Human rights in wargaming

In my research for the Ethiopian-Eritrean-Somali conflict, I encountered a lot of stories which are violating human rights. It started with reading the book Ethiopian-Eritrean wars Volume 2. As my interest is mostly on the aerial war, I didn’t bother that much on the ground war. I had already read the first volume and the one on the Ogaden war, and the ground war was nasty, but the aerial engagements were mostly air to air conflicts and ground attacks, with the ground attacks on military or insurgents targets. There would be some accidentally civilian casualties, but it looked like a genuine war.

Until the mention of Civil bombings around the 1978-1979 period. There were a couple of incidents described, were the Ethiopian air force attacked civilian targets, and saw them as tactical targets. Targets were: Food supply points, Markets and Aid convoys. It was stated that most interviewed airforce personal wouldn’t talk about these incidents, but admitted that it had happened. This triggered a question by me.


Some examples of human rights violation reports on Ethiopia. Source: Human Right Watch (hrw.org)


If the attacks have been placed historically, and I want to represent the air force of Ethiopia during that period, would that also include wargaming these strikes against civilian targets?

Can I challenge myself to wargame this conflict and feel guilty when I have to attack a civilian target, without circumventing these events? I hope this post to be the first in a series just debating, discussing this issue, and maybe create some kind of scenario, around this theme. It will probably be quite challenging.

Ethiopian market around 1980. A non-military target Source: Wikipedia

Wargaming drivers

For playing wargames, there are three main drivers as I see them:

  1. Having fun
  2. Enlighten yourself
  3. Learning history/ Create a story
Having fun

War is not fun, but still having fun is I think one of the most important aspects of wargaming. Either having fun with other people, or enjoy your own time spend. The fun is not about the war, but about the game and contacts. And it does not matter if it is an historical scenario recreated or a fantasy battle in space. You can enjoy your decisions made, either the ones that went wrong, or the ones that won the game. But in the end, it is a safe playground, and only the miniatures did die.

Enlighten yourself

Every battle you can learn something, but for wargaming learning new things is wider. You will learn new painting skills, calculating skills, research skills and knowledge. Wargaming will develop yourself willing or unwillingly.

Learning history/ Create a story

This is the divider between historical wargamers and fictional wargamers. Some people want to recreate history and learn what errors are made, and how it could have been changed if decisions were made differently. Others like to tell an epic story, in which would be heroes of villains defeating a certain threat. With a lot of grey area in between, like imaginations and alternative histories. But the basic idea behind it, is that humans want to (re)create stories to tell to each other or himself.

From above mentioned point I came to a general question, and hope I can investigate this in the future.

Can wargame rules include human rights violations, and still teach us a lesson, while telling the (his)story?

I hope to discuss and answer this question in multiple follow up post along the way. Looking more in-dept to the actual events and the physical impact, and how to recreate a scenario where you can both feel the impact of human right violations and not feel sadistic.

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