Thinking around
Combat Commander: Pacific

One of the PTO maps.

One of the PTO maps.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about it, but lately Combat Commander: Pacific has been hanging around the Big Table. Since it’s arrival some time ago, I’ve always considered it close to the top of my ‘to play’ list – but for some reason it never quite made it onto the table. Until now, anyway.

Complex and fascinating history aside, World War II’s Pacific Theater has always held a strong personal interest for me. All of the ‘Foster boys’ who served in the war fought in the Pacific. Grandad Foster was too old to serve and, besides, employed in a strategic industry (he worked for Armco Steel). My dad, of course, was far too young.

But two of Grandad’s brothers fought in the Pacific: One as a Marine, the other as an Army paratrooper. A slightly more distant relative – my grandmother’s brother-in-law – was a Navy fighter pilot.

All of them survived the war, but – in a prime example of the oddities of war – all were injured by war’s end. Having survived the landing on Tarawa, Uncle Todd was pretty seriously banged-up in a jeep accident. Uncle Charles broke an ankle during the parachute landing on Corregidor. Uncle Preston suffered a broken leg when the landing gear on his Wildcat collapsed during a carrier landing.

[As a quick note: Back in those days, the US military was a little bit less vigilant about intercepting war-time 'souvenirs'. The Japanese officer's samurai sword that Uncle Todd brought home from the PTO is now locked safely away in my big, steel gun safe.]

In previous posts I’ve lamented the scarce supply of good wargames on land warfare in the PTO. From a certain point of view, that’s understandable. Operationally the PTO was a complex combination of sea and air maneuver, typically punctuated by episodes of bloody, gritty, smash-mouth infantry fighting. There were no vast tank battles, massive encirclements or shocking breakthroughs.

Much less history has been written about the PTO. A number of complex factors contribute to this. One large reason is that the struggle in the Pacific was principally America’s war. Due credit to the Commonwealth and Asian forces that fought in the theater, but Britain was primarily focused on surviving in the face of a conquered western Europe. So the historical input for the PTO is necessarily limited and Asia’s post-war political convulsions seem to have intercepted many attempts at historical review.

Every European nation involved in the European Theater has ‘their’ history of the war – but the main contributors to the history of the PTO have always been the US, Japan, China and, to a lesser degree, the Commonwealth. In the West, China is almost a forgotten participant in the war. For various social and political reasons, Japan has always been loath to contribute to the dialog of history. It’s also worth noting that – unlike their numerous, verbose and prolific German counterparts – few high-ranking Japanese commanders survived the war (and its subsequent war crimes trials), and fewer still felt the urge to become self-justifying memoirists.

War-time anti-Japanese propaganda.

War-time anti-Japanese propaganda.

Thorough histories – truly in-depth histories – of the war in the Pacific are rare. If there is such a thing, ‘cultural embarassment’ is likely another reason. The war was a savage, brutal collision of three nations that highly value culture, intellectualism and industry. Japanese militarism of the 30s and 40s was racist and totalitarian. America’s war-time characterization of Pearl Harbor’s perpetrators was – to the modern eye – viscerally racist and de-humanizing. It’s a culturally painful period to observe from the safe remove of six decades.

But I digress.

Popular history paints the Pacific as a “gut-bustin’, mother-lovin’ Navy war” (with due credit to one of the finest war movies ever made ), so naval games on the topic are plentiful. I’m not smart enough to even begin to figure out how many games have been published about the battle of Midway, for example.

So I consider Combat Commander: Pacific rare indeed: An enjoyable and interesting game covering tactical land combat in the PTO. More on this from the Big Table in the days ahead.

Leave a Reply