Chess and war

What kind of people are good at chess? Most would agree it’s those who are good at recognising, memorising and solving puzzles, thinking both tactically – looking at what the best thing is to do now – and strategically – planning ahead and seeing how everything fits in in the long-term.

If playing timed, they also need to be able to think fast. They need to be able to get themselves out of tricky situations. They need to be able to think offensively and defensively. Above all, good chess players are excellent at keeping concentration, staying alert to any threats and opportunities.

To me, it seems as if chess should be compulsory for people who want to become military generals – I don’t think there’s a single quality in the above list that isn’t advantageous in war.

We could use the example of the current Libyan conflict – is there really a long-term strategy in this? Is there an exit strategy? What will happen if it all goes wrong? Hmmm…

Personally, I’d rather we weren’t directly involved in the Libyan conflict at all. I would fully support just arming and funding the rebels, and letting Colonel Gaddafi know that we basically hope he dies (I know one of our recent former Prime Ministers was very nice and friendly and cuddly and gave you weapons but things are different now).

But getting into another war is exceedingly costly when we’re trying to cut spending, hypocritical (what about Robert Mugabe, the Syrian President etc.?) and it’s far easier to get into a war than out of it, as we’ve seen with Iraq and Afghanistan. And just because Russia, China and a league of other Arab dictatorships say we can do it, doesn’t mean you can say “Oh it’s all perfectly fine because we’re adhering to international law.”

Still, we’re in it now, we’re probably not going to leave any time soon, so I just hope we succeed in what we’re trying to do. All I suggest is that all the military generals, David Cameron and anyone else who’s thinking of becoming an army general or Prime Minister be made to take up chess.

Maybe then we’ll be able to think up a coherent strategy for succeeding in Libya and, for that matter, exiting Afghanistan, because all the qualities needed to succeed in chess are immensely helpful in war.

EDIT (24 October): I am of course glad that Libya has been liberated, and the rebels have so much to thank the British government for in helping them end their dictator’s 32-year-long reign. Our intervention was worth it in the end.