In the early 60s, you were eligible for the draft at 18. You could wait around until they called you in your early 20s, or you could volunteer and get it over with when you wanted to.
So I volunteered. Even then, I was prone to looking for a better way to do things. I knew that if you just volunteered for the two year draft obligation, you were likely to get a crap assignment. So I volunteered for three years and, sure enough, got turned into a rocket repairman (a repair technician for the Sergeant ballistic missile, sort of a high class Scud, with a nuclear warhead).
First, though, I took care of another problem I had heard about military service. Namely, basic training.
Guys in my part of the country went to Fort Dix in New Jersey. Not a very pleasant place (Fort Dix, not New Jersey.) Plus I was planning on joining up right after my birthday in August, when the weather was either too hot or too cold in New Jersey. So I went to the library to check out the weather in the other places where the Army did its basic training. Fort Ord in California seemed to be the most pleasant of the lot. So I got on a bus, went cross country (and saw the country for the first time) to LA. I joined up, was assigned to Fort Ord (in scenic Monterrey) and became a soldier.
It was interesting. I had never paid much attention to the military before, but here I was. So I took notes. I also ran across wargames while taking technical training at Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville, Alabama.) They shipped me and my artillery battalion off to Korea, where I spent an interesting year finding out why it was good to be an American.
The Army let me go in July, 1964, about two weeks before the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the official beginning of the Vietnam war. Who knew? What luck, I was home free. No getting shot at.
Actually, I'd already had a brush with combat in Korea. When we got there in June, 1963, the North Koreans had started sending over suicide squads. These guys would get across the DMZ, set up ambushes and try to kill as many U.S. or South Korean troops as they could before getting wiped out.
Since my battalion (the 3/81st artillery) was a high priority combat unit (we had nukes), we spent a lot of time in the field. For a while they sent us out on these field exercises with live ammunition. Just in case. This made for a lot of nervous teenage G.I.'s. Too nervous, it turned out. They took the live ammo away from us when the brass figured out we were more likely to create a friendly fire incident than run into the North Koreans.
Accounting and Wargames:
I decided it was time to grow up and went off to college (Pace University) to become an accountant. I was young and foolish and what did I know. By 1966, the G.I. Bill had been restored and Uncle Suger was now willing to pay a large chunk of my college tuition. I also realized that, while I had a taste for accounting (I even caught an error in a final exam once) it was better (as one recent Pace grad had told me) "to count your own money than someone else's." I was on the Dean's List and figured it was time to move up in the world. So I applied to transfer to Columbia, New York City's own chapter of the Ivy League. I was accepted and finished my college career at Columbia.
Before I graduated from Columbia (in 1970), I got involved in wargames again. The sole publisher of those games, Avalon Hill (now a part of Hasbro), asked me to design a game in 1966. That game, Jutland came out in 1967. Meanwhile, they asked me to do another (1914), which came out in 1968. A year later I began my own game publishing company (Simulations Publications, Inc, or SPI). I did it because I thought there was a better way to do these things and what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Writing and Wargaming:
What I really wanted to do was write books. I was a history major up at Columbia and graduated with honors in that subject. But SPI took off and I ended up running it for eleven years. I found this to be a great experience. My father ran a saloon for half a century, so as a kid I picked up the basics of running a business. But during my years at SPI I developed a lot of additional skills. I learned how to set up computer systems and manage software developments. And then there was cost accounting, project management in general, advertising marketing and promotion. I also found I had a knack for public speaking. It was also during that time that I began to appear on television and radio as a news analyst. I also came to realize that there would never be much money in the wargame business. My market research revealed that, while our actual and potential customers were well educated and upscale economically, there were simply not very many of them. I could see that eventually the personal computer would be able to handle wargames, asnd widen the market, but that would not happen until the mid or late 1980s. Then in 1979, I was asked to write a book on wargames (The Complete Wargames Handbook). I did. And in 1980 I got a contract for a book on warfare (How to Make War.) I also got to know some gamers who worked on Wall Street in the late 1970s. One thing led to another and I left SPI in 1980 to write more books and get into modeling financial markets and all manner of interesting projects. Been doing that ever since.
I was not able to get away from wargaming, though, as much as I tried. I had made a bit of an impression while I was at SPI and kept getting requests to do more wargaming type stuff through the 1980s and 90s. I gave in from time to time.
In 1982 I accepted an invitation from Georgia Tech to come down and lecture at the annual course they gave on wargaming. Been doing that ever since.
In 1985, Ray Macedonia (who had called me in during the late 1970s and early 1980s to help re-establish wargaming at the Army War College) asked me to build a tactical combat model to see how robotic mines would work. Ray had since retired and was working as chief scientist at AVCO (now Textron). So I did that one.
Various Department of Defense and State Department agencies called on me to give lectures or just have a chat. In 1998, Ray Macedonia's son Mike, a West Point grad and now chief scientist at STRICOM (the Army's wargame development operation) asked me to join their Technical Advisory Board. In 1989, I got involved editing a military history magazine (Strategy & Tactics)which was the one I ran while at SPI. Did that, remotely from NYC, for 18 months. During the 1980s I got several job offers from these outfits. But moving to Washington DC was not my idea of a good time and the financial modeling business in New York was good.
New York New York:
Being in New York also got me on television and radio a lot. There weren't many retired generals in the New York area that could explain military affairs in plain English. I could, and starting in 1976, I got called on to do a lot of color commentary on military affairs.
In 1989, I got involved in developing online games, and that continues. Pretty interesting stuff. I still do books, one or two a year.
And whatever else I can get away with.
I live in Manhattan, and one of these years, I'm really going to plant a garden in my back yard. Scotch ivy and an evergreen tree just don't cut it. Sundry girlfriends have volunteered to come over and show me how, but I find that just interferes with my writing.
It also dawned on me several years ago that I had never bought a TV set. Gotta do that one of these days. And get a drivers license. I had one in the army and it was pretty neat. But I tended to get lost in thought while driving and almost came to grief because of it several times.
What were you expecting, autobiography?.
To find out more about playing wargames and have some fun, learn more about the Hundred Years War, designed by Albert Nofi and me, plus a list of games I designed and more links.
-- Jim Dunnigan
March 21, 1999