Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
War Games

War Games: A History of War on Paper

Philipp von Hilgers
translated by Ross Benjamin
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    War Games
    Book Description:

    For centuries, both mathematical and military thinkers have used game-like scenarios to test their visions of mastering a complex world through symbolic operations. By the end of World War I, mathematical and military discourse in Germany simultaneously discovered the game as a productive concept. Mathematics and military strategy converged in World War II when mathematicians designed fields of operation. In this book, Philipp von Hilgers examines the theory and practice of war games through history, from the medieval game boards, captured on parchment, to the paper map exercises of the Third Reich. Von Hilgers considers how and why war games came to exist: why mathematical and military thinkers created simulations of one of the most unpredictable human activities on earth. Von Hilgers begins with the medieval rythmomachia, or Battle of Numbers, then reconstructs the ideas about war and games in the baroque period. He investigates the role of George Leopold von Reiswitz's tactical war game in nineteenth-century Prussia and describes the artifact itself: a game board--topped table with drawers for game implements. He explains Clausewitz's emphasis on the "fog of war" and the accompanying element of incalculability, examines the contributions of such thinkers as Clausewitz, Leibniz, Wittgenstein, and von Neumann, and investigates the war games of the German military between the two World Wars. Baudrillard declared this to be the age of simulacra; war games stand contrariwise as simulations that have not been subsumed in absolute virtuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30116-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 The Battle of Numbers in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 1-10)

    According to Adam Ries, it is necessary to distinguish between “calculation on the lines and with the quill”: numbers can be positioned as counters on the lines of an abacus, the antique calculating board, or they can flow in the form of Hindu-Arabic digits from the quill.¹ But when Ries extolled the virtues of writable digits in the early modern period, he did so in a medium that did not stand in a neutral relation to the represented numerical concepts. Gutenberg’s book printing preserved and reproduced writing operations better than it did anything else. When the Occidental and Oriental forms...

  6. 2 Power Games in the Baroque Period
    (pp. 11-30)

    Of all centuries, it was the seventeenth—which engendered reason and assembled mathematics into a discipline from the obscure semiotic practices of secret societies and the semiotic regimes of ideal states—that found in games an epistemic reservoir. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz led the way in discovering in games a playing field of knowledge. The space that games occupy in his work does not serve allusions and allegories. Rather, it is characterized by its own genuine technicity and materiality. It is precisely games that are assigned the task of revealing the universality of cultural techniques such as measuring and drawing, calculating...

  7. 3 The State of the War Game
    (pp. 31-56)

    In light of the devastating consequences of the Thirty Years’ War, Christoph Weickmann—with his King’s Game for the determination of “distinguished officials’ temperaments”—evidently pursued the goal of recommending to the potentates of his time the consolidation of a professional class as much as a means to their rise. Had his work had a broader reception than was actually the case, he would most likely have himself become—not completely un-self-servingly—the prototype of the very official advisor and administrator in military affairs to whom he assigned a decisive role in his game. In actuality, however, another half-century would...

  8. 4 Historiography in Real Time
    (pp. 57-88)

    After the Second World War, Carl Schmitt withdrew into the private sphere of his Sauerland home and remained confined for the last thirty-eight years of his long life to his birthplace of Plettenberg and his parental house.¹ At that time, Schmitt was known as the “crown jurist of the Third Reich,”² his title as a Prussian state councilor had lost its validity, he had to give up his professorship in constitutional doctrine, and he was dismissed from the civil service. He was charged with war crimes and was arrested for two years; however, he was never convicted.

    Back in Plettenberg,...

  9. 5 Higher Mathematics and Nomos of the Earth
    (pp. 89-102)

    Conditions of war are clearly suited to orienting forms and processes in all areas of life toward a determinatetelos—at least more so than is possible in peacetime. The concentration of human life on the attainment of fewer—but for that reason all the more sharply delineated—goals converges with mathematical disciplines. Furthermore, it allows other disciplines and more distantly related discourses to seek a connection to their rigorous calculations and methods.

    This state of affairs can be inferred, in any case, from a letter that mentions two civilian actors who are nonetheless decisive for the arms industry: “Last...

  10. 6 From Formula Games to the Universal Machine
    (pp. 103-144)

    On April 6, 1916, the only war diary entry reads: “Life is a …” Under the date of the subsequent day, it goes on: “torture, from which one is only temporarily relieved so that one remains receptive for further agonies.”¹ What one cannot speak about, one must pass over in silence. “An exhausting march, a night of coughing, a society of drunks, a society of mean and stupid people.”² The gunner Ludwig Wittgenstein, declared “completely unfit”³ for service by the Austro-Hungarian Army, left behind his privileged life in the familial circle of friends, in which representatives of Viennese high finance...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 145-174)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-198)
  13. Index
    (pp. 199-220)