Thursday, 2 March 2017

Play the Game - Chess and War Games.

I like chess although I have to laugh when I say that.  I have a wooden chess table at home and I have all the pieces. I know how each of the pieces move, how they are able to take their opponents pieces and I know how to turn a pawn into a queen by manoeuvring it safely to the opposing side of the board. I have dabbled in the game but haven't ever been taught to play and have never really studied chess moves in great detail. I love the board, I love the shape of the pieces and I love the connotations of bishops, knights, castles, kings and queens. It all takes on Arthurian splendour in my mind and poetically, I am back reading The Lady of Shalott, that poor lass trapped in a tower and only able to view the outside world reflected in a mirror. 
 
I remember two of the songs from the soundtrack to Chess, the musical  by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA and with lyrics by Tim Rice but haven't actually seen the show. The story involves a politically driven, Cold War-era chess tournament between two men, an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster. It focusses on their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any real individuals, the characters were loosely on American grandmaster Bobby Fischer, while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.
 
The Americans and Russians took chess very seriously. I have recently read a novel by Walter Tevis: The Queens Gambit, tells the story of a young female chess prodigy who finds herself at the top level of international chess competition. Even with little my meagre knowledge of the game,  I found the book riveting. A true page turner. I highly recommend it to all of you, regardless of gender. What I found truly fascinating was the idea of involvement by radical Christian organisations in funding US participants at the highest level of the game, to go and thrash communists on their home turf.
 
The Defense(sic)Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (sic)responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. DARPA was created in February 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Its purpose was to formulate and execute research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science, with the aim to reach beyond immediate military requirements.
 
 DARPA was created in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957 and its mission is to ensure U.S. military technology would be more advanced than that of the nation's potential enemies.
It is interesting that in 2007 Darpa named its project to develop a super-intelligent battle computer, system Deep Green, apparently in homage to the Deep Blue computer program that beat US grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a notorious defeat. This I am told must be counted as one of the two most famous chess matches in history, the other being Bobby Fischer's match against Boris Spassky in 1972. 
 
That 1972 match in Reykjavik highlighted the role of chess in a different sort of conflict: The Cold War. For the Soviet Union, supremacy at the chess board was a demonstration of the superiority of their socialist system over the Western capitalist one. Chess has the reputation of being "the touchstone of the intellect." The strategic significance of this apparently individual battle between a single American and a single Russian was only emphasised further by the intervention of National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, who personally called Fischer to persuade him not to abandon the match. 
 
 
 
I wonder at the roles that governments take in all our lives, how their play strategies affect their decision making processes and how much of our future is decided by power brokers moving us, like chess pieces on the board.  My poem was written in 2010 and as such is an early work but remarkably still relevant. 
 
 
Black and White

Match One

The black and white landscape was evenly checked
With all of the pieces lined left to right
White held the power: black was suppressed
Mr Smith slept safe in his bed at night.
Knights in their castles, bishops supreme
forced pawns in fields to fill the world’s basket
Freedom for black an unrealisable dream.
The West looks on with admiration
at White African domination.

Match Two

The White Queen hands over independence.
New strategies come into play.
The elections bring black domination
as Smith’s regime is chased away.
Blacks move into power positions
freedom and fairness proclaim the day.
Equality and education.
Black and white in unison sway
The West smiles on in admiration
But the white man’s grave is dug today.  

Match Three

New Black king charges veteran knights
to take white castles forcibly.
An exodus begins in earnest
as prosperous farmers start to flee.
But what of the incumbant tenant?
He went to war, He does not know
the art of furrow, farm and planting
He cannot reap – he did not sow.
The West looks on with consternation
Reports are daily in the press
violent black-white confrontation
Not our problem – not our mess. 

Match Four

'Give us this day our daily bread.'
No grain to sell – barely a crust.
Economy blowing in the wind,
Howling inflation – no hope just dust.
Black divided by poverty
Demands a new democracy
to depose dictatorial tyranny.
They cry to the king, set our people free.
The West looks on impotently.

Match Five

Election holds out a hand of corruption.
Opposition simply chased away
Defeat allows wanton destruction
Homes are demolished, men taken away.
The West stands back to watch this happen:
Children left to roam the streets
where sewage runs in evil rivers.
And Cholera breeds beneath their feet.

Check Mate

Disease overwhelms the chess board now
where once grew pride’s prosperity.
A lost generation - no education
No exports for income – just food aid now.
The West allows a vain dictator
to consume Zimbabwe and spit out the husk.
To torture, to murder, to stay in power.
The darkness is falling: already it’s dusk.

Post-Match Analysis

It seems all black and white to me.
No oil. No gas. No intervention.
The West observes in perpetual stalemate.
No chance for a cure, too late for prevention. 

Thank you for playing along, and of course reading.  Adele   
Reactions:

0 comments: