Friday, January 18, 2008

How Bobby Fischer Won the Cold War

I know I will get a lot of flack from my fellow conservatives for saying this, but it wasn't Ronald Reagan who won the Cold War; it was Bobby Fischer, who died today in Iceland at 64. Sure, Fischer, who was probably the greatest chess player who ever lived, was anti-Semitic (although his mother was Jewish), renounced his American citizenship after he was arrested in Japan for violating sanctions against the former Yugoslavia, and rejoiced on September 11 saying he wanted to "see the U.S. wiped out," but nobody is perfect. For me Bobby Fischer will always be an American hero.

Young, handsome, brash, spoiled, somewhat insane, Bobby Fischer became a role model for American youth when he beat Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Chess Championship. That this uncouth punk, playing a game most Americans didn't understand or care about, beat the cultured, pampered product of Soviet government largesse stunned the world. For one brief shining moment from July to September 1972 Americans huddled in their living rooms around their televisions debating the relative merits of the Sicilian Defense, the Queen's Gambit and Tartakover Variation. Fischer showed that an individual could triumph on his own merits and you didn't need government handouts to succeed. All you needed was confidence in your own genius, a big sense of entitlement and a lot of style. You can see the influence of Fischer not only in America's steroid-pumped baseball stars and Olympic athletes but even in the carefree arrogance of our own President.

When Fischer beat Spassky, America was at a low point in its history. The Vietnam War was winding to a close without any sign of victory. The American basketball team lost the Olympic gold medal to the Soviets in a controversial game that summer. Communist influence was on the rise. But Bobby Fischer showed the world that we Americans still had one weapon in our arsenal. That weapon was our faith that we are better than anyone else in the world and therefore we don't need to play by the world's rules and if you rile us we are just as liable to overturn the chessboard as we are to humiliate you in 41 moves.

Richard Nixon had once proposed to his aide Bob Haldeman a strategy for victory in Vietnam he called the Madman Theory. "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war," Nixon told Haldeman. "We'll just slip the word to them that, 'for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry -- and he has his hand on the nuclear button' -- and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace." But Nixon just talked about the Madman Theory. Bobby Fischer put it into practice. And Nixon was right. Just a month after Fischer proved how crazy Americans can be, the North Vietnamese agreed to end the war. Earlier that year the Soviets signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the United States, no doubt because Soviet chess players had already relayed reports of Fischer's nuttiness to their government officials. Seven years later the Soviets signed the SALT II treaty. Bobby Fischer was the closest contact the Soviets had with a real American and he terrified them. By the time Ronald Reagan arrived, joking about dropping the big one on Russia, the Soviets were already running scared. To them it seemed as if Bobby Fischer had been elected President of the United States.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said there are no second acts in American lives, but he was wrong. American second acts are played as farce. American genius is often too great for any one man to handle. Like Howard Hughes, Elvis and Tom Cruise, Bobby Fischer was always teetering just this side of complete and total looniness, so it is no surprise that he finally went all the way over. And yet he still managed to beat Boris Spassky again in their 1992 rematch.

The terrorists are probably too young to remember Bobby Fischer. But maybe there is a young American backgammon player out there who knows the game as well as Fischer knew chess. And maybe someday he will play the Arab world's champion backgammon player and he will complain about the lights and cameras and walk out in protest and generally cause a ruckus with his eccentricities. And then he will come from behind and crush their champion backgammon player. Maybe this young American backgammon genius will win the War on Terror the way Bobby Fischer won the Cold War.

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20 comments:

Carl said...

Sir Swift,

If there had been no Bobby Fischer, there would have been no Reagan, and therefore, no one for Barack Obama to praise when it comes to "turning the country around".

For that alone, and for thus ensuring a Huckabee victory, we should pause for a moment of silence for Fischer.

OutOfContext said...

I cannot support your praise of this man. As far as I'm concerned he died to me five years ago, when he said this about our President on Philippine radio:
"I've been studying this guy's face for a long time. He's an imbecile, he's an idiot, he's a jerk, he's a...whatever...and I'm thinking, 'what is the word that fits this guy?' and finally I...finally I think of it--he's a buffoon...Yeah, that's the word that fits this guy...He always has a...I mean really...he is borderline retarded...If it wasn't for his father he would have ended up on skid row or in a mental hospital or as an alcoholic or drunkard..."

Scaramouche said...

Longtime reader, first time poster...

This is by far your best analysis and conclusion - whether straight or ironic!

Fischer did more that Reagan or the Lake Placid Hockey Team to win the Cold War.

Not only was this match between chess titans seen world-wide, but it played in the good ol' CCCP as well.

It brings back youthful memories, he was the John McEnroe of chess, way before that metaphor existed.

I've thought, nay, rationalized his later behavior, was one goes nuts when treading on a level few will ever attain.

It's like some mathematicians, physicist,d or that guy from the film, "It's a Beautiful Mind," (with thoughts they are thinking) that they loose their minds. Maybe there should be a big caution sign: Curve ahead, don't think there!

Anyhow, the peoples of the Soviet Republics, must of quailed before the realization that the West could produce genius/crazies that could overthrow the best produced by their well-funded statist system, thus proving Nixon correct:)

To make it personal: I was a paperboy selling subscriptions, back in '72, and I remember using the sales pitch on an apartment where I saw a chess set "If you subscribe to our paper you can find out how to be a better chess player."

I got a new subscription.

trog said...

The screwy thing is - Mr. Swift may be right.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

The Russians dominated/monopolized Chess by preventing non-Russians from making the finals. Like an Iron wall,they fenced off other nationalities successfully by drawing games with fellow Russians for half a point; and would aid a countryman as seconds when facing a"foreigner". The Russians gave Chess a prominence that characterized the game as being for those with intellectual Superiority and those considered strategic geniuses; staking their reputation as a world power on the number of grandmasters they have versus any other country, and on the Chess Titles which have never left Russia.

Bobby Fischer comes along, studies all the Russian moves and game tactics, and singlehandedly pulverized the iron wall by beating 24 or so Russian grandmasters in succession.

At the Championship Tournament in 1972, he overturned all the rules and formal protocols of the Tournament to rile the Russians,destroy their composure, and ruin their game plan. The game could have been canceled or Bobby would have been declared in default, but with the help of FIDE delegates from the Philippines (F.Campomanes and E.Torre)intervening and arguing for the prestige of the game, no cancellation was made nor a declaration of default. His Philippine friends are the reason Bobby Fischer is close to the Philippines, which he called on the radio 5 years ago(as posted by outofcontext).

You're right in saying he was an eccentric( he hated the reference)and perhaps partly insane or on the verge of insanity. But what we recall of Bobby Fischer is his genius, his courage, and his rebellious nature that outraged the formal and hypocritical structures of our time.

He is a hero to me.You have done very well, as always, with this post. It brings out all sides to a complex and complicated human being. --Durano, done!

Distributorcap said...

good analysis -- i remember listening to the radio for reports from Reykavjik (sp?) about the Fischer-Spassky match, and i didnt even play chess.

fischer was big news and a big deal in the summer of 1972....

but his mental illness inevitably was his checkmate. then again we have a president who also is one rook short of a complete chess board

Concerned Citizen said...

Dear Mr. Jon Swift,

I wonder that you have not commented on the shocking tragedy in San Francisco in which a brave and endangered Siberian tiger named Tatiana ended up murdered because of the rude and irresponsible behavior of three young men with foreign-sounding names. Perhaps you have not been following the story like I and thousands of others have. But I am extremely gratified to read in the online comments section of the San Francisco Chronicle that the vast majority of San Franciscans agree with me -- without needing to know anything at all -- that these swarthy, ill-mannered immigrant types drove a beloved tiger to leap out of her grotto and attack them just at closing time on Christmas Day.
As so many others have pointed out, anyone can tell just by looking at their photographs that these alleged or possibly admitted marijuana smokers did something horrible to the tiger. I just urge you to compare the menacing, goateed faces of Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, and Paul Dhaliwal, 19, with that of precious Tatiana playing with her now bereft friend Tony -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/mumbleyjoe/2152758779/in/photostream). Those boys obviously did something fiendish to Tatiana. A witness heard them make roaring noises. One of them reportedly admitted that they stood up on the waist-high metal guard rail, within a few feet of the edge of the tiger grotto moat, and waved their hands around, no doubt wobbling and shouting. A pine cone and possibly a stick was found in the empty moat, although zoo officials were uncertain how long the pine cone and/or stick had been there. And of course their high-priced lawyer, showboater Mark Geragos, denies that they threw anything. But so far more than 83 percent of Chronicle readers who voted on the matter agree with me that these uncouth youths are solely responsible for what happened to them.
I can hardly imagine the torment of poor Tatiana having to endure that kind of abuse. It was growing dark and I’m sure she was really scared and upset because according to the zoo veterinarian, as reported in a police affidavit, the claws of her back feet were painfully broken and split, probably during her desperate struggle to climb out of that concrete moat to get at her tormenters. It’s a wonder that she waited so long, enduring so much (we don’t really know how much or how long but we can assume), before crossing over that thirty-foot wide or maybe only twenty-foot wide, sixteen or fourteen or twelve foot deep moat (how could anyone know if even the Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo didn’t know?) to defend herself and give those troublemakers their just desserts. Did I mention yet that one of those boys, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa, died right away, apparently trying to protect his friends?
Frankly, in my mind and the minds of many others, the most frustratingly incriminating thing is that the two brothers who survived haven’t told us exactly how the tiger did get out, except to say cryptically to the dead boy’s father that "when they got down [from balancing themselves on the railing – and it’s a wonder they managed to stand up there for even a second anyway given their alleged or assumed condition] they heard a noise in the bushes, and the tiger was jumping out of the bushes" onto 19-year-old Paul Dhaliwal. This would have been pretty terrifying for any normal American but especially for a possibly stoned ethnically exotic person, I imagine. I wouldn’t know myself exactly. Rumor has it that the surviving brothers have made a pact of silence that only mafia members or the obviously guilty make on the advice of their lawyers, leading many people to speculate that they did something extra sinister to help the tiger escape – like dangle a leg or an arm over the side of the moat wall, allowing the 243-pound tiger to grab on and hoist herself over the inwardly protruding edge. Tatiana is known to be attracted by human arms, as she almost chewed off the arm of a zookeeper a year ago when the woman offered her some meat for dinner. (I wonder if Tatiana might not have been underfed and a little hungry since then, as her weight had been previously reported as 350 pounds.)
The response of the city of San Francisco to this tragedy has been truly inspiring and it makes me think that Mr. Bill O’Reilly was too hasty when he offered up San Francisco as the next target for Al Qaeda’s suicide bombers. Or was it to the Taliban? In any case, I would have thought until this moment that both Al Qaeda and the Taliban would do a pretty good job of cleaning up San Francisco. But the San Francisco police have been doing an excellent job protecting city and zoo officials from criticism by looking for other crimes committed by these gangster-looking-like guys before and during their attack on the tiger. And the city attorney’s office also is on the right track focusing on the obvious culprits – that is the dead tiger abuser and his badly chewed-up accomplices. Their 2002 BMW and cell phones, which have been impounded, have been argued over in court and scrutinized for signs of criminal behavior. (I must say their taste in vodka – a bottle of Grey Goose was found in the car – is affected and highly suspicious but apparently they had not drunk very much of it as only one of the boys was legally drunk, according to police.) And just a few days ago newspapers reported that the police had charged one of the two brothers with some almost forgotten crime like elbowing a police officer, bringing their previous alleged scuffle or scuffles with police to everyone’s attention.
The much-maligned liberal media, I should add, have been very helpful in defending the city and the zoo and the tiger’s reputation, as everyone knows greedy, costly, lawsuit abuse is in the offing. Thankfully, most media have been focusing almost exclusively on the character and investigation of the swarthy-looking brothers Dhaliwal and their dead friend rather than on the upstanding and very highly paid zoo director or the respectable, well-mannered people who oversee the zoo from their coveted seats on the city Recreation and Park Commission and the board of the San Francisco Zoological Society. Mr. Mollinedo, the zoo director, is paid nearly $340,000 including benefits and expenses, which is 65 percent higher than the median American zoo director’s salary and much more than Vice-President Cheney and all the members of Congress are paid. If he is paid that much, he must be worth it, and frankly I think a zoo director deserves it more than any member of Congress but perhaps not more than the hardworking Mr. Cheney, who has a heart condition. A few people have criticized Mr. Mollinedo for not knowing the dimensions of the moat protecting zoo visitors from the tigers, for somehow allowing this to happen, for not having a plan in case it did happen, which is ridiculous. Why would anyone plan for the impossible or even the unlikely? How could anyone imagine such shocking behavior on the part of single young men on a holiday? Well-bred, highly paid zoo directors have so much to do, so many fundraisers and social gatherings to attend, and so many animals to worry about I can’t see how Mr. Mollinedo could know small details like the size of the moat or how high or far a tiger could leap or the fact that tigers have escaped out of that moat before. In any case, we have all come to understand that being a chief executive, even a president, in the United States means not having any idea what is going on beneath you and not being responsible for what anyone else does or anything that happens. It’s the little people who are responsible when things happen to them, not the big people who are so removed from actual events.
Not all the media are on board with defending the city and the zoo against further abuse from foreign-looking, goateed zoo visitors. Which reminds me – how did these fellows get into the zoo in the first place? The zoo used to be free and any sort of ill-bred riffraff could go. But they fixed that some time ago when they started charging $11 for admission. Are we seriously to believe that these fellows from San Jose, unaccompanied by their parents (who reportedly didn’t know where they were), paid the hefty admission to get in? We can all assume until we know better that these guys had limited means and no reported occupation (one brother allegedly tried selling kitchen utensils door-to-door and the deceased teen-ager was reportedly about to start selling newspaper subscriptions for the San Jose Mercury News). Are the police looking into whether they actually had an admission ticket? Wouldn’t that absolve the zoo of allegations of any responsibility, which the zoo didn’t have anyway, once someone starts roaring at the zoo animals?
These guys weren’t children. They wear beards and dark suits. Well, I guess Carlos Sousa was technically a minor but people with minority-sounding names are never really considered minors when accused of wrong-doing. As so many have pointed out, they were old enough to go to war. I believe they exhibited just the kind of thoughtless, reckless behavior the military looks for in young male recruits. They took the responsibility of coming to the zoo on their own. Shouldn’t they have known, as so many of Tatiana’s fans have pointed out, what could happen if they roared and stood on the railing and waved, attracting the attention of a man-eating Siberian tiger, one of the world’s deadliest predators, at dusk, which is apparently when tigers like to go hunting, and everyone else is leaving? Shouldn’t they have foreseen that the tiger might have been able to get out of her cage, even if the zoo director didn’t or didn’t want to think about it, or possibly had initiated a pioneering new laissez-faire, fingers-crossed, survival of the fittest zoo visitor policy, in keeping with our current political/social climate?
Honestly this potential outcome is just common sense for people like you and me. My own cat, who is only maybe 2-3 feet long stretched out from toe to toe, easily leaps up more than six feet from a crouching position. Tatiana was, like, eight or nine feet long. I guess it wouldn’t have been that hard for her to do 12 feet plus a few inches, or twenty or twenty-five feet straight across, if she wanted to. Good for her.
Zoo visitor Jennifer Miller tells the SF Chronicle that even Carlos Sousa seemed embarrassed by his friends’ behavior. Ms. Miller was standing there in front of the big cat area on that day with her children and husband. She says the Dhaliwals or somebody like them were behaving so loudly and boisterously that Sousa, who was not roaring or misbehaving, “kept looking at [her] apologetically like, 'I'm sorry, I know we are being stupid,’” and she and her family were forced to move on.
As many insightful commentators have commented, most people have been strolling back and forth in broad daylight in front of the tiger grotto with screaming children, tempting tigers by holding up chubby babies, for some sixty years without seeing any tigers jump out. So obviously those San Jose fellows did something really bad, much more than what Paul Dhaliwal told Carlos Sousa’s mother: "We didn't do nothing. We were just normal kids in the zoo."
As for the support of the media for polite, respectable people, the San Francisco Bay Guardian is the only newspaper that I have read with the audacity actually to question zoo authorities, imply that the ill-mannered boys themselves are not to blame, and report that tigers actually have escaped from the grotto at least three times in the last sixty years. This is surely news to Director Mollinedo, who by the way also has a foreign-sounding name, which will doubtless prove to be a factor if he is ever found responsible for anything.
Obviously the Bay Guardian is some kind of far-left liberal rag. Reporter Craig McLaughlin, who pretends to be some kind of expert, wrote a lengthy article laughably claiming that tigers have been leaping back and forth across the same moat for decades, which couldn’t be completely true or some more established newspaper would have reported it and the zoo maybe would have done something about it. McLaughlin wrote that a few years ago a Bengal named Jack was seen wandering outside the grotto by zookeepers Jack Castor and John Alcaraz, who yelled at Jack and he jumped back in. In 1959 a zoo volunteer named David Rentz, an entomologist now retired in Queensland, standing with the then zoo director, saw a tiger fly across the moat and back into the grotto “all in one graceful movement.” And in 1997 a woman named Marian Roth-Cramer, standing before the grotto with her small child, saw a tiger leap over the moat, she told the SF Chronicle recently. The tiger hung on for a while and then slid back into the moat. A nearby zookeeper told Ms. Roth-Cramer that the tiger frequently did that because the tiger hated his guts. Ms. Roth-Cramer wrote a letter of complaint to the then zoo director, cancelled her membership, and I guess she never went back if it really happened.
Numerous people have noted on the SF Chronicle online comments that the boys’ bad manners didn’t just get them into trouble with the tiger. The surviving brothers’ rude, hysterical behavior; disheveled, bloody and swarthy appearance, and foul language afterwards at the zoo café, where they fled after the initial attack, and on the phone with emergency dispatchers, also may have prevented decent, law-abiding people from coming to their aid or letting them seek shelter inside the cafe. That should be a lesson to somebody to ask nicely and dress better next time.
Some people have criticized the police for killing Tatiana, who after finishing up with whatever she did to their friend, tracked the brothers down and started gnawing on them again outside the café. But I think a medal for bravery should be given to those officers, who arrived almost twenty minutes later, as soon as they could, I’m sure, or as soon as zoo security let them in. (Naturally no one believed the boys’ dubious story and many people obviously still don’t.) Apparently Tatiana was sitting on or next to one of the boys when the police got there. The tiger started chewing on him again, forcing the officers to try to distract the tiger, who came for them. They had to fire. And most thoughtful people agree it’s those boys’ fault for getting that animal all riled up.
“I think the real tragedy is that Tatiana was not able to finish the job before her summary execution by police,” wrote Kazooboy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Hipple, Rev. Paul T. said...

Fischer will unfortunately be remembered as a grand chessmaster, when in fact, his peerless contribution was an 'in your face' style of athleticism.

Booyah!

OutOfContext said...

Jon, I think a squatter has started his own blog in your comment section. I'm not sure what it says though, because due to it's length, the page has yet to finish loading. I can't wait to see if the tiger kills Bobby Fisher or ends communism...

liquiddaddy said...

Mr. Swift,

I know a patriot who is impossible to beat in rock-scissor-paper-match. His genius sets him apart from society. Is this always the way?

He lives in a cardboard box surrounded by his collection of cardboard boxes. He wears dingy sans-a-belt jumpers and never shaves. Shoving straight pins in his buttocks keeps him on his razors edge.

Excellence demand sacrifice. We can learn from men like my neighbor and Bobby Fischer.

Thank you for the post.

LD

In context said...

Fischer was an immensely talented chess player, and the Soviet players had indeed strong support from the state. But I wonder how many Fischers are born and never become famous because they are in places where their talent cannot flourish. Fischer grew up in NYC, the Mecca of American chess. He went to the clubs, he dropped out of high school because mom would support him and let him do chess 100% of his time. In a sense, he had a lot of support (mom, strong competitors at the Manhattan Chess Club) to help him realize his talent. And over the years the US Chess Federation put up with all his demands and eccentricities and supported and represented him before the world (and the Soviets). Your post seems to assume that Fischer was just sheer talent in isolation, that such genius can only be born in America, and that triumph against adversity is an American trademark. How naive. Fischer was a combination of talent and the right context of strong support, only that not of the Soviet type. Conversely, the former Soviet Union continues to produce the best chess players in the world even almost 20 years after the state support system fell apart.

Fischer was a unique genius, of course, but c'mon, your 5-year old nationalism cannot only be taken seriously by people who overdose on Fox "news".

Mad Dog said...

Excellent post.

But I think you need to do soemthing about the blog within a blog from "Concerned Citizen".

Carl said...

I wonder that you have not commented on the shocking tragedy in San Francisco in which a brave and endangered Siberian tiger named Tatiana ended up murdered because of the rude and irresponsible behavior of three young men with foreign-sounding names.

We're conservatives. They're brown people.

Next?

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Yeah, really exciting game. Yawn.

James Stripes said...

You've answered the question Edward Carson posed to me at 
Patriots and Peoples where I
referenced a short piece on Fischer that I posted to my chess
blog
. Well done!

Billy Jack said...

Hyperbole is an effective form of communication. I would never put Bobby Fischer on the same plateau with Ronald Reagan, but I understand the point you're making. Bobby Fischer was America's hero. For a brief moment, we had reason to be proud. I remember those days--There wasn't alot to say "hip-hip-hooray" about. National pride was not at an all time low (it reached that about 4 to 6 years later during Jimmy Carter's administration). But it was still pretty low. And Bobby Fischer lifted us and gave us a reason to cheer. He gave us a moment to remember during a time we would rather forget. I will miss that crazy nut and all of his antics!

Jeb Koogler said...

Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

"This would have been pretty terrifying for any normal American but especially for a possibly stoned ethnically exotic person, I imagine."

Your imagination is simply racist and not logical. I don't see why a 'normal American' would remain more calm than a 'ethnically exotic' person in front of a loose tiger.

After reading most of your tiger essay filled with illogical and racist comments, and suppositions about the story, I have decided to label you as a 'typically uneducated and slow witted white American blog intercepting-writer of boring and uninteresting posts".

The fact that your post hasn't been removed shows us that conservatism = racism in the blog owners mind.

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