Snowball fights are serious business as Washington D.C. Detective Michael Baylor found out recently. But we’ve been taking snowball fights seriously for years. Playing at war is one of the ways that we define a social hierarchy for ourselves as we grow up – how else are we going to know who the nerds are if we don’t see who is good at snowball fighting?  

Though we’re more like grizzled veterans these days, there is always still the hovering chance of a snowball fight breaking out after a bar, at a company retreat, or at the bar at the company retreat if you work here at Break. And, when it does, we’re going to be supremely prepared by this interview thanks to Adam Blackler’s tireless analysis of The Art of Snowball War.  

MM: So, what type of warfare would you most liken snowball warfare too?  It’s obviously not a push-a-button on one continent and win a war on another – it seems more medieval perhaps?

AB:  I would liken it to medieval in that "troops" were reliant upon the resources available.  While planning and strategy came into play, many a battle could be swung if one side commanded a strong leader.  I would also liken it to Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 – Bismarck successfully utilized a powerful army by employing a superior force against an enemy — "Politics is the art of the possible" Bismarck once said . . . meaning that he would take negotiations with Austria only so far.  The largest battle of at Koeniggraetz (July 3, 1866) and left the Austrians totally defeated. Bismarck succeeded in manipulating Austria into accepting Prussia as the most dominant force in the German states.  Snowball warfare is much the same: force the other side to make an aggressive, yet foolish, attack, defeat them, and then dictate what the peace will be.  Surprise, discipline, and technological advancements within Prussia were huge here, railroads were also key.  I could see snowball warfare as being dependent on unity within the attacking party and superior snowballs to that of their opponents


MM: I’m glad you brought up technological advancements.  Regarding manmade technology, there really isn’t a lot in the way of snow warfare.  This is one such example which performs worse than the average male arm. So, do you see technology shaping snow warfare in the coming years?  And, if not, what are some ways that warriors can gain a technological advantage of better snowballs, transport or defense?  

AB: I do see technology shaping the way wars are fought, but warriors shape HOW combat occurs with respect to the battle.  Case in point: our current conflicts in Iraq and especially Afghanistan.  With respect to snowball warfare, I feel that one has to be particularly brutal because snow is cold and often icy, meaning pain and suffering could be inflicted upon the opposing side.  This is where I see a correlation between the use of mustard gas in the First World War as a historical example. Mustard Gas was developed by the Germans to open a hole in the Western Front, but was never used with great coordination.  The result was its use for purposes of terrorism and brutality. I could imagine being hit in the face by a blast of icy snow, which would momentarily blind me and leave me open to attack or capture


MM: A terrifying prospect.  Let’s change the field of battle up a little bit.  Let’s say that one is not working with so powerful a force as Bismarck.  What would your advice be to a small contingent of snow warriors outnumbered, but in a fortified position?

AB: My advice would be for them to make an example of, if available, an enemy soldier in a public display of terror.  This would be especially useful for small bands of defenders, as opposed to large attacking forces, because fear will immediately be instilled within the invading force.  While still a large army, I am reminded of the defenders of Stalingrad in 1942 (who used snipers, public hangings, and the Gulag) and the VC in Vietnam (fear of capture) as an example of this. As soon as an attacking force begins to think twice about attacking a position, the defending city can emerge as a victor. Grant’s siege at Petersburg during our Civil War is another, yet contradictory, example of this. Grant knew that the public opinion of the North (before the election of 1864) was trending against continuing the war because of the high number of casualties.  The siege of Petersburg, while far from being the sole reason for turning this fact, was in some respect a response to the high casualties and the fear of public opinion.  Lee knew that this, following Gettysburg) was the only way for the South to win. It didn’t work, but almost did. It is the same thing that occurred in Afghanistan against the Soviets in 1979-1988 . . . it worked there


MM: Interesting – maybe some kind of horrifying Calvin and Hobbes Snow Effigies could be used to effect in this case.  The final battle scenario I’d like to discuss is that of the covert tactician.  A lone wolf that thirsts for justice, the blood of his enemies….whatever.  One man dismantling a larger, unsuspecting cadre.  How best would this be accomplished?

AB: "It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it."  Lee said this in response to the tremendous cost of soldiers lives during the Battle of Freddricksberg.  Even though he won, the actions of those in the Union’s Irish Brigade did much to affect Lee.  While bloodlust was not their goal, the want of liberty, freedom, ect. led the Irish Brigade to act as they did.  I see snowball warfare in much the same light. One man’s pursuit of final victory may inspire him to heroically ambush the opposing base/force with buckets of snow, knowing that certain "death" awaited.  He could then emerge as a martyr and his memory could lead to total victory.

Adam Blackler is working as a PhD student in the department of history at the University of Minnesota.  His emphasis is in modern German and Holocaust studies.