For a while, I couldn't wrap my mind around the Japanese decision to attack the United States and enter World War II - while I'm sure it was a very complicated choice, as far as I'd been brought to understand, it seemed mostly to be in response to a steel embargo, which seemed a rather silly thing to start a transoceanic war over.

So I'm playing Civilization III the other day, and I'm at a point that would roughly correspond to the real world's late 1800s. In a random map game, I began on a large peninsula, and while I now entirely control it, the other civilizations have come to fill the other continents, leaving me with little success finding a foothold overseas. The Iroquois, on the continent to the east, have just built a city that cuts off my only access to coal and rubber, which are vital for the newest improvements and military units.

The Iroquois just lost a war on another border with the Egyptians, so they're weak enough that I could capture and hold the coast easily, capturing not only the vital strategic resources, but a well-developed, productive region. However, they've got a treaty with the Romans, to my west, a formidable force. It's a narrow border, though, and with my quick cavalry units, I might be able to take a few of their cities and fortify, or trade them back for a peace treaty.

I could just stay as I am - I haven't really ticked anyone off, and my mainland is isolated enough that no one has any big land disputes with me. I'd survive, but without the resources and territory, I know I'd be doomed to second-rate status as the other civilizations build up their cities, maneuver their shiny new armies, and take some time out every now and then to extort some gold, or an interesting technology. Given a choice between a risky unknown and a certain future of obscurity, I know what I'll pick.

Tora! Tora! Tora!


In a similar vein, whenever my cities lapse into civil disorder I find myself sympathizing with authority figures entirely too much:

Have they forgotten everything I've done for them? I give them everything, I've taken them from nothing and built them into an empire spanning several continents, and then they give me the finger and set fire to things in the streets? It's enough to make me want to go Ashcroft-style all over their unpatriotic bitch asses. I'm trying to protect you from the goddamn Zulu. They're threatening to wipe us off the earth. "Give peace a chance" my ass. Why don't you hippies go throw flowers in front of the waves of Zulu tanks that are massing near the border? That'll do the trick, I'm sure.

I think there might exist some not-insignificant quantity of irony in the fact that, as a supposed enlightened liberal pacifist in real life, I am a ruthless warmonger whenever I play computer games. Perhaps this is a lesson to us, who claim to judge men of power by standards which do not apply, from whom the exigencies of statecraft have long since drained any petty morality. Or maybe if Bush played Civilization III, he'd get it out of his system.

A couple of times, I tried playing this game in a pacifistic sense, throwing most of my resources into making friends with other countries and developing non-military civilization advances to share and trade with other countries, in effect, becoming a sort of benevolent Switzerland. Unfortunately, this has always failed because the other, less-advanced, but militarily stronger, civilizations always demand that I hand over money and technology, which leaves me in the position of either having to acquiesce or be destroyed. So I have to play their way and develop a strong military.

Another interesting situation which goes against my real-life wishes happened when I was playing France, and Russia was being attacked by Egypt and England. My first impulse was to stay out of it, but it occured to me that if I allowed these two countries to swallow Russia, they would both be so strengthened that I would have no chance of winning. So should I take Russia's side and defend them, or try to get a piece of the pie before it was all gone? This reminded me of the situation with the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, when the European countries were in conflict over whether to support the failing Ottomans or to carve up their lands for themselves (the latter ended up happening). This led to the Crimean War, among other things.

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