Your Guide to the Grand Chessboard’s Pawns

by | Jul 17, 2023 | Newsletter | 25 comments

The observation that the great geopolitical struggle between nations is akin to a grand game of chess is hardly a novel one.

After all, Khosrau II, the ancient Sasanian king, saw the connection over 1,400 years ago: “If a ruler does not understand chess, how can he rule over a kingdom?”

Or take Leo Tolstoy’s conclusion, “War is like a game of chess.”

And who in The Corbett Report audience could forget Zbigniew Brzezinski’s infamous 1998 tome, The Grand Chessboard, in which he identified the Eurasian landmass as “the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played”?

That geopolitical strife has been so often analogized to a game of chess should hardly be surprising. After all, chess itself derives from an Indian strategy board game, chaturanga, whose pieces were modeled on the ranks of the ancient Indian army. In fact, the first modern war game was a type of chess game played on a purpose-built board made of 1,666 squares.

Given this age-old metaphor, who could doubt that the powers-that-shouldn’t-be really do imagine themselves as grandmasters, moving people around like chess pieces in order to conquer this or that square on the grand chessboard? And, keeping to the logic of this twisted metaphor, it follows that if geopolitics really is a game of chess, then the people at the bottom of the power pyramid are merely pieces on that board, pawns to be sacrificed as part of a gambit in a larger battle for control of the global chessboard.

Today I will tell the story of these pawns on the chessboard and how they have been used, abused and discarded by the would-be rulers of the world.

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