As the furor over whether or not 4e represents a major departure from D&D's roots has raged, lots of people haveturned OD&D in an effort to find support for their own position in this argument. In many cases, the people turning to OD&D have neither firsthand experience playing the game nor any knowledge of the history and culture of the early days of the hobby. Consequently, they view OD&D through a modern lens that leads them astray.
Case in point: the subtitle of OD&D. "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures." Those words are included on the cover all three little brown books and on Supplements I through IV. On the face of it, the words "fantastic medieval wargames" would seem to imply that, from the beginning, D&D was nothing more than a military simulation, albeit one with fantastical elements, such as magic and dragons. If so, this might support the notion that focusing on tactical combat is in fact a return to the game's roots rather than a flight from them.
My own feeling is that it's a mistake to interpret the word "wargames" too narrowly. What people forget, living as we do in a post-D&D world, is that there was no such thing as a "roleplaying game" in 1974. Or rather, "roleplaying" was something actors and psychologists did; it wasn't a form of entertainment as we think of it today. Indeed, I don't recall the words "roleplaying game" appearing anywhere in the entire OD&D corpus. Consequently, it means little that Gygax and Arneson did not dub their new game a RPG.
But why call it a "wargame" if it's not focused primarily on combat? As I said, it's a mistake to interpret "wargame" too narrowly. Certainly nowadays the term refers almost exclusively to military simulations, but was that the case in 1974? If you look at the hobby culture out of which D&D arose, you'll immediately notice the import part played by Dave Wesley's Braunstein games in expanding the definition of "wargame" to include non-military endeavors. Of course, this expansion had already occurred earlier in games like Diplomacy, which, while involving military matters to some degree, was not exclusively focused on them.
My point is simply that one shouldn't make too much of the fact that OD&D calls itself a "wargame," because, at the time of its publication, "wargame" was a very broad term that encompassed a lot of different games, including several that had proto-roleplaying elements. Imagine if, at some future date, someone invented a new entertainment medium that transmitted images directly into one's brain. Imagine further that, despite the novelty of this medium, people call entertainments that use it "movies" or (better yet) "films." This medium is not at all like a motion picture technologically, but it functions analogously to the way movies do, except that there's no projector and no screen involved. This is why OD&D was initially dubbed a wargame -- it was most like that category of games then called wargames, even if it was in fact something quite different.
In short, D&D isn't and never was a wargame in the sense we understand the term now. It was, however, an outgrowth of the wargaming hobby, a hobby that was a lot more expansive and varied than people today might think. This is why I think it's vital that we study the history of not just our hobby, but of its "big brother" as well. Without such study, you're in the same position of people who try to interpret Shakespeare while employing 21st century definitions for his vocabulary -- you're going to misinterpret a great deal.