In the last of our guest blog posts by English Literature students at Newcastle University we look at H. G. Wells' Little Wars (1913). In this book Wells offered a set of rules for playing with toy soldiers whilst also providing philosophical commentary on the nature of war. Here Newcastle student, Catherine Parkinson, looks at Wells' intentions for offering a simulation of war:

"H. G. Wells’ Little Wars (1913) elaborates a miniature war game played between two opponents according to a complex set of rules. Britain was enraptured by military glory, and boyish enthusiasm in the form of a table top game, was not an inappropriate sentiment to bring to the contemplation of war. Wells, famous for his conception of the science fiction genre, created the handbook, which was aesthetically innovative in the world of war gaming and children’s literature. It took Kriegsspiel’s core concept of war simulation and stripped it of its sterile rule set, offering a “homeopathic remedy for the imaginative strategist”.

Wells shifted his focus from young boys and girls in Floor Games (1911) to “boys of every age from twelve to one hundred and fifty”. He used his celebrity to correspond with politicians and military figures, and recognised the danger facing young boys in 1913. He felt it necessary to educate them on the realities of war, “smashed […] sanguinary bodies, […] shattered fine buildings […] devastated country sides” before they were sent to the frontline. In the spirit of the age, Little Wars was offered a wide audience. Cheap metals, such as tin and inexpensive production, were readily available in continental Europe, making it possible for boys across the socioeconomic spectrum to equip themselves with the materials to play, “the game of kings- for players in an inferior social position.”

Within the rules, the notion of a fantasy world is suspended and the reality of war is accentuated by macabre vocabulary, “murder” “death” and “slaughtered”, transcending the child player into an adult reality. These rules, illustrated through a detailed retelling of a conflict orchestrated by Wells, “Blue then pounds Red's right with his gun to the right of the farm and kills three men” informs and instructs on the destructive power of twentieth century artillery. This notion of aggressive militarism, embodied by the bombastic General, is undermined because all toy soldiers in the game are equal, “We decided that every man should be as brave and skilful as every other man… they would inevitably kill each other.” Hence, no army is better than their leader.  

The marginal illustrations depict toy soldiers being decapitated and some being lassoed by their superiors, representing the gap between the innocent world, usually depicted by toys, and the truth. This truth is revealed in the chapter entitled “Ending With a Sort of Challenge”. It adopts a more didactic voice in its prophetic warnings and preaches Wells’ 1913 manifesto on war, “you only have to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.” Thus, Little Wars was not a practice for war, it was an interpretation of it, “saner by reason of its size”. 

The book worked as a catharsis, recreationally quenching the war lust entrenched into youth by contemporary jingoistic literature. It sharpened visions on warfare and militarisation, and created a shared play space, for adults and children, in a simultaneously nihilistic and joyous world."

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