from Guy Debord

To Gerard Lebovici
24 May 1976

Observations with respect to questions by Mr Kessler.[1]

The 14 questions can be considered in two groups, each one emphasizing a general problem: on the one hand, questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7; on the other, questions 8, 9, 10, 13, 14. It is necessary to treat two questions separately: the sixth and the eleventh, which is completed by the twelfth.

Question 6 concerns the number of sources of provisions for each camp. The goal of the game is the complete destruction of the enemy's potential, and such a victory can almost always be obtained. It is accessible by three roads, which normally are followed simultaneously, but which can also be followed separately. To conquer, it is necessary to come into contact with all of the combats units of the enemy and destroy them; to cut the communication lines on which they absolutely and instantaneously depend so as to move and fight; or, finally, to put beyond usage -- by a temporary occupation -- the armories from which the enemy draws its provisions. The two armories of each camp are interchangeable and simultaneously usable, but a single one can suffice for all of its needs. If each camp makes use of a single armory, it would clearly be too dependent upon it, as much due to the limitations this would place upon the offensive movements that could be put into play (reduction of the lines of usable communication), as to the servitude that would be constituted by the obligation (more important than any other consideration) to defend its sole armory. As the opposite camp would find itself in the same situation, this would result in a general loss of the offensive spirit. Thus, by passing from the one to the many, but in its weakest expression, one would considerably diminish the very importance of the most important position of the whole game and thus one would free oneself from it relatively: because the loss of no-matter-which armory is nothing in itself, but the loss of the second is the loss of everything. Inversely, if one would give three armories to each camp -- a fortiori more -- one would emancipate each camp too much from the classic equilibrium to be maintained in the strategic-tactical relation: one would draw closer to the model of revolutionary wars, whereas the model here is the Seven Years War[2] (equality and the irreplaceable character of the personnel, dependence on munitions stockpiles). Moreover, as one will see at the end, it is only in such a model of a professional army and its routine requirements that one can introduce a certain representation of the factor of morale by the only resources available to a cabinet game.

Questions 11 and 12 call for a single response. It is a matter for this kriegspiel[3] of inscribing in the rigorous simplification of a cabinet game all of the forces that manifest themselves on the battlefield [le terrain]: in the disposition of the lines of operation and deployment of the army with respect to its base-camp, as in the dispositions with respect to tactical battles. Thus, the series of squares in right and diagonal lines, which are the framework of all cabinet games, determines the concentration of useful and fore and, at the same time, the lines of communication. The latter are of two kinds: a fixed number, permanent for each armory, and a great variety of others, temporarily connectible to the transmission units (which are themselves assets to be protected), which relay information to and from the armories by following the same principle. The number of kriegspiels on the table is infinitely more flexible and realistic in the representation of the tactical encounters, but then they renounce accounting for the strategic-tactical relation, the interactions and reversals between the levels of force-relations.

The group of questions numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 envision the general space adopted for the kriegspiel: its dimension. At first, it is necessary to respond that the numerical translation of this space -- such as the offensive and defensive values of the different units that are involved -- is chosen by empirical gropings (for example: length of the highest frontier to the depth of the territory to defend) and with some arbitrariness. But the principal determination resides in the relationship between the personnel of the armies and the dimensions of the territory. The essential element is the numerical composition of the army. One aims at the smallest possible army that is sufficiently articulated to permit maneuvers and battle: authorizing the use of detached units, but at great risk. The same process of empirical trial-and-error and arbitrary delimitation has fixed the proposition of the three combat armies (thus the transmission units) and, from this proposition, the effective minimum that can be attributed to them. Thus, as in the conditions of the XVIIIth Century, each unit is precious and, simultaneously, these conditions encounter the Clausewitzian spirit,[4] or at least the Frederickian one, many of these units and, finally, almost all of them must be sacrificed without regret but not without reflection, so as to take advantage of the adversary.

Here we encounter the essential character of the kriegspiel: it proposes to resemble the conduct of war essentially in that it tends to impose contradictory necessities. In one camp as in the other, there are never enough forces, either to protect oneself everywhere that this would be desirable, or even where necessity is imposed by the adversary. It is very favorable to extend the adversary's front, but the concentration of forces for battle is the most imperious of necessities (if a concentrated army interposes itself between two enemy units, one of the latter risks being entirely destroyed without the other being able to support it, and a single army stretched out in a line can be pierced, which involves the preceding situation). It is necessary to act against the enemy's communications, but guarding one's own and guarding them in all of the extensions that the offensive requires of them leads to its culminating point. If it is a question of a maneuver undertaken by a detached unit, this unit most possess enough defensive and offensive power to oblige the enemy to oppose to it an important fraction of its own forces (and, naturally, it must be launched in a direction that is effectively threatening). But if it is too reinforced, it will dangerously diminish the tactical force of the main part that constitutes the pivot of the maneuver. So as to be detached for the least amount of time possible, a detached unit is normally composed of mounted troops. But these rapid forces are also the shock troops that the army cannot completely do without in battle if the adversary's army has kept its own as part of the main group. Moreover, these powerful offensive units are weak on the defensive, if they find themselves cornered without infantry to support them, etc. Likewise, if it is advantageous in a confrontation between two concentrated armies to maneuver on the flank of the enemy (so as to approximate its line of communication or to obtain a concentration of firepower by a tactic of envelopment, the enemy can thus see itself offered the occasion to use the same movement on the opposite wing: he who outflanks is outflanked.

So that all these banalities of war are effectively represented and perceptible in the game, it is necessary that a small army drowns in territory. One would thus have something equivalent to a triple army on a terrain ten times larger, but the elegance of the tactical confrontation would be mostly lost, as would be the maneuverability of the game and its relative speed.

The group of questions numbered 8, 9, 10, 13, 14 concern the nature of the game's terrain. The principle of the disposition of this terrain is asymmetry. The two territories are as dissimilar as possible, but without introducing an inequality of chance: a player might prefer one camp (so as to experiment with the development of certain maneuvers), but there are no relative advantages or disadvantages. The asymmetry exists to maintain the uncertainty of the disposition of the adversary's troops at the opening of the contest, and then and there to offer each camp many orientations for its efforts, and thus the subsequent need to bear in mind the different orientations that the adversary's camp might adopt: if the two camps, equal in forces and territory, were also symmetrical, one would regularly encounter their two armies in symmetrical positions and they would balance each other out so as to obtain the same objectives: the decision would only come down to the greater tactical skill in the grueling, frequently identical battles.

The mountain ranges delimit five principal theaters of possible action: the Center, on the one hand, and the Frontiers, on the other; North/West; North/East; South/West; and South/East. A single campaign, which can frequently involve all five, generally unfolds -- as far as principal operations -- in two or three of these theaters, successively, and sometimes simultaneously in two of them. Very rarely are they the same terrains in the same order: in a large number of contests, it is very unlikely to see two resemble each other in their respective developments. This is because of the unfolding and the asymmetry of the territories and the fact that any maneuver can be parried, either by a direct defense or by counter-maneuver, the results of which are themselves dependent on the tactical clash.

The principal opposition between the territories of the North and the South reside in the situation of their respective armories: those of the North are grouped in the same zone (but nevertheless are not aligned along the same axis of approach), whereas those of the South are quite far from each other. The southern camp can thus lead a single army as far as the two armories of the enemy. The northern camp cannot do so: if it attempts the destruction of the adversary's armories, it would be necessary for it to also undertake a secondary operation against a distant armory. Inversely, the army of the South cannot simultaneously protect its two armories by contesting the approach, whereas the North can do so: a central defensive position of the North can defend the zone of its armories, which are themselves central; the central defensive position of the South cannot have this function. But, due to the fact that the army of the South can directly cover its armories that find themselves at the origin of its current line of operation, it would obviously be confronted with the main part of the North's army. It could then seek out battle against the army that has been weakened by this detachment, or detach from itself a unit intended to batter it or threaten its line of retreat. (The North can conduct the same type of operation if it has not initially adopted a central position.) Traced out as a function of the asymmetry of the terrain, the permanent routes leading from each armory are only the web upon which the transmission units can establish the network of chosen communications. Meanwhile, any fortress is directly linked to an armory of its camp, and only by the use of its permanent routes can each army reach the armories of the enemy.

The uncertainty that derives from the proportion established between the personnel and the territory, and thus the varieties of the temporary objectives that the two armies can pursue, subjects the ensemble of the operations to the changing evolution of the relations between strategy and tactics: unlike chess, for example, in which each player disposes of everything that is necessary to control (a little better than his adversary, if possible) an essentially balanced terrain on which any non-compensated loss is in principle an irreversible factor of defeat. In the kriegspiel under consideration here, the potential bad dispositions and the bad maneuvers are many, but none of the maneuvers that one can decide to make is assuredly good, at least as long as there exists a balance of forces and positions. The maneuver becomes good or bad according to what the adversary does or does not do. A certain amount of inattention is necessary on both sides, and the most elaborate calculations themselves depend on modifications that will be introduced by the ripostes that they call for, more or less justly conceived and more or less fortunately executed.

It is a question here of a war of movements (sometimes momentarily fixed on a local front, in the defense of a mountain pass or a fortress) in which the terrain only ever has interest due to the tactical and strategic positions necessary to the army or harmful to the adversary. One can sometimes conquer without fighting and even with limited combat, simply by maneuver. One can also conquer through a single frontal battle without maneuvers. But beyond these extreme cases, one normally engages in a series of maneuvers, combats and general battles (in which maneuvers are utilized: envelopment, retreat, strong attacks against communications). A strategic maneuver almost always depends on the local tactical successes that it must also have: it will collapse if it cannot "pay cash" at the end of the battle, in which it must be the strongest.

Thus, the obligation to respond to contradictory necessities is found at all levels. Strategically, defense is stronger, but only the offensive -- or at least the counter-offensive -- brings success. On the tactical plane as well, the defensive is obviously stronger, but if it remains an immobile defensive, the enemy can always concentrate more firepower on a position that it attacks. Thus, it is necessary to counter-attack, to destroy an enemy unit in its turn. A battle is lost from the moment that an army has suffered sufficient loses to find itself incapable of concentrating on any position a superior offensive coefficient to the defensive coefficient that the enemy possesses at the same position. Then all the loses will be recorded on the same side, and thus complete destruction will take place in a few blows. Such as army must thus withdraw towards its reinforcements, if it has any, by distancing itself as much as possible from the superior enemy concentration whose attacks are decimating it and which can only enter into pursuit by echelons.

Indeed, each player who can only attack one position at a time can also only put into motion a little less than one-third of its initial personnel (five units): this represents the "friction" that slows down the action of the war. This necessity adds this contradiction to the others: from the start of battle, one has great need to employ at each moment the totality of its moves[5] (so as to use the maximum number of units in attacking a position and also others by supporting the units that will probably experience the next counter-attack), but one also needs elsewhere some of these moves, which thus must be set aside: either to bring in the reinforcements that must recent the losses or to withdraw certain elements that the destruction of others will leave up in the air, or to move a transmission unit because it is necessary to modify a line of communication or because this unit finds itself too exposed, etc.

To conclude, it would perhaps be simpler to consider how this kriegspiel is different from a complete representation of war where two points (different from those envisioned so far) are concerned.

It is different in that the morale and fatigue of the troops hardly appears as a factor. Nevertheless, this factor has been summarily represented by the game in the instantaneous combat paralysis of any troop that finds itself without liaison (including the garrison of a fortress, with the result that the fortresses do not have a stopping function, but only tactical support). One can thus say that only the effect of morale justifies the offensive coefficient of the charging cavalry units aligned along a long series of squares, the teachings of Colonel Ardant du Picq[6] having established that this cannot be a mechanical result of mass multiplied by speed. On the other hand, the wear-and-tear on morale that has always had the greatest effects in war -- the weakening of the generals' morale -- is likely to act upon each of the players; it frequently exaggerates the consequences of a maneuver that is sketched out by the adversary, although it might also be a feint. Actually, each player can have no mathematical assurance of what he must do, and not even when he has attained a crushing numerical superiority: because in certain circumstances, and even very near the end, the beaten army can still launch decisive operations against the communications of the victor. Finally, the game is completely different from war in that it does not involve uncertainty concerning the position and movements of the enemy. Except for the orders concerning the initial battle, of which one is ignorant -- save for the fact that the enemy has rationally chosen to enter into a small number of zones of concentration, with the result that it is prudent to do likewise -- one instantaneously has an exact and fully assured knowledge of all the movement effectuated in opposition to one's own: the military service knows what the military service does,[7] (thus the cavalry here does not have an exploratory function, but only clashes, pursues and raids). It appears impossible to substitute for this fault without sacrificing all of the rigor of the other characteristics of the representation of a confrontation in a cabinet game.

Guy Debord

[1] Counsel for industrial property [rights], mandated by the S.A.R.L. [limited liability company] "Strategic and Historical Games," to establish the inventor's license for the Game of War [kriegspiel] by Guy Debord.

[2] Translator's note: Fought between 1756 and 1763 by Prussia, led by Frederick II ("the Great"), and Russia, France and Austria.

[3] Translator's note: German translation of "game of war" (jeu de la guerre in French), and the name of the game itself.

[4] Translator's note: see Clausewitz's Principles of War (1812), in which he writes about the Seven Years War.

[5] Translator's note: the French word here, coups, can mean both "blows" and "moves."

[6] Translator's note: Charles Jean Jacques Joseph Ardant du Picq (1819-1870) was a French colonel and military theorist, author of Combat Studies.

[7] Translator's note: see Blaise de Montluc (1502-1577): "If the military service [Ost] knows what the military service does, the military service beats the military service."

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1973-Decembre 1978 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2005. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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