PeaceMaker Review - Part 2

PeaceMaker Review - Part 2

The developers made no secret of their hope that the game could encourage partisans to see each other's points of view, and so encourage some changes in attitude. To that end, the game is available in Hebrew and Arabic. I fear this hope is in vain.

The problem with modeling the conflict as a computer game is obvious: the result is only as convincing as the assumptions that went into the program. The assumption that the game is winnable means that one side could make the right solutions - and peace would follow. (Actually, most Americans who are partisan on this conflict believe that; they just disagree on which side needs to stop being so unreasonable. If you are a partisan, you'll actually be more comfortable playing the opposite side.)

Related to this is the assumption that both populations - Israeli, Palestinian - are ready, or close to ready, for peace. I like the fact that, if you're playing Israel, you have to help the Palestinian economy to reach your destination. That is a sound strategic lesson. But the timing has to be right. One of my favorite books is Liddell Hart's biography of Scipio Africanus, maybe the finest strategist ever. When Scipio's opponents were exhausted from fighting and ready to make peace, he was famously magnanimous (especially for his time) - and the result was that when he subjugated Spain, it stayed subjugated; and Carthage had an excellent chance of staying at peace as a Roman satellite (it did for generations, and could've forever). He displayed the same insight in dealing with a mutiny early in his career: enough fear and executions to cow the bulk of the troops, then magnaminity and back pay.

This, however, is a lesson we do not need this game for. It is commonly drawn from the peace settlements of the two World Wars (in fact, Liddell Hart, who was writing between the wars, drew it out in the book on Scipio). Once the enemy is down, you cut his throat or help him to his feet; kicking him makes future trouble. However, for this to work, the enemy has to be down, in the sense that he is exhausted, beaten, or for some other reason ready to give up whatever made him want to keep fighting. Every enemy proclaims and believes that he is ready to fight to the death, right up until he decides he isn't. The game is assuming that the Palestinian Arabs are already there or else can never get there. Now there are many who draw the opposite lesson from the election of Hamas (their charter is quite hostile to the existence of Israel; see Article 11 especially). The game doesn't gloss over the miltant nature of Hamas - if you're the PA, Hamas is always ready to denounce your peace initiatives and make a few inflammatory statements to send your numbers south - but it does appear to assume that most of the Palestinian population does not have strong sympathy with Hamas and will, with a little prosperity, reject them.

Israel does not really have a military option in this game - the "send troops" button might as well be labeled "lose the game now" - yet some Israeli partisans argue that the bloody fighting that ends the game at -50 is actually needed before economic buildups, humanitarian assistance, peaceful rhetoric, and internationally-brokered deals can bring a lasting peace. And some Palestinian partisans argue that Israel has been conducting unrestrained warfare for decades, a view that I can't agree with. This game will not change a partisan's mind on that issue. The lessons I have been repeating here are commonplace, and someone who walks in with those views won't walk out with different ones. Someone who agrees with the game's hidden premises will be delighted to see them confirmed, but that won't inspire a change of heart, which the designers seem to be hoping for.

Part 3 will come this evening - and will discuss some salutary lessons that I think the game can teach.

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