A Chess Lesson in the Midst of War

Only those who have lived through it really know war, and believe me, having lived through one, it is not the solution to any problem

Photo by Hassan Pasha on Unsplash

1990. February, or maybe March. The last phase of a war which had been raging for 15 years. In the living room, between to whistles of shells, a dad, scissors in hand, was cutting a piece of cardboard into small confetti he would color in red or black.

Thus emerged a king, a bishop, a knight. A pawn. Two pawns. A rook. A game of chess, with the means at hand.

The hard part

That was the easy part. He still had to teach the game to two kids, 7 or 8 years old, and avoid a civil war at the scale of the house, as a game won on one side of the chess board is lost on the other side.

It all depends on the point of view. Black or Red.

Us or Them.

Christian or Muslim, Maronites or Druze, Sunni or Chia. But also, Lebanese Forces, Palestine Liberation Organization, Amal Movement, Hezbollah, Aounists, Marada, Mourabitoun, Israeli Defense Force, Baath, and I am surely forgetting some of the antagonists in this God forsaken conflict.

The conflict

A nameless mayhem which would have lasted more than 15 years. A mayhem which would have cost 150 000 deaths, 100 000 physical disabilities, 250 000 net immigrations and displaced a million people, if we are to use a measurement unit better adapted to this disaster than months and years.

And in the middle of this maelstrom, a dad, a tiny chess board, and two children learning the hard way that a castling is better than a massacre of queens in the vast chess game of life.

I would like to end this short story with a message to those who promote war as a solution to liberate oppressed people.

Hang yourselves somewhere else.

Only those who have lived through it really know war, and believe me, having lived through one, it is not the solution to any problem.


This story was first written in French a while ago. This is the English version, completing the Frenglish loop, to be true to the bio.

I’m Rabih, Lebanese, French, writing in Frenglish and hoping to make a difference.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Was it really better before?

“Things were better before, man”…

I can see where you’re coming from dear friend. Indeed, the past decade or so has been everything but a walk in the park. Economic crisis, terrorism, natural disasters, outbreaks, you name it. Nostalgia aside, I guess however that you should measure the “better” part of your statement by the amount of time by which you define the “before” part of it.

Do you mean 5 years or so ago? Right in the middle of the Islamic State terrorist attacks in Europe.

10 years ago? You’re in the aftermath of the greatest economic crisis since the great depression and at the start of the Syrian conflict.

15 or 20 years ago? That’s 9/11 and the subsequent war on terrorism, Bush, Saddam, the Iraq conflict, the SARS outbreak, hurricane Katherina, the Y2K bug (or lack thereof).

More? 40, 50 years ago? The Cold War, the Berlin wall, apartheid. 80 years bring you back to a world conflict, a genocide and the first and last use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict, 90 years, to the greatest economic depression in modern history, 100 years, to yet another world conflict and another genocide.

And before that? The Napoleonic wars, the Plague, the great fire of London, the fall of the Roman Empire, the fire of Rome, Nero, Attila the Hun, and many other wonderful humanist concepts like slavery or torture, which were the norm for a very long time. Just an excerpt of a very long list. Many things were not better before. Most actually. Human rights, gender equality, air conditioning and ice cream would only be coming later.

Robert, Hubert – Incendie à Rome

If you are still not convinced, picture this last argument: it took medicine thousands of years of trial and error, starting from basic herbal medicine in the bronze age to the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Flemming in 1928 to start having effective and widespread antibiotics. Most people reading this post were born shortly after penicillin had become a staple of modern medicine and most will be gone by the time bacteria will have developed enough resistance to render most antibiotics ineffective. It is as if the entire universe aligned itself in order to make antibiotics available right in time for your birth dear friend and will retire them by the time you’re gone. A personal gift to you and you only, of all the people who walked the face of this earth since the dawn of time, emperors and prophets included. So no, things were not better before and the 20 years of extra life expectancy that this gift gave us is a testament to the brighter present we live in.

My point is, past is gone, future is still to be written, so there’s probably no better time for us than today, which is why I would like to wish you a nice today, a nicer tomorrow, and so on for the next year.

Let the board sound

And best wishes for the year to come

Rabih

Une leçon d’échecs

1990, vers février ou mars. La dernière phase d’une guerre qui grondait depuis 15 ans. Dans la salle de séjour, entre deux sifflements d’obus, un papa, une paire de ciseaux à la main, découpait un bout de carton en petits confettis qu’il coloriait ensuite en noir ou en rouge. Ainsi émergèrent un roi, un fou, un cavalier. Un pion. Deux pions. Une tour. Un jeu d’échecs, avec les moyens du bord.

Photo by Hassan Pasha

C’était la partie la plus facile de l’initiative. Encore fallait-il apprendre les règles d’un jeu millénaire à deux enfants de 7 ou 8 ans. Et éviter une guerre civile à l’échelle de l’appartement puisqu’une partie de gagnée est également une partie de perdue de l’autre côté de l’échiquier. Tout dépend du point de vue. Noirs ou Rouges. Eux ou Nous. Chrétiens ou Musulmans, Maronites ou Druzes, Chiites ou Sunnites. Mais aussi Forces Libanaises, OLP, Force de dissuasion Arabe, Amal, Hezbollah, Aounistes, Marada, Mourabitoun, IDF, et j’en passe. Une pagaille sans nom qui aura duré 15 ans et six mois, ou plutôt, qui aura couté 150 000 morts, 100 000 blessés, 250 000 émigrés et un bon petit million de déplacés si l’on utilisait une unité de mesure plus adaptée que les mois et les années à l’ampleur de cette catastrophe.

Et au milieu de ce maelström, un papa, un jeu d’échecs qui tient dans une boite d’allumettes et deux enfants qui apprennent tant bien que mal qu’un roque vaut mieux qu’un massacre de reines dans cette vaste partie d’échecs qu’est la vie.

En conclusion, à tous ceux qui glorifient la guerre, qui font sa promotion, qui en font une solution pour déloger les dictateurs et libérer les peuples opprimés, allez vous faire pendre ailleurs. Ne connait vraiment la guerre que celui ou celle qui l’a vécue, et croyez-moi, pour en avoir vécu une, ce n’est la solution à aucun problème.

A bon entendeur.

Let the board sound

Rabih