On Saturday, April 11, St. Olaf’s Model United Nations Club put on a World War I simulation, where attendees represented different factions involved in the conflict, specifically in the time immediately following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The simulation was designed to actively engage students in the study of history and government by allowing them to take a direct role in the conflict and make choices that directly influenced the course of the simulation.
The Model United Nations Club is a student-run organization that seeks to enrich the study of social science through the simulation of real-life government and political dynamics.
“It allows you to work with real-world issues in a much more hands-on way than you would in a class or through independent study,” Alex Luna ’18 said.
The group occasionally competes in larger Model United Nations conventions, including an annual conference in Chicago. Members of the group meet every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., and are open to any interested students who wish to try their hands at political negotiation.
This most recent simulation placed participants in the roles of specific cabinets of government, including ministers of the interior, war, economy and foreign relations. Each of these positions came with its own powers, outlined on a sheet of paper. These were unique to each player and contained information about specific positions and countries.
Due to the size of the simulation, three countries – Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia – were controlled by four active participants, with the remaining countries simulated by administrators. Many actions required the approval of all four cabinet members, but other actions could be enacted by individuals alone. These powers allowed for complex decision-making among team members creating the possibility of conflict and in-fighting among factions. This system also gave a certain degree of power to each participant, so that no one was left powerless.
The experience was structured so that the different groups were placed in their own rooms, emphasizing a certain separation where deliberation was mostly isolated from the other groups. Important declarations were shared, through Google Docs, to the other groups, but most were kept secret, unless shared in face-to-face interactions with a representative from another country. Essentially, players were left somewhat to their own devices, being fed information that was either particularly pertinent or directly requested regarding the social context of the conflict, but mostly ignorant of what was happening outside of their own assigned countries. This added a sense of gravity to the decision-making process, and made the consequences of these decisions unpredictable.
The simulation heavily emphasized historical realism, and all participants were offered a fair amount of context regarding the dynamics of the conflict. Members of each country had objectives both to protect themselves and to maintain national peace, and the simulation was framed so as to make war likely but not inevitable.
The choices offered in the simulation truly did hold weight. Not only was their the possibility that war could be prevented, but also almost all aspects had the capacity to follow a different path from that of history. Despite this potential, the simulation offered a perspective to history that made it fairly clear how WWI began. Despite participants’ efforts to end diplomatically, the objectives offered for each country made it very difficult to avoid war, something that ultimately appeared necessary.
Ultimately, simulation participants were able to prevent a full-blown world war. There was still conflict in central and eastern Europe, but major world powers, like the United Kingdom, were kept out of the war and prevented escalation.
The simulation, despite its relatively basic structure in regard to actual government, served to offer a realistic depiction of history. This engagement was not only a learning opportunity, but also was a fun and exciting opportunity to interact with other students and to learn about an event in history that still resonates today. This type of simulation can be applied to any event in history, allowing for the accommodation of a variety of students interests in regard to politics and government.
The simulation was more or less a game that required the use of skills that apply to many fields of study offered at St. Olaf. Students were encouraged to talk clearly and effectively, and put into consideration the ultimate benefit of their country while working with a group of likeminded peers.
Beyond everything else, this simulation was a very enjoyable experience where participants were given an opportunity to test their wits while working through history to a common goal.