Monday, November 10, 2014

Map on Monday: World War I Edition

The above map (click to enlarge) comes not from a history book of World War I, but rather from a board game designed by Harvard-educated Allan B. Calhamer in 1954. Set in the years leading up to the Great War, the game Diplomacy allows the players to interact with the complicated diplomatic situation that ultimately led to the events of 1914. Unlike a game like Risk, in which players are given dozens of army pieces for combat, Diplomacy players typically begin the game with only three pieces (which represent armies or fleets) and must negotiate with other nations for mutual support. This makes the game as much social as it is strategic and historic. For more on Diplomacy, see section three of the article Strategy Games: The Gateway to Culture and Geopolitics.

An analysis of the map may reveal some geographic reasons for the war's alliances. Germany (gray) and Austria-Hungary (red) are located in between the major powers of Russia (tan), France, (light blue), and England (dark blue). Italy (green) found itself in a similar situation as Germany and Austria-Hungary -- and for this reason Italy was actually allied with both at the war's beginning. Italy, however, saw this alliance as defensive and refused to join the war when Austria-Hungary made the first declaration of war. Italy eventually joined the Allied side as the war turned. The Ottoman Empire (yellow) is isolated in the southeast, but has its eyes set on regaining its position in the Balkans; and its proximity to the Black Sea creates natural tension with its northern neighbor: Russia. Given this situation, the Ottoman Empire's eventual hostilities with the Allies makes a good deal of sense. 

What neither the map nor the game of Diplomacy directly represents is the influence of religion and other civilizational matters that factor into alliance-making. The winning alliance to Diplomacy is the so-called "Juggernaut" -- an alliance between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. It is highly unlikely, due to the bloody history between the Islamic Turks and the Orthodox Russians, that such an alliance could ever have taken place. 

Diplomacy is nevertheless a remarkable means of introducing students to the history leading up to the war, the geography of Europe, and the intricacies of crafting foreign policy and alliance-building.  

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