I just received my copy of the inaugural issue of the new Strategy & Tactics Quarterly magazine. I am very happy with what I saw and immediately placed an order for a 2-year subscription (currently the longest option – I would have ordered more years if I could have…) I got exactly what I expected and really enjoyed reading it cover to cover.
Before I get to the review. . .
First off, I would like to provide a little backstory on my experience with History (the subject). I come from a family of historians. My father is a PhD and professor of History at the State University of New York. My stepmother is a PhD in History. My brother received a BA in history and my stepfather received a BA in history before moving on to a PhD in Neuropsychology. So I have picked up by osmosis an understanding of the way history is written and taught. I have one thing to say about the academic presentation of history: BORING.
A few years back I was sitting on the beach with my father and his new girlfriend and we were discussing Game of Thrones (the book not the TV Show) and I explained that much of the backstory for GoT was based on the Wars of the Roses and that lent the book series a sense of being believable in the politics and ruthlessness of the factions involved. My father turned to his girlfriend and myself and asked “Why don’t you just read the original historical texts? This fiction stuff is a waste of time.” I responded that the GoT books took a skeleton of history and ladled on ample amounts of sex and violence.
Stephen Ambrose vs Ivory Tower
This anecdote exemplifies the traditional history academic’s distaste for anything not factual. For many readers there is a direct relationship between strict adherence to the fact and being totally boring. The late great ‘popular historian’ Stephen Ambrose applied for a teaching position at SUNY and my father informed me that the other faculty rejected his application because his books sometimes treated probably-true as true. An academic historian would argue there is a huge difference between true and mostly-true. I would have to agree – the difference is between dead-dry-boring and fun-to-read. For all the same reasons, academic historians don’t take war games seriously because too much of the data has to be made-up by the game designer. In my opinion this is akin to Colleen McCullough’s "Masters of Rome" series where she started with a strong historical background and then filled in the details to bring the characters to life. Mrs. McCullough never claimed her work was history, the books were novels, but they taught me more about Roman history during the end of the Roman Republic than I could ever glean from Gibbon’s "Decline and Fall." So what I love about war games and war game history articles is that they jettison the Ivory Tower academic historian view and give us information that we like to read (at least some of us).
So what I have always loved about articles in S&T is that they aspire to be Ambrose style rather than Ivory Tower style writing. Now the new magazine purports to do a deep-dive into the background stories behind the war games we love. What I have read in the first issue delivers exactly that: more of the same but deeper.
And now for the review
Issue one was entirely written by Joseph Miranda. He has designed hundreds of war games of all different scales and historical periods. He writes well and I suspect he is a fan of Ambrose as well. The Issue is entitled “Caesar: Veni Vidi Vici,” but it is not 100% about old Julius. The first third of the issue is dedicated (as are the first three novels of McCullough’s series) to the environment of the late Roman Republic with a summary of the major military campaigns that brought Rome from a city state in central Italy to a sprawling nation state that stretched from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. The stresses that this placed on a government designed for a single city were enormous and Julius Caesar was a product of this intense conflict between the needs of the Republic to change to accommodate the sprawling extend of its geography and those who profited from the way things were. The two factions that struggled so intensely for dominance during this period were the Populares (in favor of change) and the Optimates (opposed to change). This conflict had already engendered multiple civil wars before Caesar made his appearance on the stage.
The next two parts dive into the Gallic wars (Part II) and the next batch of civil wars (Part III). Plenty of time is devoted to the military campaigns as well as the structure of the army. This is welcome information as very little is coming out of academia on these topics. Military historians are personae non grata at academic institutions such as SUNY. I digress. Lots of effort is put into cool details such as why the Manipular legions had to go and the need for a standing army to hold down far-flung provinces.
The text is liberally spiced with relevant and excellently-rendered MAPS! OK, I know I love maps because most war games are played on maps and the more attractive the map, the more I am drawn to a game. The S&T editors apparently get this and the saturation of the text with the beautiful maps put me in a state of rapture. Also let me briefly mount my soap-box again about the map on page 76 – Alesia. Academic historians can’t even agree on where Alesia was (though Wikipedia claims this debate was settled in 1997, but we all know what academics think about Wikipedia). Caesar’s own work ‘The Gallic Wars’ didn’t exactly have a GPS coordinate for the center of town. So no Ivory Tower academic would dare draw a map of the siege, but S&T (to its immense benefit) tosses this out the window and draws a map of the amazing circumvallation and contravallation that made this battle one of the utmost COOL stories of ancient history. There is no waffling and prevarication about ‘we aren’t really sure that Alesia was fought here but if it was, the map would look like this….’ Thank you Joe Miranda and the S&T team!
I could go on and on but I will leave off here with a quick summary. The writing style is excellent. The maps are beautiful and the publishing effort/layout is awesome and pleasing to the eye. I can only hope the rest of the issues can hold up to the very high standard set by Joe and his team for this first issue. Congratulations S&T!