PETER SHULMAN'S WAR | home
By Peter D. Shulman © 1997-- 2016
last updated 04 / 10 / 2016
As a child, I was not allowed to play with toys. My parents, both proffesionals, had only one ambition for a son of theirs and that was that I study, study, study! For an only child, this situation produced shyness, insecurity and loneliness. I made no friends in school, which made me the target of the bullies. I was sent to private school, located several towns away from my home, so that I had no local friends. When I came home from school each day, I was sent to my room to study. Nothing was allowed to be in my room that would distract me. I rebelled. I daydreamed. I invented worlds in my head and would lose myself in them. This made me a mediocre student. Since my IQ was in the 170 percentile range, the below average marks could only be my fault. The isolation, mental and very heavy physical abuse heaped on me during my formative years will not be detailed here, for they are not germane to this tale because somehow I overcame them. I will mention, however, that after my father's death I discovered that I am adopted. Despite much searching I still know nothing of my true origin except that it was a black market adoption and my birth certificate is entirely a forgery.
When I was seven years old, an aunt gave me some oil-based clay. This was allowed because it was an art material, not a toy. My parents had made a mistake. They had allowed into my room an outlet, a window through which I could enter an imaginary world and leave this mental and physical confinment.
I was only given one toy of any type during my entire childhood. I taught myself how to make from the clay all the toys that I was never given. I began to create little worlds into which I could escape. Because I had only a pound or so of clay these had to be small and limited, but because the clay did not harden, I could make progressively more detailed settings within which to lose myself. The nature of the worlds that I created was combative. I had within me, by this time, so much anger, that was the natural direction taken by my art. At first I would just make little figures without any type of uniform and an object, such as a boat. Then men would try to board the boat, but there would only be room for half. They would fight hand-to-hand, no weapons. There were no sides then, just figure against figure. I was getting out my anger and this worked. When I was eight, I was allowed to go to several movies, all westerns. I began to sculpt cowboys, Indians, horse soldiers, ranches and towns. The good cowboys would fight the bad cowboys. The cowboys and soldiers would fight the Indians. I found some pins, so now I had rifles made of clay and pins. I then, for the first time, began to take the cavalry and Indians outside. I'd play war with these in the shrubbery around the house. Since my parents would think this a waste of good study time, I kept my wars secret. I felt this was something to be ashamed of. I was constantly afraid of being caught and punished. The shame and secretive nature of the war lasted for twenty-five years. When I was nine, I was given the only toy I was ever to receive. It was a metal model of a M4 Sherman tank. It was approximately 1/35th scale, which fit the size of the figures I had been sculpting. I made modern soldiers for the first time and began to play war in the garden with these soldiers. It was the first time I began to have two distinct armies of different colors. I played with these soldiers for about a year until one day, I went out and the soldiers and tank were gone. I always suspected an uncle who cleaned the grounds of having found them and thrown them away. I was so insecure about my game that I never said a word. I again played inside and did not war outside again for seven years. Since I didn't have a tank, I again began to make horse soldiers.
My father became very wealthy and at age eleven we moved to a new home and more privacy. I began at this point to make a larger army. I went to a public school in my neighborhood, so I began to make some friends. One day, I was playing at war with my soldiers and wishing my friends were there. I didn't tell my friends about the army. I was ashamed. I was convinced that people would think the war gaming was an immature, silly thing. I suddenly decided that I could play with my friends by simply sculpting an officer to represent the person I wished to play with.
I named an officer in command of a cavalry company after my friend, Steve Wilson. He was the first of the named soldiers and has been taking part in my wars for more than fifty years. At that point, the wars became more enjoyable. The next major milestone came when I was in my teens. I left the movies one Saturday afternoon, wandered into a hobby shop and discovered plastic models. I picked several tanks and began my first armored unit. My first cavalry became my first armored cavalry.
I did not do well in the local high school, so my parents sent me away to prep school. I couldn't take any models, but I made soldiers and had limited battles in the salt marshes near Oxford Academy in Pleasantville, New Jersey, and alone on embankments bordering the ball field at the Milford Academy in Milford, Connecticut. I war-gamed in the basement of my home during the summer vacations. It was during this period that I added my first aircraft; and created an air force. I had a brief stay in college and did not study, but I did play army on rock shelves on the campus of Brandeis University. A tour of duty in the army curtailed the war games for several years. After the service, I was working in New York City and living at home. I continued to build the army with armor, aircraft models and many clay soldiers, and play in the cellar. Then my father bought me a boat to pacify me after the death of my mother. I used it to wander the back channels through the salt marshes near my home. I found a small sand island deep in the marshes and I set up my army there. I played war on that island totally alone for two years. I named more officers at this point and was able to play with my friends without them knowing it. At this time, my art career started to take off and I traveled to many cities showing my work. I would go to my hotel room at night and build models and sculpt soldiers. I had small wars with my friends from home. After coming home, I again expanded the army. Since I did not have enough models to equip an expanding army, I sculpted airborne divisions so that I could include more friends. By this time, I had over seventy-five friends in the army. I created a large city diorama in the basement and had all the wars there.
In the sixties, I was racing sports cars and made many new friends who were put into the army. During this time, I married and put the army in boxes. I never mentioned the game to my first two wives. In fact, although I had been playing war with my friends for over fifteen years at this point, I still had told no one about the game. After my first divorce, I started spending my summers on Nantucket and had apartments in New York City. I played war in the sand on the island. I built up the equipment to a large extent. It filled a large walk in closet in my apartment. An incident in my apartment in New York City had a dramatic effect on my playing army. Richard Pryor, a comedienne, was in my apartment and saw some tanks. He asked about them and for the first time, I told someone about the game. He got excited and wanted to play. We played army together one evening. This put the thought in my mind that maybe I didn't have to be so ashamed of the army. I still kept it secret though and the insecurity remained. But, there had been an opening.
After getting married for the third time, I decided to leave the city. I moved to a farm upstate New York. The farm had 150 acres and I finally could have large wars. I increased the size of the Green Army (good guys) and Air Force dramatically. In the army, I only named Lt. Colonels and above so that the number of friends that I could play with was still limited. I overcame this by naming every pilot in the Air Force. I had been playing with some of these people for many years now even though I no longer had any contact with them. The wars on the farm in Salem, New York were wonderful. I built airfields and towns, had wide-ranging armor and infantry battles and flew aircraft over the hills and through the woods. I also began to build up the Gray Army (bad guys). I named no one in the Gray Army. It was just the enemy. Many friends visited the farm in Salem and I began to openly show them what I was doing. It was a major step for me. I was no longer ashamed of my war gaming. What I discovered was that not only didn't I have to be ashamed, but almost all the people that visited the farm were fascinated. When I explained the army and naming the officers, they were interested, delighted and really got into it. Everybody wanted to be in the army. The wars in Salem went on for four years, they spread over large areas. I sold the farm and purchased a large home in the Florida Keys. Though the property was only one acre, it was private and I used the time there to conduct some battles and again increase the size of the army.
Next, I purchased a home on seventy acres in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire and spent the next eleven years there. The land was mostly wooded and had large areas of pine forest. This type of growth was the best for conducting wars and I created many fixed locations, such as air bases, towns and forts. During my time in Wolfeboro, the army again increased in size dramatically. The Green Army now had so many divisions in action that I could create corps, armies and army groups, promoting many of the friends who I had been playing with for years. This made room for new officers to enter the army. I created a system of making pilots in the Air Force the entry-level position and promoting from there. All new officers to join the army come from the Air Force. The number of friends that I was playing with reached over three hundred during this period of time. It was while I was having wars in Wolfeboro that I discovered that a few of the friends I was playing with had died in real life. I made the decision to retain these people in the army. Since the friends that where killed in battle in my war games were automatically reborn to fight again the next year (nobody dies), I saw no reason to forego the pleasure of their company. It was during this period of time that another phenomena began to occur. I began to get calls from people who knew about the war gaming and their participation. They called not only to say hello, but also to specifically inquire as to how they were doing and how the war games were progressing.
By the end of the eleven years in New Hampshire, the number of hand sculpted soldiers in both the Green (good guys) and the Gray (bad guys) Armies had reached over twenty five thousand. The number of aircraft exceeded four hundred and the number of vehicles, over one thousand. I had to add new sculptures each year. The oil-based clay that gives flexibility is also very appealing to some small animals. Many days when I go out to play, I will find dozens of clay soldiers that have been chewed up by small animals. Chipmunks and squirrels are the chief offenders, but I have seen skunks, foxes, raccoons, woodchucks and even deer sampling my fighting men. Porcupines have a nast habit of eating plastic aircraft. I once found two soldier figures in an old bird's nest. Of course these animals have as much right to emjoy the forest as I do so their damage is simply overlooked. This is a good point at which to mention the fact that the only witnesses to any battles over the years have been animals and birds. They tend to stop their travels through the forest to watch this strange human maneuvering items on the floor of the woods and flying aircraft through the trees. Though I let friends go to the woods to see the army I have never let anyone be around when I actually have the wars. During the time that I war gamed in Wolfeboro, the only theft of the army occurred. I went out one day and found that some fifteen pieces of equipment and about two hundred soldiers had been stolen from the woods. I felt totally violated and went to the police. Policemen came to the woods to see what I was talking about. They were amazed. They kept saying things like, "This is unbelievable". The theft went unsolved, but word got around. I began to be asked about the war. The attention made me uncomfortable. I never minded discussing the army with people that were in it, but I did not like talking about it with people who weren't. During this time several TV stations and a film producer asked if they could film the army, I decided that if a film were ever to be made of the army, it would be done right, so I declined their offers.
I left Wolfeboro and moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts so that I could get on with my career as an artist. I was painting every day during the eight years that I spent on the Cape and was traveling all over doing shows, so I could not really play with the army much. The last four years on Cape Cod, I set up a war game in a forest within the Nation Seashore. It was called Beach Forest and I found an area back in the woods where no people ventured. This was great war-gaming on a limited scale. When I left Cape cod, I left behind many soldiers and a few vehicles and aircraft in the forest. They are probably still there. I made many new and interesting friends on the Cape who have since been incorporated into the army. This might be a good place to mention that I purposefully left behind men and equipment when I left the farms in Salem and Wolfeboro, just a few to mark the fact that war had been played there.
When my father died, I left Cape Cod and moved back to Lawrence, Long Island for a year so that I could sell the old house. I was once again playing army in the cellar where I had played so many years earlier. During the year in Lawrence, I sculpted over fifteen thousand new figures for both armies and added over eight hundred new pieces of equipment. I knew that when I sold the house, I would buy a new farm, so I used this time to prepare the army for the battles to come. It felt rather strange playing army and having infantry battles in the clay towns that I had built and hidden so long ago. In 1992, I sold the house and after a long search, found a beautiful farm in upstate New York (see the contact headquarters page). The summer of 2008 will be the sixteenth year of war-gaming on this farm. The battles have become large and wonderful, and I spend my summers playing with my friends and acquaintances, some new, some from long ago. The size of the Green Army became so big that I was running out of people to name.
I decided in 1993, for the first time, to name women to active positions in the army. I had always kept a list of appropriate women, both friends and lovers, for eventual inclusion in the army. There are now well over one hundred fifty women named to active positions. The women are all pilots in the Air Force. They fly fighters, attack aircraft, reconnaissance planes and transports. Unfortunately, there are many women who I remember fondly but whose full names I have forgotten, they are not included but I would love to hear from them and then include them. I have begun naming to positions in the Green Air Force a few people who have written to me after seeing this site or who I have met on the web. They share with me their fasinating stories which in many cases are very close to mine. I feel close to these people so now play army with them.
The battles on the new farm take place on wooded hills. One side defends the hills, the other attacks. Moving the armies across the streams and up the hills is lots of fun and pausing to sit and just listen to the running stream and watch the animals is truly enjoyable. At the end of each day of war gaming, I record briefly what occurred in an after action report. At the end of each season I write a fairly detailed history of that summer's war. In this way, I have a record of who did what, which friends won or lost battles, which pilots scored kills, which were shot down. These records help generate promotion lists and have created over the years, histories of different officers' participation in the wars. The equipment levels of the two sides continue to grow. There are over twelve hundred (1400) jet aircraft in 1/48 scale and more than three thousand five hundred (3,700) vehicles in 1/35 and 1/32 scale. Every year about one hundred new pieces of equipment are added. At this time, in January, 2012, there are seven hundred and fifty two (752) named friends and acquaintances in my army and approximately sixty thousand (60,000) sculpted clay figures.
This might be a good point at which to mention my sculpture classes for children. In the late 1970s, I saw an ad for children's summer sculpture classes. They where given for money. I decided that children should not have to pay to learn so I decided to give free sculpture classes. I got a local bank to agree to sponsor the classes and a church to let me use their basement. Within a few weeks I had over 100 children attending the weekly classes. I simply told them that whatever they could see in their minds or with their eyes could come out through their fingers into the clay. I use oil-based clay so that they can keep what they make and rework it at home. During the last 30 or so years, I have taught more than 5000 children how to make their own toys, basically what I taught myself so long ago. I use the same clay, called permoplast made by the American Art Clay Company, that I have been using since I was a child in the 1940s. The classes have been given in many states. I go almost anywhere I'm invited to give them. The only thing I insist on is that they be free. It has been a very rewarding thing to do. Ok back to the war.
Old and new friends who come to the farm to see themselves at war can take their figures home. I just re-sculpt them and they are back in action. I still play the war games alone. Though many of the people that I play with know about the war and are allowed to go to the woods and see it I do not let them physically participate. Since the time that I let one person play with me in the New York City apartment, I have never let anyone be present when I am actually playing war. However my two dogs, Willie and Reba, do watch over me while I play the game and keep the coyotes and black bears away. Peter's War has been played in 17 locations in 8 states and 3 countries. All the shame and secretiveness is over. Putting this on paper and now on the web is the final opening up of my wars. Maybe someone will approach me to write the book or make a film. There is so much detail and many more interesting facts to this story that I have not written here. I think I'm ready now. I have no idea where many of my companions in the game are now, but I wish them all well. It's been great playing the war with them over the years. So, on goes my war in which "nobody dies". I suppose it will not end until I do.
Peter D. Shulman Copyrights registered in April 1997, May 2000, December 2003. January 2005, February 2011, January 2014, January 2016
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