The following piece was written for PAXsims by Brandon Valeriano. Dr. Valeriano (PhD Vanderbilt University) is the Bren Chair of Military Innovation at the Marine Corps University. He also serves as Senior Advisor for the Cyber Solarium Commission and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
PAXsims is a proud cosponsor of the Derby House Principles, and this post is part of an ongoing discussion we hope to encourage on diversity and inclusion in wargaming. If you have something to contribute, get in touch!
My father was a proud Latino. I remember quite early on that I found an old button of his that had the phrase “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” It was from Blazing Saddles, a famous scene where the villain gathers up all the scum of the area to harass a local town, including the KKK. The Latinos took their place in line and rejected a need for law enforcement badges. (The original quote is “we don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you no stinking badges!” from the Treasure of Sierra Madre)
My father explained that ownership of the phrase was a statement of pride, a statement of identify, and a statement of action. While the Latino community is often vilified, they more commonly known as industrious, innovative, and dedicated. The Black community in many ways has similar traits, pride, individuality, and drive. Overcoming negative stereotypes often is more about identifying with the positive rather than focusing on the negatives, therefore, “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” became a statement of action and identity.
We need action and awareness of identity issues now more than ever. The recent wave of protests over the death of George Floyd has unleashed an enormous amount of questioning and activism in all communities, and the wargaming community is no different.
Statements of purpose are important, but action is more critical. We can do no less because inclusive diversity is critical in the process of developing, testing, and engaging in wargames as a discipline. Perla famously applied the phrase, BOGSAT, “bunch of guys sitting around a table” to wargames. We should revise that statement to BOWGSAT, bunch of white guys sitting around a table. It is critical that wargames engage diverse populations because there should be an accurate reflection of reality in our games and because diversity is associated with better solutions to problems.
If the purpose of wargames is to engage communities of interest, these communities need to reflect the diversity that is inherent in our political systems. The US military is an incredibly diverse body at the topline (although there are many problems with diversity and promotion). Understanding the application of strategy and tactics is imperative. If those that design, participate, and assess wargames are only from certain ethnic or gendered populations, much knowledge is lost. The process of communication and dissemination of the lessons from wargames requires diverse participation from all groups.
Even more critical than representation is the need to include diverse populations in wargames because they increasingly are demonstrated to produce better outcomes. Diverse teams are required to solve problems because the groupthink is endemic to the wargaming community. We need people who will think outside the box, who will bring in new and innovative ideas, and who will seek to make the red team experience more real through a difference in play style.
The goal should be to diversify the wargaming community through example and inclusion. I was literally pulled into the wargame community by hook and crook by my friend and co-author Ben Jensen. He has been working on wargames for over a decade at this point and rarely writes on the subject, preferring to just put things into action. We devised a wargame (or simulation) on national security decision making that has led our team to open new pathways in the field examining escalation pathways through technological innovation.
We also helped devise the wargame the Cyberspace Solarium Commission used to evaluate its proposals, along with Nina Kollars and Erica Borghard. Our colleague and friend, Jacquelyn Schneider, devised the wargame that was used to kick off the Solarium Commission.
The Krulak Center, my place of work, is incredibly diverse. Our current Director and Deputy Director are female, one is Black. Our incoming deputy director is Latino. Our key point person for wargames with Futures Command was a Latino Major who is now off working on his PhD. Many of our wargaming efforts are led by an Asian American former soldier and now academic. We have put diversity into action and are reaping the rewards.
There has been a great amount of progress in the field of wargaming lately. With interest from Senior officials like former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and the current Marine Corps Commandant, initiatives are coming from the top that seek to transform the field. Yet, we cannot become complacent and fall into the trap of performative diversity. Diversity must be put in action in a real concentrated way to have an impact on outcomes.
Every organization must ask themselves, what are they doing to promote diversity. Awareness is not enough; we need to move beyond simple token statements or “badges” of good feeling and produce action. How diverse is your organization? How diverse are those playing your game? Did you think about a diversity of perspectives and experiences in developing your game?
Understanding the purpose and need for diversity is critical in our new era of awakening. While this movement was a long time coming, it is now time to put into practice what we have known academically for a long time. Diversity increases outcomes and it provides innovation though differences in thought. Every organization would be better served by recognizing the utility of listening to diverse voices and engaging the differences in perspective that produce enhanced outcomes. We have more than a moral obligation, we have a service obligation to promote solutions to the challenges facing our world through breaking the mold and seeking to value diversity.