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The Turks are taken hostage. India and Pakistan are on the brink of nuclear war. And the the threat of terrorism is exploding all over the world.

Sound like the latest crisis for the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

Not last Saturday. That was the task left to more than 80 Penn History students who participated in a "war game" at the ROTC Armory on the Drexel University campus.

The interactive simulation is a key part of Professor Arthur Waldron's courses in military history, and it gives Ivy Leaguers -- traditionally schooled in textbook diplomacy -- the chance to become battle-tested generals for the day.

"Students get the experience of making decisions in real time, under conditions of uncertainty," Waldron explained. "They learn not everybody is your friend and not everybody is telling the truth."

Split into "country teams" -- ranging from Armenia to Uzbekistan -- the student commanders employed several different strategies to respond to scenarios laid out by Waldron and retired army Colonel Ed O'Dowd, who now coordinates similar exercises for the Department of Defense.

In a series of rounds, the students submitted both public and covert moves to Waldron and O'Dowd. They, in turn, analyzed the impact of those strategic decisions and then briefed the entire group on how the "war game" was unfolding.

The student teams plotted intense bombing schemes, organized propaganda campaigns, forged defensive alliances and, in a few cases, even sent spies to gather intelligence on the other country teams. Other groups, however, tried to negotiate peace accords.

"I've done Model United Nations a lot, but this is a lot of more interesting," noted College sophomore Nate Berry. "We can take other actions besides making agreements and international treaties."

By the end of the afternoon, many of the student generals seemed to have taken to their roles, adopting a sense of nationalism and pride for their country team.

"Don't mess with us," warned one member of the Pakistani contingent. Their ambitious endgame strategy included sending suicide bombers to India with nuclear suitcases, waging biological attacks on major American cities and then bombing Iran -- all the while publicly proclaiming their desire for peace.

The United States team, despite its presence as a superpower, sat back for most of the game and was ineffective at de-escalating the violence.

"All this stuff is plausible," Waldron told the students at a debriefing session afterwards, even if it might never play out in real life.

But regardless of the realism, both O'Dowd and Waldron said they hoped the experience brought the battlefield to life, giving students a sense of war they couldn't get in the traditional classroom.

"I hope they draw conclusions of the complexity in resolving international conflict and the fragility of peace," O'Dowd said.

And most of the students felt they did -- especially those who got the opportunity to see things from another country's perspective.

Still, even United States team member Dan Katz, an Engineering sophomore, found his experience valuable.

"It gives us some realistic insight on the decisions leaders face on a day-to-day basis," the Engineering sophomore said.

Both Waldron's class -- History 160 -- and the war game have seen a surge in popularity among students since Sept. 11. And Waldron said he hopes to expand the program -- and perhaps even sponsor an Undergraduate War Game club -- in future years.

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