Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

My Day as JFK

Yesterday Ashland University hosted a session of the National Security Decision Making Game, a simulation of international politics and warfare. I first learned of NSDM last summer at Origins, a game convention held annually in Columbus. After seeing it played there, my colleague Chris Burkett and I decided that it would be a great experience for students, and with financial support from the Ashbrook Center we made it happen.

The scenario we played was called "Cold War-1960s," beginning in 1960 and continuing until the players triggered a nuclear holocaust, or time ran out--whichever came first. I am glad to say that we managed to avoid the former (although there were some tactical nukes thrown around in Korea toward the end of the day).

The participants (mostly students, but with a few faculty as well) were divided into three teams, or "cells": the United States, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China. In addition, each player was assigned a particular role to play, and with each role came a specific set of objectives (which, by the way, were kept secret from the other players). Ultimately each participant was judged on the basis of his or her ability to meet those objectives.

I was assigned the role of John F. Kennedy--perhaps based on my ability to imitate his voice, although I think I sounded more like Mayor Joe Quimby from The Simpsons. The game began in the midst of the 1960 election campaign, which I won handily--again probably due to the fact that my teammates were amused by my Kennedy/Quimby impersonation. Immediately we encountered a host of crises--Che Guevara sponsored a coup in Belize, the president of the NAACP was assassinated (followed by urban riots in which the rioters were oddly armed with AK-47s--which, it turned out later, the Chinese had smuggled into the country), and my feeble attempt at a space program fizzled when a Mercury rocket blew up on the launchpad, killing John Glenn. When it came time for the next presidential election, I found myself challenged by, of all people, my own Secretary of State (damn that Dean Rusk). I lost, thanks (as the Russians tried to warn me about, but I only later learned it was true) to Rusk’s having arranged for the PRC to endorse my election to a second term.

It was probably good that I got out when I did. The Chinese sponsored a North Korean invasion of the South, and before we knew it the peninsula was overrun with a million screaming ChiComs. The world came within a whisper of nuclear war until a last-minute deal between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a solution to the crisis.

All in all, it was a memorable experience for everyone involved, and one I hope we can repeat. However, I’ll try to avoid being JFK in the future. I’ll pass on having to cope with all of the pressures of presidential leadership without the historical benefit of muscle relaxants, pain killers, and Marilyn Monroe.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Kind of a cheap shot there at the end, John. Kennedy had his faults, but as Democrats go he was a pretty good President. At least he didn’t pal around with commies, which I can’t say for people such as Carter. John Kennedy believed in America...I don’t think modern Dims do.

I agree with Dain - kind of a cheap shot at the end.

Mr. Moser, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine, and you sir, are no Jack Kennedy.


j/k - I didn’t really know him. But, I do have a friend named Jack....


On a serious note - it sounds like an interesting exercise. I’m sure it makes students think about global & political issues on a different level. Sometimes, we get too wrapped up in rhetoric.

We will bury you!

I noticed John used the words "a million screaming ChiComs." I have always used the term myself while teaching the Korean War. I think it is from Rodney Dangerfield’s "Back to School" (Sam Kinneson’s explosion) or
Patrick Swayze’s "Red Dawn." I can’t get that phrase out of my head.

John Moser: Say more about the costs and other arrangements involved in using the game with students. The website doesn’t say much about that.

Steve, I’m not sure if this what you want to know, but the game’s designers (Dan and Mark McDonagh) charge nothing to run a game at a location--they do it purely for the fun of it. They only ask that their travel and lodging be taken care of. We also paid for lodging for some of the controllers--basically assistants to the designers, who handle much of the actual gameplay--but they paid for their own travel (which is particularly impressive when you consider that one came from Toronto, and another from Boston). Aside from that all we had to pay for was publicity for the event, and lunch for all the participants on the day of the game. The fact is, the organizers generally run these things at game conventions, but they were quite excited to have the opportunity to do it at a university campus. At the end of the day all they wanted to know was when we could have them back again! (Soon, I hope!)

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