Guns or Butter

Leaders decide the future of their country, how will they allocate their resources.

What happens in Guns or Butter?

Participants serve as leaders of nations who try to increase the real wealth of their country and at the same time make sure that it is secure from attack by other nations. Participants can trade agricultural and industrial assets, form common markets, establish alliances, defend themselves and attack other nations. Students get deeply involved in this simulation. It is one of our easiest simulations to play.

What makes Guns or Butter unique?

Guns or Butter will help the students understand current events at a visceral level. It’s one experience for a student to see a news report on North Korea’s plan for nuclear development, it’s quite another to see such a report and be able to feel as though you’ve been through a similar experience and can understand the pressures felt and decisions that leaders made in creating the situation.

Who is it for?

It can be used with bright 5th graders through adults. It is especially fitting for classes in social studies, international relations, American and world history, conflict resolution, negotiation, globalization, fair trade and international economics.

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What does Guns or Butter teach?

  • That communication, negotiations, trade and an international peace keeping system are very important for the prevention of war.
  • That everyone suffers in a nuclear war.
  • The cost of war can often be so high that virtually no one wins.
  • An escalating crisis very often leads to misperceptions, tunnel vision and irrational behavior which compounds the crisis.
  • If we are to have a more secure world, an international organization may be necessary to settle disputes, provide for arms control and inspect for disarmament.
  • That it is easy to get a war started, but difficult to end.
  • That when a country starts a war, they may not get the war they planned for.
  • That when one nation conceals arms, it often creates a fear in other nations which is very contagious.
  • That fear and insecurity among nations increases the chance of war.
  • That international trade and common markets can be conducive to more peaceful relations.
  • That it is very difficult for a nation to maintain a decent standard of living — butter — in the present international system when so much must be spent on national “security” — guns.

How has Guns or Butter been used?

To help students understand these core questions:

  1. How an arms race gets started?
  2. How do we control the spread of nuclear weapons?
  3. How can the system be changed to promote peace?

Note: Guns or Butter was popular during the Vietnam War. We’ve revised it and reissued it as a way of helping students understand current events, especially the Iraq war, the nuclear weapons programs of Iran and North Korea.

How long does Guns or Butter take?

Guns or Butter requires one and one-half hours to play. It can easily be divided into two or more periods.

How many participants does Guns or Butter accommodate?

Guns or Butter can accommodate from 6 to 35 students.

How much preparation is required?

Twenty to thirty minutes for the experienced person.

Are any consumable forms or special equipment needed?

The kit is reusable and contains everything needed to run the simulation.

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