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I've read this story in the 1990's, but I know that it was older than that, probably from the 60's or 70's.

In the story, the world is united under one government that is run by scientists, and most of the problems plaguing humanity have been solved thanks to advances in science and efficient resource management by the ruling council of scientists.

However, humans have become too dependent on it, and the world government realizes that they must do something about it. They end up organizing a reenactment of D-Day, with strict rules about the technology available to both sides and the help they can get, up to really executing spies caught.

What I remember from the book, possible spoilers if you haven't read it before:

The book opens with an astronaut on vacation being unable to land the small plane he was piloting because he wasn't getting any instructions. It was a clear sunny day, the astronaut had done that a thousand times before, there was nothing difficult, yet he couldn't land the plane. They had to create stormy conditions, with heavy cloud cover and rain, then guide him with precise instructions to finally make him land.

More similar events happen, making the government realize that something was wrong, and they quickly figure it out then get to work looking for a solution and end up with the idea of reenactment, in live conditions, of D-Day and everything that led to it. D-Day was chosen because it would involve and interest the whole world, even those not actively participating in it.

They set up the two sides plus a corps of arbiters to watch what is being done and ensure that no one is cheating by using technology or knowledge that wasn't available at the time, and is thus forbidden. Of course, and intense game of spying and cheating begins about immediately.

The whole of Normandy is cordoned off for the reenactment, with only the participants allowed to be there, everyone else is evacuated.

The battle starts as it did in reality, with heavy bombardment and artillery fire from the fleet at sea. Then someone uses a biological weapon, causing the battle to be stopped by the arbiters as they try to determine if that could have existed at the time. They allow it and the battle resume, then someone drops a nuclear weapon on the battlefield, exterminating all combatants, followed by a single paratrooper who lands at ground zero, deploys the flag of his side as the sign of their victory and dies because of the radiation.

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    Wow. Someone realised that the gate was down
    – Valorum
    Dec 30, 2018 at 18:29

1 Answer 1

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This sounds like "Desperate Games", a 1971 novel by Pierre Boulle. (French title Les Jeux de l'esprit).

I read this ages ago. I can't remember the part about the astronaut trying to land, but I quite clearly remember the re-enactment that starts out following the rules of only using period-appropriate weapons only to have one side cheat with bio-weapons and the other going nuclear.

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  • This sounds close, but the few excerpts I could find online do not jog my memory at all. If you manage to find it online, I tried but only found excerpts or reviews, I could confirm whether it is the good answer or not.
    – Sava
    Jan 1, 2019 at 10:54
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    @Sava I have the book and it matches your description. For example in part 2 chapter 3 it has the bit about the astronaut (called Jim Barley) who can't land his plane. Jan 2, 2019 at 12:07
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    "The first accident happened to a man named Jim Barley, when he was piloting his private plane while on leave. An apparently absurd conversation had taken place between him and the control tower of the airport where he was to land. Unfortunately this conversation had not been recorded and it seemed to be so incoherent that many suspected a memory lapse on the part of the employee who had reported it. According to him, Barley had announced that he was incapable of carrying out the landing manoeuvres by himself, although his controls were working well and the visibility was perfect." Jan 2, 2019 at 12:09

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