Jeremy Best: “Interwar Games: Strategy and Play in Germany, 1919-1933”


Jeremy Best (History): “Interwar Games: Strategy and Play in Germany, 1919-1933”

After a year-long delay from the COVID-19 Pandemic, I was able to use my CEAH Research Grant to begin research at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. After a two-day drive from Ames to the DC Suburbs, I settled in to spend three weeks in June and July working with historical records from the U.S. military in the period between the World Wars. The project, “Interwar Games: Strategy and Play in Germany, 1919-1933” is an article-length project that is one part of my larger, newest major research project, “Toy Soldiering: West German Rearmament, the Holocaust, and the United States.” This summer’s research focused on constructing a pre-history of military wargames in Germany and the United States. As a consequence of World War II, the National Archives has full collections that reproduce the records of the German military up to 1945. Using these microfilmed records and related records from the period in American military records, I set out to understand the role that wargames played in encouraging the violent militaristic culture of Weimar Germany. The CEAH Research Grant provided a unique opportunity to amplify previous research I had conducted in the German Game Archive (Deutsches Spielarchiv) in Nuremberg, Germany earlier that same summer.
While I am still working to synthesize my findings, one of the most interesting things I have learned is that as far back as 1900 American military planners were looking to Germans for lessons in the use of simulations to improve military practice. I also learned that it was German officers in the 1920s who saw in military simulations and games a template for developing a military strategy and culture despite the radical limitations placed on German military power after World War I. The photo included captures the importance of simulations to German military thinking at the time and the international recognition of German expertise in this area. It is an excerpt from a Dutch political magazine, Oorlog of Vrede, in which the magazine reprints correspondence with the retired Commander-in-Chief of the German Reichswehr and parliamentary representative Hans von Seeckt. In his printed response, von Seeckt draws on knowledge gained through internal wargames he supervised to comment on Germany’s contemporary security situation. Moving forward, this material (and much more) will be integrated into a journal article for publication as part of the longer-term project of developing a major research book.