Rehearsing the History of Beirut 82 by Maria Dada
Rehearsing the History of Beirut 82
GAME RULES PAGE 1 “On June 13th, 1982, paratroopers and armour of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) rolled to the edge of Beirut, joining forces with their Phalange Christian allies. They never got much farther. The Palestine Liberation Organisation’s attempt to organises a regular army had failed, but so had Israel’s drive to exterminate it. This was a classic confrontation of modern diplomacy, where political pressure allowed a tiny force to fend off a giant. Beirut ’82: Arab Stalingrad simulates the siege of Beirut, and its victory conditions recreate the diplomatic hindrances of that struggle” (1989, 28).
The above excerpt is taken from the 1989 edition of Strategy and Tactics magazine which was founded in 1966 by a US Air Force Staff Sergeant named Chris Wagner. The point of the magazine, or war fanzine, was to produce more complex and therefore more realistic tactics in wargaming. The magazine had elements of a recreational wargaming magazine but as it was written by military political analysts and defence consultants who were keen to create something close enough to military wargaming. In 1969 James F. Dunnigan a political analyst formed Simulations Publications, Inc, a publishing house created specifically to publish the magazine.
The excerpt is the first paragraph of the game rule page that explains the rules of Beirut ’82: Arab Stalingrad, a game based on The Siege of Beirut one of the most defining events of the Lebanese Civil War. The siege took place in the summer of 1982 when the United Nation ceasefire between the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLO), who in the early 1970s made Lebanon its base of operations and the Israeli army. After the siege the PLO were forced out of Beirut and the rest of Lebanon. Strategy and Tactics was one of the first wargaming magazines to include a wargame within its pages.
The main difference between so-called recreational wargames such as Beirut ’82: Arab Stalingrad, however realistic and complex they intend to be, and military wargames is that the former is usually regarded as a historical depiction of war. The rehearsals and repetitions of tactics and strategies is replaying the events of a distant past. Wargaming has long performed World Wars I and II and the Napoleonic Wars as an act of remembrance and an interest of historians. Recreational games generally take creative liberties, by adding fictional elements, to make the game more enjoyable, more playable. For instance, scenarios would often be simplified in order to prioritise gameplay over event accuracy. However, Strategy and Tactics as a magazine that sits between tactical history and military strategy prides itself on being more realistic than other wargaming magazines.
GAME RULES PAGE 5: 6.0 CIVILIAN CASUALITIES “The CRT (rule 4.22) shows if an attack might cause Civilian Casualties, and what to multiply the result by. However, these casualties still only occur under certain conditions. IDF units or artillery points must participate in the attach and the PLO must be defending a Refugee Camp or City hexagon. Otherwise, ignore Civilian Casualties” (1989, 35)
Wargaming is a descriptive and predictive apparatus that goes beyond the magazines and technologies of its implementation. When playing a game such as Beirut ’82: Arab Stalingrad on the map insert placed in the centrefold of the publication, the gamer moves the Phalange army troops, as cardboard cut-outs of a right-wing Maronite party in Lebanon founded in 1936 by Pierre Gemayel, across the map. Such a move is a re-enactment of a particular procedure that relates to a complex system which reproduces, what is to some, painful historical events in relation to other possible futures, possible or probably futures that will never be. The combat is replaced with abstraction, supply and demand dynamics and other military considerations of algorithmic and numerically founded sets of possible outcomes all made random, a flipping of events at the throw of a die.
Beirut ’82: Arab Stalingrad is interesting not for its own sake but for in the manner in which it representation of knowledge, knowledge or history as rehearsal, as simulation, or as Haron Farocki describes, “life trained as a sport” (Farocki:, ). Beirut ’82: Arab Stalingrad is not only a simulation it is one of the most nuanced and complex of any simulations found in any medium. As a game it has eight pages of rules which explains actions, moves and procedures for around one hundred game pieces and tokens around a 50cm by 40cm battle ground map of Beirut. It allows for a physically as well as conceptually extreme level of gameplay.
More than this, software gaming, from its inception, was quick to take interest in wargaming, which is different from games with military themes. Wargames were quick to translate to the screen and themes of Beirut 82 were no exception. The difference being that different sides were now played by crude machine learning agents who shaped opposing moves. Digital Combat simulator’s UH-1H Huey mission entitled Beirut 82 is an exemplar of the wargaming simulation offering a first-person experience of what it’s like to be an American built Israeli helicopter flying over Beirut in 1982. The DCS website describes it as:
“Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS World) 2.5 is a free-to-play digital battlefield game. Our dream is to offer the most authentic and realistic simulation of military aircraft, tanks, ground vehicles and ships possible…DCS: UH-1H Huey features an incredible level of modelling depth that reproducers the look, feel, and sound of this legendary helicopter with exquisite detail and accuracy. Developed in close partnership with actual UH-1H operators and experts, the DCS Huey provides the most dynamic and true to life conventional helicopter experience available on the PC. The UH-1 Huey is one of the most iconic and recognisable helicopters in the world. Having served extensively as a transport and armed combat support helicopter in the Vietnam War, the Huey continues to perform a wide variety of military and civilian missions around the world today.” (2008)
In order to recreate a world like Beirut in 1982 simulation engines use remote sensing and computer generated images to build model worlds in order to programmatically rehearse different scenarios from different perspectives across different surfaces of the earth. Simulation becomes a means to rehearse actions as a means of access to history in a world of greater uncertainly, automation, deregulation and the need for risk management.
I will not reiterate the pages and pages written on the prominence of economics-based calculation and prediction of events that have taken over from poetry, storytelling and meaning, the decreasing importance of the stable and single point of view which is being supplemented (and often replaced) by multiple perspectives, overlapping windows, distorted flight lines, and divergent vanishing points. Farewell to history which has long been replaced by genealogy, archaeology, discourse and the evolutionary vibrations of matter, geology and events exploding long before history deep within the crust. A loss that is felt even more prominently these days with the constant interruption of screen face to face conversations by glitches, echoes, ventilation hum, or simply by headaches and sore eyes.
The representational scalar vocabularies of narrative storytelling are no longer good enough to describe the complex temporality and spatiality of the world. One that appears to be a composite matter deep time water undersea, rocks, stones, forests, the body feminine, the marginalised, the repressed, the unconscious, and the algorithms, global infrastructures, computer generated images, data behaviourism, all of the aspects of the new geo-political and economic interdependencies that make up our world. Simulation and tactical gameplay has come to replace historical folktales.
With the number of simulations trialled at the moments it’s almost as if we’ve entered some form of “Rehearsal Paradigm”, if we could ever again believe in the phenomena of paradigms or epochs. From marketing campaigns to political campaigns rehearsing consumer or voter temperament to competing models simulating virus paths, vaccine efficacy and the rate at which black and ethnics minorities are likely to get infected due to frontline jobs they are forced into by structural racism. Rehearse the timeline, rehearse the scenario, learn the drill and prepare for the victor. Prepare the seven speeches only to read out the one that seems most fitting when you know the results. To rehearse, a preparation for other anticipated activities
The term “re-hearse” combines the Latin (re) with the old French herse meaning harrow or a large rake used to turn the earth or ground, as in to reground or to rake the ground again, to rake it again until all possible grounds have been considered. But what the rehearsal does as every performer knows is that it destroys the spontaneity of the moment. Rehearsal is in this sense different from practice, which is a gesture of putting something into action, from the theory into practice. To rehearse something is to consider and attempt to foreclose all possible futures by unearthing various possible grounds for any future.
But what does it mean to rehearse the past? Why would anyone rehearse history?
The difference between the rehearsal of the first-person taking command of the simulation engine and the rehearsal of the autonomous machine learning system that is acting as an opponent is that simulators mould, through rehearsal, the corpus of living beings to the machine, while the autonomous system extracts the bodily presence from the rehearsal process. It’s not training the body anymore it’s training off data archived, extracted.