2007

Midway, Tigers, and the Romance of History

Wonderduck has a fascinating post up about the popular myths surrounding the battle of midway, the anniversary of which I forget about in the run-up to the anniversary of D-Day.  As I said in my last post, I was fascinated by the military history of the second world war back when I was a kid (and still am to some degree today) and most of what was in his post was new to me.

One thing I did want to comment on was the way we distort history even when directly addressing it. The second world war has long been the war that has figured largest in popular culture for a number of reasons:  it was a good war fought against the baddest bad guys of history.  It was fought with courage, cunning, and gee-whiz technology.  It provides cinematic moments of all types all over the world.

And yet, with all that, in fact because of all that, it gets distorted in the lens of culture.  It even gets distorted in the eyes of history buffs.  There is so much to be fascinated on in the small scale that one loses track of the big picture.

I play a World War 2 historical miniature wargame that involves pushing small models of troops and tanks and guns across a table.  The guys who do this sort of thing are all history buffs, many to a degree much greater than I am.  If you have an interest in history and a lot of patience, it can be quite fun.  But it's both educational and a distortion of history at the same time.  Take German armored fighting vehicles for example.  The names are often quite familiar to history buffs: Panther, Tiger, Konigstiger, Ferdinand, Elefant, Jagdpanther, Hummel.  And those are just the big monsters.  You've got a half dozen configurations of the common Panzer III, Panzer IV, and StuG.  If you're putting together a German armored force, you've got tons of types of tanks to choose from, all used at one point or another, and all laid out in a hand set of values and formulas for use in the game.  What the books don't necessarily say is that some of these models were only produced in limited numbers and saw combat only a handful of times before falling out of the picture entirely.  Sure, they're neat vehicles and all, but in fact they're historical curiosities.  [American players have it easy.  You have a M4 with a 75mm gun or a M4 with a 76mm gun to choose from for most of the war.]

There is just so much ground to cover that if you look at the little picture you often miss how it figures into the big picture.  If you look at the big picture, you miss all the little pictures.

Posted by: Civilis at 09: 10 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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