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13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis» Forums » Variants

Subject: Classroom use? Open brainstorm! rss

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Asger Harding Granerud
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Hi all,

Come Easter 2017 Daniel and I have the opportunity to do a classroom style event for High School students, and we're some what drawing a blank...

Any ideas you might have, and I really do mean ANY, would be much appreciated. If you've even got some experience having tried it, doubly so!

It can go all the way to University/College level and beyond. Don't hold back if you think it doesn't fit, those opportunities have also been in played. And as I've said before I'd love for it have a Championship between Moscow and Washington University, played in Havana

Regards
Asger Granerud
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Rod Bauer
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Let me start out by saying that I like this game. I like it a great deal. However, I don't believe it is a good vehicle for teaching the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I taught history in High School for forty years before retiring five years ago. During that time I used historical conflict games extensively. The ones that worked the best in imparting historical knowledge and/or interest and understanding of the events being "gamed" were the ones that required the players to "learn" the historical facts and significance of the various events being simulated, in order to do well in the game.

While I believe that 13 Days is a great game full of excitement, tension, and decision-making,I do not believe that it does a good job in bringing out the historical facts or circumstances of the events. When I play any game that is related to or based on an historical event, I always enjoy losing myself in the richness of the history that the game imparts. In 13 Days, however, while I have great fun and really get involved in which decision to make, I don't feel connected to the historical aspects of the game. The mechanics dominate it. While the cards do provide historical information, I never seem to think about historical events that they represent. Instead, I get totally caught up in "how many blocks should I put in or take out of this region or that?" Furthermore, while I am trying not to trigger a nuclear war, and thus lose the game, I AM TRYING to force my opponent into starting the nuclear war, so I can win. That is a far cry from what either Kennedy or Khrushchev were trying to do in October 1962.

If the game is being used in the classroom as a "crisis decision-making" tool, It would be fine. But if it is being used to teach the "history" of the events of those 13 Days, it is lacking. In my experience in the classroom, I would think that most students would simply focus on the number of cubes and where to put them to gain a particular advantage, without relating this to anything of an historical nature. Everything would be very abstract. The game would be essentially the same experience if it simply had cards with nothing more than a picture of the cubes available with each card, and a map, not of the world, but simply a series of numbered Boxes to place the cubes in to gain an advantage over your opponent.

If I were still teaching, I might use the cards that are provided in the game, just to introduce the subject and then have the students study the actual historical events. Each student for example might take one or two cards as a research prompt in order to determine if the number of cubes that are available for a particular card is warranted or not. This might provide a good deal of discussion and argument that would help the students to gain some perspectives or insights into various aspects of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I will admit, that through the years, I had some students, that if I were to loan them the game to take home and play on their own, they might then become interested in what the game is attempting to portray. This might spark an interest that would cause them to check out a book from the library, or get on the internet to see just what this Cuban Missile Crisis thing was all about.
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Michael Tyree
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Perhaps you might set up a full play as a demonstration that tries to mirror the actual event timeline as well as the the way it played out. Along with that, you could point out why certain events have the effects they do.

Also, I think it might be interesting to look at the difference stated previously between the game and real life, in that players could actively wish to goad their opponent into nuclear war where in real life it was something neither side would have wanted.
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Sean McCormick
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mtyree1972 wrote:
Perhaps you might set up a full play as a demonstration that tries to mirror the actual event timeline as well as the the way it played out. Along with that, you could point out why certain events have the effects they do.

Also, I think it might be interesting to look at the difference stated previously between the game and real life, in that players could actively wish to goad their opponent into nuclear war where in real life it was something neither side would have wanted.


Yes, I was going to recommend something along these lines as well. Have the students play the cards in historical order, and possibly stop to research individual events in greater depth along the way. Talk about the options at each point, and why the boxes on the map exist. (Turkey, Italy, Berlin will all need explanation.)

I picked up several copies of 13 Days for possible classroom use, and collected primary sources and several movies to go with them (Missiles of October, 13 Days). Haven't put it all together yet as to how I will use them.
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Thomas Heaney
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I agree with Rod's eloquent statement; I think that while 13 Days is great fun evoking the event, it doesn't really teach much in the way of context, process, or strategy. A better game in that regard might be Cuban Missile Crisis. I brainstormed a version to play with a class divided into the two powers and then into teams with students playing specific roles from President to ground commanders. Part of the idea was to narrow down the rules into bit-sized areas of responsibility. It just wasn't doable in the context of my college US history survey classes, but I thought it might hold promise for a smaller, more focused group.
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Asger Harding Granerud
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Thanks a bunch for the thorough and thoughtful responses. Much appreciated! And it might just be that we can't crack the code and make this work. But you're welcome to think completely outside the box here!

Can we make it into a role play exercise based on the core game, but chanign lots of dynamics? Can we divide the class into two teams and have them battle it out in a grander arena where small groups inside each team focus on different battlegrounds?

Anything else?

---

rod3556lhs wrote:
Furthermore, while I am trying not to trigger a nuclear war, and thus lose the game, I AM TRYING to force my opponent into starting the nuclear war, so I can win. That is a far cry from what either Kennedy or Khrushchev were trying to do in October 1962.


mtyree1972 wrote:
Also, I think it might be interesting to look at the difference stated previously between the game and real life, in that players could actively wish to goad their opponent into nuclear war where in real life it was something neither side would have wanted.


I'm not picking on the above to start an internet fight, but it actually isn't completely correct, even if the misconception is common (many reviewers have mentioned this, and this is the first time I comment on it). There were hawks in the US administration that advocated a nuclear war. Some of this we know because JFK taped his own generals.

Just to put it into perspective, here are a few quotes from General Curtis LeMay. He was the leader of the Strategic Air Command, and thus the primary responsible for the Nuclear bombs. B-52 bombers that for the first and only time in history, were kept in the air with their nuclear load to avoid being targeted as sitting ducks on the ground. This happened as soon as DEFCON was lowered to 2 (also the only time in history).

Quote:
You [President Kennedy] have made some pretty strong statements about their being defensive and that we would take action against offensive weapons. I think that a blockade and political talk would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this [the Cuban missile crisis]. And I'm sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way too. In other words, you're in a pretty bad fix at the present time.
Curtis LeMay


I do NOT remember all the details 100%, so please don't hold me too accountable for what I write here. I'm doing it as good as I can The different scenarios were obviously discussed in detail. And part of that was a tit-for-tat scenario. If we bomb/invade Cuba, USSR bombs Turkey/Italy. Then US retaliates here and here, and suddenly Berlin is involved, and the crisis escalates to a full blown war.

Quote:
Today, shooting wars are won or lost before they start. If they are fought at all, they would be fought principally to confirm which side had won at the outset.
Curtis LeMay


It was pretty clear that US would "win" a nuclear war. The USSR missiles couldn't reach the US mainland (hence Cuba...) while the B-52 bombers projected their threat across the globe. Also known as the 'bomber gap' separating the two superpowers. The USSR missiles used liquid fuel, which meant they weren't operational before deployed because the fuel had to be tanked when the missile was in an upright position. This took so long, that they were effectively sitting ducks for the B-52 bombers. Of course no one were under the illusion that this wouldn't mean US couldn't be hit, but due to the U2 information advantage even this angle was tilting towards US. Not to mention US had deployed and dispersed the recently developed, and aptly named, minutemen missiles.

Quote:
I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. However, the public opinion in this country and throughout the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons, just because of the propaganda that's been fed to them.
Curtis LeMay


However, no one was under the illusion that it would be extremely bad press/propaganda to start such a war. For a variety of reasons, but not solely because civilian casualties was a concern, as you can see in the quotes below.

Quote:
If you are going to use military force, then you ought to use overwhelming military force. Use too much and deliberately use too much; you'll save lives, not only your own, but the enemy's too.

There are no innocent civilians, so it doesn't bother me so much to be killing innocent bystanders.
Curtis LeMay


On top of all this, we add the tension between the Joint Chiefs of Staff, especially LeMay, and JFK. Not just the normal interpersonal tension, but also the wrestling for power and control over the military apparatus. Thirty years ago, no one would have considered it possible that politicians interfered with the Generals. They weren't considered capable. Of course since then the power of the bomb had meant that a misstep by a militaryman could have fatal consequences, but not fatal as in the millions. These disagreements weren't a given that they were going to fall out in JFKs favour, the whole power dynamic was being renegotiated mid-crisis, and the military weren't happy to cooperate on all counts.

Now why did I go through all this? I did so to remind you all that the CMC was an extremely complex crisis, with thousands of actors involved that could all make missteps that would lead to armageddon. General LeMay being an extremely central actor. And that 13 Days is by definition a contra factual history game, so it has to accommodate some of the fringe scenarios. And here is the point:

As part of the tit-for-tat scenarios discussed when analyzing the likely escalation of a nuclear war, AND considering the bad press it would give to start it, it WAS considered if tricking USSR into the role of the aggressor would be a propaganda advantage. The actual outcome was decided anyway, but 13 Days evaluates the long term historical judgement, not who had most bombs...

Goading/tricking your opponent into taking the role of the aggressor was a factor in the CMC. Even if it was a fringe scenario.

Regards
Asger Granerud
(whom recently booked a 2 week trip to Cuba spring 2017!)
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