Kevin Drum has an argument about how the Soviet Union was already in collapse in 1980, but nobody knew it, not even Reagan. Therefore, Reagan’s arms buildup was the straw that broke the Russian economy’s back, rather than the the mighty branch that beat it into submission. The danger of Reagan’s hagiography is that it supports the current administration’s attitude towards external threats — if you stand firm, puff out your chest, and take a few practice swings with the old bat, your opponents will back down. But this is not the story that should be learned from Reagan’s legacy.
Chris Butler (Mr. B), a history teacher at my high school, designed and wrote historical simulation games with a friend of my brother’s, Paul Marty. There was one called Waters of Babylon, where you played merchants and kings in city states, traded, waged war, and so on. It was designed to illustrate the balance of power in the area. The one I remember best was a computer game called Diocletian, which was a simulation of the end days of the united Roman Empire. Diocletian was the emperor who split the emipre into the Eastern (centered at Byzantium) and Western (centered at Rome) halves. In the game, you had rebellious governors in the provinces, an insufficiently small army, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and other groups invading from all sides, and an inefficient tax collection scheme.
Austin Amaya and I managed to survive in the game by first conquering all of North Africa and the Middle East and then taking over northern Europe. Endless military expansion was the only way to avoid the collapse of the empire, but the only reason we were successful was that nobody could invade from off the borders of the computer simulation. This was Hitler’s strategy in WWII as well. Games like Civilization teach you the same lessons, I think. The question I’m left with is this — to what extent are the dynamics of these games informed by our ideas or misconceptions about the Reagan era?