“War is like a chess game – operated by a few key people, everyone else doing what they are told.” “In war, who is the real enemy? The real enemy is war itself.” War is “preserving democracy, not practicing it.” Crimson Tide

I was talking with some army boys at a party on the weekend. You know, a casual debate about whether or not Saddam Hussain and Osama Bin Laden were once on the CIA payroll. Academic Scholarship vs Military Intelligence. Justice vs Defence. Peace vs Violence. It got just a little bit heated.

It’s crazy when you live in a world where you don’t know which source you can trust. My source was Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned professor from Columbia University in New York. Sachs says the US has:

‘thrown elections though secret CIA financing, put foreign leaders on CIA payrolls, and supported violent leaders who then came back to haunt the United States in a notorious boomerang or “blowback” effect (including Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, both once on the CIA payroll).’[1]

Sach also summarises the historically ‘notorious acts of U.S. unilateralism’ including:

‘The CIA-led overthrows of several governments (Iran, Guyana, Guatemala, South Vietnam, Chile), the assassinations of countless foreign officials, and several disastrous unilateral acts of war (in Central America, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Iraq).[2]

But hey, I suppose even world-renowned scholars may not have access to the same kind of army intelligence… I guess there is no way to know… So much for democracy…

What I really got out of this conversation was a reminder of the widespread approach to world relations that is not unlike a massive game of chess. A couple of powerful humans move groups of humans and weapons in a zero-sum game where the winner gets the oil, power and the money, and the loser and loser’s pieces, become the winner’s slaves.

Thousands of American troops are placed on bases in all the pivotal positions around the world. Massive little American states with thousands of troops and their wives and children, complete with schools, churches and shopping malls. I visited a couple in Japan as my boyfriend at the time was playing gaijin rugby matches there. It was like a mini trip home besides the very disappointing discovery that an American BBQ is nothing like an Aussie one (think McDonald “beef” patties on white starchy buns)…

Oops I got side-tracked. Back to the chess game.

So what I realised (and somehow remembered through my hangover the next day), is that these military bases and weapons, are positioned and used to manipulate the world however those in power so desire. They can use weapons to block off a channel between two countries and prevent their trade. They can use weapons to overpower governments who do not cooperate with their requests. Weapons are power. Money is power. And at the moment the power is on our side.

When looking at the world through a defense-oriented lens it is hard to imagine a world not dominated by subjugation and violence. It’s America’s turn to win a few games, with their pieces (including people in other western countries) the beneficiaries. Does it matter if Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were on the CIA payroll (which really truly the academic world believes to be so)? Does it matter if our governments initiate wars solely to secure oil (and hence weapons and power) and other resources (including human labour)? Would we westerners want it any other way? You see, if our governments do not support these conflicts, our luxurious western lifestyles (complete with stressful jobs, debts, and the perpetual dissatisfaction that materialism and capital acquisition brings) will be under threat. Believe it or not it in a capitalist world it is the consumers and capital acquisitionists who hold the power (if you have a bank account and own a computer, this includes you) – so we must ask ourselves: WHAT DO WE WANT???

Or forget it. Never mind. It’s only the hardest question in the world to answer… maybe it’s better not to think about it.

Playing by the rules of this game, I can imagine that before long China will have improved their chess-playing skills and take over as champion, with America becoming loser and westerners the world’s new slaves. In a world based on power and violence, this is a zero-sum game with winners and losers. So enjoy either we enjoy it while we are on top and await the tables to turn, or??? … Maybe, just maybe, is it possible to change the rules of the game?

I think so, and I’m going to my thoughts on that with you tomorrow.


[1] Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth : Economics for a Crowded Planet (London: Allen Lane, 2008). p. 12.

[2] Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth : Economics for a Crowded Planet (London: Allen Lane, 2008). pp. 11-12.

Picture credits:

Again one I found on my computer – if anyone knows it’s source please let me know.