A bit of a moral dilemma

Martin Mayers

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The problem with the "at the time" justification is where you draw the line. You have to accept that some actions can never be justified.
It is a dangerous path to go down to use the means justifies the end arguement.
It's hard to argue against a country which takes action to minimise casualties to their own citizens even if that results in non-combatants.
BUT from a moral standpoint I would have to argue that we SHOULD try to do better. This arguement falls down in the face to total war.
In current times, I agree. But the munitions capabilities at the time of WW2 meant it just wasn't possible to do so. The only way we could 'get at' German heavy industry and morale was by the methods used. Else, at the time, it meant a longer war. At a time when both Western Allies and Russia were suffering horrendously, and the Nazi machine was in the process of murdering millions of innocents annually.

Bear in mind, even in the face of the most extreme provocation, the Western Allies did not go 'medieval' on German prisoners of war or civilians and, as a very random example, the commanders of British flamethrower tanks were still using wet shots to force surrenders at extreme risk to their own lives. There were never, throughout WW2, the kinds of atrocities conducted by any Western Allied forces on a par with those conducted by Waffen SS (and Wehrmacht !) units.

So, I think we were restrained and did "try" to a large extent. The bombing campaign, sadly in hindsight, was a product of it's capability.

Again, this is all my personal opinion.
 

volgaG68

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When I first started playing ASL I was about 24, and still lived near most of my extended family; including two uncles that were both Vietnam veterans. I was learning it by myself and always left it out on the dining room table. Upon visiting, one of those uncles quickly deduced what exactly it was without asking and went off on a rant about the sheer lack of couth and respect for someone to try and recreate war like that with counters and dice; reducing war to a "game". The other uncle upon visiting just smoked and calmy watched me futzing around with it, asking me questions about it, and remarking it all seemed "very interesting". For a minute I thought I found someone willing to learn it with me, but he just said he didn't have the time for such things.

Two very different perspectives on wargaming from two brothers who both saw combat. Both raised as strict Catholics, the second uncle said that the first was never able to square away what he partook in with his faith. The second uncle said that he, himself, had no problem separating between war and his faith. He said he was obligated to answer his country's call, and quoted passages from the Bible about the many wars and battles fought therein. Two brothers, both God-fearing Catholics, with entirely opposite views on my new hobby. The first has attended counseling at the VA every month since he got home, the second has never felt the need for it. I truly respect them both the same; both are salt-of-the-earth, patriotic, family men whom I would move mountains for if called upon. Just as war itself can have completely opposite effects on people, so can seeing war laid out on a table as a 'game'.

However, I made it a point thereafter, when I knew the first uncle was going to be visiting, to not have any of it out in the open, nor mention it. Thankfully, he never mentioned it again either. I have always had major respect for him. Oddly enough, he was the only family member to volunteer for it {go figure!}. Two of his brothers and his sister's husband were all drafted. Life is funny, and bees make honey.....
 

Actionjick

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When I first started playing ASL I was about 24, and still lived near most of my extended family; including two uncles that were both Vietnam veterans. I was learning it by myself and always left it out on the dining room table. Upon visiting, one of those uncles quickly deduced what exactly it was without asking and went off on a rant about the sheer lack of couth and respect for someone to try and recreate war like that with counters and dice; reducing war to a "game". The other uncle upon visiting just smoked and calmy watched me futzing around with it, asking me questions about it, and remarking it all seemed "very interesting". For a minute I thought I found someone willing to learn it with me, but he just said he didn't have the time for such things.

Two very different perspectives on wargaming from two brothers who both saw combat. Both raised as strict Catholics, the second uncle said that the first was never able to square away what he partook in with his faith. The second uncle said that he, himself, had no problem separating between war and his faith. He said he was obligated to answer his country's call, and quoted passages from the Bible about the many wars and battles fought therein. Two brothers, both God-fearing Catholics, with entirely opposite views on my new hobby. The first has attended counseling at the VA every month since he got home, the second has never felt the need for it. I truly respect them both the same; both are salt-of-the-earth, patriotic, family men whom I would move mountains for if called upon. Just as war itself can have completely opposite effects on people, so can seeing war laid out on a table as a 'game'.

However, I made it a point thereafter, when I knew the first uncle was going to be visiting, to not have any of it out in the open, nor mention it. Thankfully, he never mentioned it again either. I have always had major respect for him. Oddly enough, he was the only family member to volunteer for it {go figure!}. Two of his brothers and his sister's husband were all drafted. Life is funny, and bees make honey.....
At one of the early Oktoberfests, '87 or '88, some older couples walked by the gaming room, looked in, stopped and the husbands started asking questions. The gentlemen were both veterans of WWII. They seemed very interested in the games and not offended at all by it. Others with a different perspective might have been offended. Those gentlemen who took an interest in our event seemed genuinely happy that younger folks took an interest in what they participated in.
 

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Can’t say that I have ever felt morally conflicted about playing war games in general or ASL in particular. The only member of my family that I know of who actually fought in a war and lived to tell the tale was my grandfather who fought in WW1 and had his shoulder blown out with the result that he could not eat his porridge with his right hand without using the left hand to support it. He would never speak about his experiences in the war despite my childish attempts to find out if he had ever killed anyone. In contrast, a family friend who fought in WW2 loved to play up to me when I asked him about it and would fire a imaginary machine gun while making rat-a-tat noises. I guess that his experience of war was less traumatic than my grandfather’s. I suspect that my grandfather, who was a Church of Scotland Minister after the war ended, would not have approved of my love of wargaming.
Back in my school days, history was always my favourite subject. When I started studying it for real, the focus was on British and European political history from the late 18th century (the French Revolution) up to the early 20th century (causes of World War One). Obviously wars were a feature of the history of that period but there was little focus on their actual conduct. World War Two didn’t feature at all in the course curriculum and most of my ”knowledge” of the subject derived from reading ”Commando” comics from which I gained the impression that heroic British Tommies easily won the war against German foes who appeared to suffer from a chronic inability to shoot straight. I was in my early teens when I decided to borrow a book on WW2 from the school library and learned for the first time about such crucial battles as Stalingrad and Midway and how, prior to these, the tide of war had been very much in favour of the Axis powers. It was an eye opener to discover that Britain’s contribution, while undoubtedly important in ensuring that Germany never managed to conquer all of Europe prior to the invasion of Russia, was dwarfed by the human sacrifice of the Soviet Union and the sheer power and industrial production of the USA. From then on, my interest in WW2 never diminished. My wife has always been more interested in social history and finds my fascination about military history to be difficult to understand. I don’t see how it is any more morally ambiguous to enjoy playing war games than to be interested in the historical context in which they are set. Playing ASL has given me a hugely improved understanding of how WW2 was won and lost. For example, it has taught me that, far from early war German armour being superior to that of its opponents as is commonly believed, it had to rely on superior co-ordination to maintain its tactical supremacy. No history book can teach this better than playing a scenario pitting PzIIs against French H39s. If I ever decided to enter Mastermind, there is a fair chance that WW2 armour would be one of my specialist subjects! For me ASL is fun and it is also educational.
With regard to the current situation in Ukraine, while I can understand Martin’s position and am in no way critical of it, I would not be rushing to play a game depicting the fighting there. Speaking purely personally, it is a little too close to home to try to derive enjoyment from a game depicting death and suffering that is actually happening now as opposed to 80 years ago.
 

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Can’t say that I have ever felt morally conflicted about playing war games in general or ASL in particular. The only member of my family that I know of who actually fought in a war and lived to tell the tale was my grandfather who fought in WW1 and had his shoulder blown out with the result that he could not eat his porridge with his right hand without using the left hand to support it. He would never speak about his experiences in the war despite my childish attempts to find out if he had ever killed anyone. In contrast, a family friend who fought in WW2 loved to play up to me when I asked him about it and would fire a imaginary machine gun while making rat-a-tat noises. I guess that his experience of war was less traumatic than my grandfather’s. I suspect that my grandfather, who was a Church of Scotland Minister after the war ended, would not have approved of my love of wargaming.
Back in my school days, history was always my favourite subject. When I started studying it for real, the focus was on British and European political history from the late 18th century (the French Revolution) up to the early 20th century (causes of World War One). Obviously wars were a feature of the history of that period but there was little focus on their actual conduct. World War Two didn’t feature at all in the course curriculum and most of my ”knowledge” of the subject derived from reading ”Commando” comics from which I gained the impression that heroic British Tommies easily won the war against German foes who appeared to suffer from a chronic inability to shoot straight. I was in my early teens when I decided to borrow a book on WW2 from the school library and learned for the first time about such crucial battles as Stalingrad and Midway and how, prior to these, the tide of war had been very much in favour of the Axis powers. It was an eye opener to discover that Britain’s contribution, while undoubtedly important in ensuring that Germany never managed to conquer all of Europe prior to the invasion of Russia, was dwarfed by the human sacrifice of the Soviet Union and the sheer power and industrial production of the USA. From then on, my interest in WW2 never diminished. My wife has always been more interested in social history and finds my fascination about military history to be difficult to understand. I don’t see how it is any more morally ambiguous to enjoy playing war games than to be interested in the historical context in which they are set. Playing ASL has given me a hugely improved understanding of how WW2 was won and lost. For example, it has taught me that, far from early war German armour being superior to that of its opponents as is commonly believed, it had to rely on superior co-ordination to maintain its tactical supremacy. No history book can teach this better than playing a scenario pitting PzIIs against French H39s. If I ever decided to enter Mastermind, there is a fair chance that WW2 armour would be one of my specialist subjects! For me ASL is fun and it is also educational.
With regard to the current situation in Ukraine, while I can understand Martin’s position and am in no way critical of it, I would not be rushing to play a game depicting the fighting there. Speaking purely personally, it is a little too close to home to try to derive enjoyment from a game depicting death and suffering that is actually happening now as opposed to 80 years ago.
Yes, I feel that my father would have been of the same opinion as your grandfather (as I say, my dad was a cook during WW2 but he experienced the war and saw people killed), I wasn't playing wargames while he was alive (just D&D) so I guess I'll never know (he did play D&D with me and my brother once to see what it was all about but he never played again)

I certainly have learnt more about WW2 since starting to play wargames than I ever did before, like yourself my knowledge came from Battle and Commando comics and WW2 movies growing up.

I have to admit I wouldn't be comfortable playing a game set in the current Ukraine War but I do respect Martin's position here, I'm not looking to start any arguments
 

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Yes, I feel that my father would have been of the same opinion as your grandfather (as I say, my dad was a cook during WW2 but he experienced the war and saw people killed), I wasn't playing wargames while he was alive (just D&D) so I guess I'll never know (he did play D&D with me and my brother once to see what it was all about but he never played again)

I certainly have learnt more about WW2 since starting to play wargames than I ever did before, like yourself my knowledge came from Battle and Commando comics and WW2 movies growing up.

I have to admit I wouldn't be comfortable playing a game set in the current Ukraine War but I do respect Martin's position here, I'm not looking to start any arguments
The story of your father reminds me of the classic moment in Fawlty Towers when Basil gets embroiled in an argument with a guest and his parting shot is “I fought in the Korean War you know. I killed six people.”
To which his wife retorts, “He was in the Catering Corps. He poisoned them!”
 

Alan Hume

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The story of your father reminds me of the classic moment in Fawlty Towers when Basil gets embroiled in an argument with a guest and his parting shot is “I fought in the Korean War you know. I killed six people.”
To which his wife retorts, “He was in the Catering Corps. He poisoned them!”
well, maybe
 

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Thankyou for coming online with your thoughts Vic it was really good to hear what you had to say. I am glad your father approved of your hobby, he sounds like quite a man.

I am feeling a whole lot better having read everyone's thoughts. They helped a lot and I certainly won't be giving up ASL. I think the ASL community is terrific
You bet Alan, the ASL Community Rocks and the hobby is a great pastime for all of us. I look forward to sending you Dispatches issues for years to come! Roll low and Have FUN, Vic.
 

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Well, time to tell my own story: I was yearning to play wargames since I've read a book on it; (15 years old) just, being in a country with sparse importation of foreign books and, of course, no boardgames, was frustrating at the point to write a rulebook by myself (miniatures, of course, the existence of AH was unknown). My first trial was the battle of Lobositz and I was very satisfied that my rules, proved against a person opponent, retrieved a result of the battle very similar to the real one. My interest then was historical, you know: get into the battle and find what failed or what was a genial move. Then, after much searching and asking, I found a little community or persons interested in the same hobby and we altogether founded the first wargaming club in Spain. It was mainly a miniature rules club, you know: the Ancients Society rulebooks, from ancients to napoleonic and colonial, but my interests was spurred to another fields, like: suppose I've got to purchase all my troops opolchenie instead of buying a fair amount of regular and elite troops, would that work? (it did, but I'm still convinced that was by winning beforehand the personal ELR of my opponent when he saw the huge quantity of enemies before him). That I would call my chess-like period. Then, one of those cofounders friends invited me to play one of the games that came with S&T. I can't recall the name of the game, it was modern-hypothetical, one of those NATO vs SU in West Germany. I lost by lacking 1 VP. That picqued me, and then began my competitive period. And then came SL. I played first solitaire the first scenario, because I was intrigued in this thing about the very very tactical aspect of that new game, and before introduce it in our club. And then happened: I feeled sorrow about each squad wasted, and I think that the trick that made that was the named leaders: If you have those, the others have a name too, ok? Only too numerous to register. I didn't feel bad about playing it, in fact I presented it to our club as the best large step in our hobby in decades, but it moved on me to have in consideration that I was not pushing miniatures or cardboard to a winning no matter the cost.
And I think that I have been a better player after that. I know that, to get an objective taken, someone have to sacrifice themselves, but I always try to hone my tactics in to do that with only the minimal casualties, ie I try to spare my troops at maximum but trying to get the objective. In my opinion, it has made me a better player (although not a better winner, but sometimes losing is great fun, if you compete). I know that ASL has retrieved that feeling of "death", explaining that a vanished squad is not compulsory dead, but not combat-capable, and so, stragglers, routed individually and, probably, reformed and ready tomorrow, but the deads are there.
I think that I play with all spirits nowadays: I'm curious about the actions historically, I'm interested in turn up my opponent his own faults and minimizing my own, I'm interested in winning... but not at all prices. I don't wish to be the winner of an scenario by having the one remaining leader of my force being the last and one to control the VC location. I'd think that bad played for my part.
And to put an aside about something commented in this thead: I work at a bookshop/gameshop here at Barcelona, and I'm the one charged with the purchases of wargames. Somehow, a publishing house has published a game abou the war of Bosnia. Ok, it was a conflict, but in depth considered, it was a genocide war. That game had a Sarajevo scenario. If I'm not wrong, didn't include the "Sniper alley" factor. One customer asked me if we were to have that game. "No" I answered "If that is your taste, I can command for you, but you pay it beforehand and never, ever, bring it to us as a second chance game, because this game isn't gonna hit never these shelves". He was shocked, but something in my stare stopped him to say anything, even if I was sure by his stance that he was about.
Sometimes, you have to draw the lines.
So, no, I'm not troubled playing wargames, providing I preserve my humanity and not feeling ashamed of myself to playing.
 

Alan Hume

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Well, time to tell my own story: I was yearning to play wargames since I've read a book on it; (15 years old) just, being in a country with sparse importation of foreign books and, of course, no boardgames, was frustrating at the point to write a rulebook by myself (miniatures, of course, the existence of AH was unknown). My first trial was the battle of Lobositz and I was very satisfied that my rules, proved against a person opponent, retrieved a result of the battle very similar to the real one. My interest then was historical, you know: get into the battle and find what failed or what was a genial move. Then, after much searching and asking, I found a little community or persons interested in the same hobby and we altogether founded the first wargaming club in Spain. It was mainly a miniature rules club, you know: the Ancients Society rulebooks, from ancients to napoleonic and colonial, but my interests was spurred to another fields, like: suppose I've got to purchase all my troops opolchenie instead of buying a fair amount of regular and elite troops, would that work? (it did, but I'm still convinced that was by winning beforehand the personal ELR of my opponent when he saw the huge quantity of enemies before him). That I would call my chess-like period. Then, one of those cofounders friends invited me to play one of the games that came with S&T. I can't recall the name of the game, it was modern-hypothetical, one of those NATO vs SU in West Germany. I lost by lacking 1 VP. That picqued me, and then began my competitive period. And then came SL. I played first solitaire the first scenario, because I was intrigued in this thing about the very very tactical aspect of that new game, and before introduce it in our club. And then happened: I feeled sorrow about each squad wasted, and I think that the trick that made that was the named leaders: If you have those, the others have a name too, ok? Only too numerous to register. I didn't feel bad about playing it, in fact I presented it to our club as the best large step in our hobby in decades, but it moved on me to have in consideration that I was not pushing miniatures or cardboard to a winning no matter the cost.
And I think that I have been a better player after that. I know that, to get an objective taken, someone have to sacrifice themselves, but I always try to hone my tactics in to do that with only the minimal casualties, ie I try to spare my troops at maximum but trying to get the objective. In my opinion, it has made me a better player (although not a better winner, but sometimes losing is great fun, if you compete). I know that ASL has retrieved that feeling of "death", explaining that a vanished squad is not compulsory dead, but not combat-capable, and so, stragglers, routed individually and, probably, reformed and ready tomorrow, but the deads are there.
I think that I play with all spirits nowadays: I'm curious about the actions historically, I'm interested in turn up my opponent his own faults and minimizing my own, I'm interested in winning... but not at all prices. I don't wish to be the winner of an scenario by having the one remaining leader of my force being the last and one to control the VC location. I'd think that bad played for my part.
And to put an aside about something commented in this thead: I work at a bookshop/gameshop here at Barcelona, and I'm the one charged with the purchases of wargames. Somehow, a publishing house has published a game abou the war of Bosnia. Ok, it was a conflict, but in depth considered, it was a genocide war. That game had a Sarajevo scenario. If I'm not wrong, didn't include the "Sniper alley" factor. One customer asked me if we were to have that game. "No" I answered "If that is your taste, I can command for you, but you pay it beforehand and never, ever, bring it to us as a second chance game, because this game isn't gonna hit never these shelves". He was shocked, but something in my stare stopped him to say anything, even if I was sure by his stance that he was about.
Sometimes, you have to draw the lines.
So, no, I'm not troubled playing wargames, providing I preserve my humanity and not feeling ashamed of myself to playing.
Thanks for sharing. Yeah, I would feel the same way about a Bosnia game
 

Michael R

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I suspect every person posting in this thread has no trouble occasionally enjoying an expensive dinner out, or even just dropping by for a pint at the pub, without obsessing about the fact that quite literally children right now today will starve to death because you had the cheesecake instead of sending that money to UNICEF.

Worrying about the morality of playing ASL seems like the ultimate “first world problem”.

No offense meant to anyone here and parts of the discussion have been interesting, but still… perspective…
I think about this often; how the allocation of the world’s resources has little to do with need.
 

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In current times, I agree. But the munitions capabilities at the time of WW2 meant it just wasn't possible to do so. The only way we could 'get at' German heavy industry and morale was by the methods used. Else, at the time, it meant a longer war.
The key proponents of strategic bombing were not German (Douhet among them) and the Luftwaffe did not have any meaningful number of 4-engine bombers comparable to the Allies at any time of the war. The Allies learned rather quickly, that it was impossible to hit industrial targets precisely. And the British were even less inclined to take the losses while trying, so they bombed at night while the Americans also bombed during the day. So far so good.

But from a moral perspective, the Allies pursued area bombing even after they had realized that they were incapable of precisely hitting the targets they originally intended. The decision was that 'collateral damage' of civilians and residential areas on a large scale was acceptable.

It did not stop there, though. Gradually, killing as many civilians as possible became the objective as well. The Allies researched how to create the "firestorms" that destroyed Hamburg and Dresden and later many cities in Japan. Curtis LeMay was a proponent of that. He went so far as to have defensive armament removed from B-29 Bombers and to have them attack at lower altitudes in (theoretical) reach of the Japanese (mostly destroyed) fighter force - much to the dismay of the US pilots.

Furthermore, in late war Germany, the Allies resorted to bomb smaller cities without any valuable industry. At that point in the war, there was no strategic value in doing this. They did it, because they could and because it might have been difficult to explain to keep an existing bomber force grounded for the lack of relevant targets.

Bear in mind, even in the face of the most extreme provocation, the Western Allies did not go 'medieval' on German prisoners of war or civilians and, as a very random example, the commanders of British flamethrower tanks were still using wet shots to force surrenders at extreme risk to their own lives. There were never, throughout WW2, the kinds of atrocities conducted by any Western Allied forces on a par with those conducted by Waffen SS (and Wehrmacht !) units.
This is correct. But it has to be remembered, that the Nazis did not generally go 'medieval' on western POWs and civilians in the way they did it to Soviet POWs and parts of the population.

So, I think we were restrained and did "try" to a large extent. The bombing campaign, sadly in hindsight, was a product of it's capability.
Without doubt, there was more restraint on the Western front in Europe than on the Eastern front. The strategic bombing campaign of the Western Allies may have begun with some restraints, but these were deliberately thrown over board in the course of the war.

I will leave it at this, though, even if the discussion of this could as interesting as endless. It does not deal with moral qualms about playing ASL, though, and should be diverted to another thread if need be.

von Marwitz
 

von Marwitz

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BTW, I find this thread very interesting:

Apparently more players than I would have expected at least had some considerations about playing wargames or experienced others (especially those who personally experienced war) having them.

von Marwitz
 

von Marwitz

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Maybe some people may have critical thoughts about kids playing wargames because they realize that it might bring them closer to consider becoming a soldier and to accept the "adventure" tale of war.

In Germany, during my childhood, playing war was often seen critical. Over here, we had no wargames which were common in the US. 'Risk' and 'Stratego' were considered war games. As kids we were out with pop-guns playing "cowboys & indians" which was considered more acceptable than playing war being "soldiers". Ironically, I reckon, in the US the opposite would be the case today... The "cowboy & indians" theme also 'worked' for me with Playmobil.

Incidentally, I do believe that this childhood play made me more open for things war & military.
For a time, I wanted to sign up for a number of years (beyond compulsory military service) and maybe to make the military my profession. Life intervened, and looking back, I am glad about it. You could say I was much more idealistic and knew much less about war than I do now. Yet, I would not consider me ignorant at the time either. In any case, my interest in military things never waned.

Considering that people who have fought in the war might have forseen (and even personally experienced) how 'playing' war might influence a young person to become more open for things military, I can understand why they might feel irritated about it, just as it has been described in some occasions upthread.

von Marwitz
 

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I am a veteran , with two tours to Bosnia...I look at it this way, what I saw I WILL NEVER FORGET, dodging bullets and shrapnel I WILL NEVER FORGET, but I look at it like this...ASL is just cardbaord and paper, you play it nobody gets hurt unless you count papercuts.. In the end I play war games to rest and enjoy good company.. Reality: combat is long hours of boredom mixed with 20 minutes of terror.. a wargame is just that a game..you play you win or lose, you go home to your nice warm bed having had fun and company for a while. If the only danger is dodging a loose set of dice or a combat roll to prevent your beer from falling of the table..well then that is a good day..a game is for fun and company, the reality of combat..well I do not have to explain.. So take my advice, life is short, you want to play ASL then play it..enjoy the time you have with friends..we never know when our number comes up and we end up taking a long dirt nap. Roll low....drink plenty , laugh long..

Shane
 

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I am a veteran , with two tours to Bosnia...I look at it this way, what I saw I WILL NEVER FORGET, dodging bullets and shrapnel I WILL NEVER FORGET, but I look at it like this...ASL is just cardbaord and paper, you play it nobody gets hurt unless you count papercuts.. In the end I play war games to rest and enjoy good company.. Reality: combat is long hours of boredom mixed with 20 minutes of terror.. a wargame is just that a game..you play you win or lose, you go home to your nice warm bed having had fun and company for a while. If the only danger is dodging a loose set of dice or a combat roll to prevent your beer from falling of the table..well then that is a good day..a game is for fun and company, the reality of combat..well I do not have to explain.. So take my advice, life is short, you want to play ASL then play it..enjoy the time you have with friends..we never know when our number comes up and we end up taking a long dirt nap. Roll low....drink plenty , laugh long..

Shane
Thank you for your service and for sharing your feelings here
I think, ultimately, that you are correct, ASL is about sharing good times with friends and, really, that is the most important thing
 

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Location
Middle of Kansas
First name
Steven
Country
llUnited States
I have no problem with wargames prior to my own experience.
And even some after ; like the Falklands war or the Grenada Assault, both in the 1980s.
I also will not game Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan, but that is because of the stupidity of the US Congress in believing that there is such a thing as a kinder, gentler war (Kerry quote).

BUT... I do not and will not game the war that I did attend... the Vietnam War.
Having been there I do not need or want anything (books, movies, or games) to do with it.

War is hell, I do not need to experience it twice.
 
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