We begin to set up the
board for a game of Risk. I had received the game as a gift as a child
but had not played it for quite a few years. I nearly always won. I was used to winning. Losing was never something I ever
The colored game board is a bit faded, and the edges are tattered in several places, yet the pieces are relatively
all intact and the countries lie in plain view. As we go around the table, die
in hand, each person takes their turn rolling to see who will go first. Being
first to lay down your army is very important and can potentially decide your strategy for the entirety of the game. Whether one is able to lay down their army on Brazil or North Africa, Siam or Indonesia,
the Ukraine or Middle East, largely determines which opponent will square-off against whom and what choke points will be critical
in defending and eventually expanding into an enemy's position. I go third,
not a strong position, but not necessarily weak, either. It might mean someone
else will choose to lay their initial army down where I plan to place my own, or perhaps not.
My first opponent goes: Siam. It's a typical strategy. He is probably trying to secure the entry point to the Australian land mass or perhaps bold enough to
attempt to take Asia. The next opponent chooses: Central America. He is looking to hold the New World continents of North and South America.
OK. Now it's my turn. I
pick up my game piece, carefully surveying the remainder of the map. Africa
and Europe are vacant, so I confidently place my piece on the Middle East, a choke point into three continents. From here, I can survey the intentions of the other players and determine what my next placement should
be. Only two enemies remain before the first round of placement is over. The game has begun.
* * *
Beginning about ten thousand
years ago, some of the earliest civilizations arose in a narrow area of land in Near and Middle East. Sumeria, one of the first, emerged about 7,600 years ago in what is now modern-day Iraq. Mathematics, writing, science, law, and art flourished in this region, handed-down, in part, to the rest
of the world over the course of thousands of years of trade, migrations, and conquests.
Some have even called this region of the world the “cradle of civilization,” and its cultural and religious
traditions spread across much of the globe, often by war.
* * *
Only a handful of armies
remain, now, to be set down upon the board. My eastern opponents have amassed
armies in southeast Asia, while my western opponents have decided to battle it out in central America. I control parts of Asia and Africa but the majority of my armies lie in Europe and in the Ukraine, where
I plan to eventually stage an invasion of central Asia, North Africa, and North America.
When all of our armies
are finally placed, we take turns positioning reinforcements and choosing where we will attack. I lose what few armies I have in Africa and Iceland, but when my turn comes, I lay down armies in Scandinavia
and Southern Europe and pick up the red dice, determined to make my push into the enemy hoard.
* * *
Before the raging hoards
of the Huns crossed the Eurasian steppes and into central Europe, ancient Greek legend described “Amazons” on
frescos and pottery, featuring Sarmatian women warriors on horseback. Located
in what is now the Ukraine north of the Black Sea, these famed, semi-nomadic warriors tribes originated in Iran. Culturally and linguistically, the Sarmatians were at the crossroad of Indo-European languages, where
Baltic, Slavic, Greek, Italic, Germanic, Celtic, and other languages both living and dead all seem to have arose and divided.
Sarmatian culture dates
back 2,700 years and flourished until the arrival of the Huns into central Europe about 1,700 years ago forced these people
to migrate east. The remains of Sarmatian culture were lost to historians until
only recently, when archaeological evidence was excavated verifying the truth behind the myth.
In fact, the direct descendent of a Sarmatian warrior-queen who ruled two millennia
ago was discovered through DNA tests conducted on a blonde nine-year-old girl living
in Mongolia today, evidence of the continuity of groups of people long after their culture, their nation, has faded away. Although civilizations come and go, the genetic heritage of the people persists.
* * *
Persistence. If this game is going to be won, it will now take persistence.
I have finally secured Europe and central Asia and am holding my own in North Africa and Egypt. I have amassed armies in Iceland and am fighting to push into North America thru Greenland. My opponents to the west are fighting pitched battles throughout the Americas, and I suspect little resistance
remains. Only one opponent who has the red pieces survives in Australia, India,
and China. He is isolated but relatively weak.
There is not much in Africa to take with nearly all of us ignoring the southern portion of this continent. I hand the white dice to my opponent, pick up the red dice, and roll.
I roll again. And again. And again, bettering his white dice on nearly
every roll. Steadily, my European armies are gaining a foothold into the New
* * *
The New World was thought
to have been discovered by Christopher Columbus over five hundred years ago, yet evidence now suggests, with near certainty,
that the New World was discovered, instead, by Europe’s Leif Eriksson about five hundred years before Columbus. Images of ravaging, marauding hoards of horn-helmed Viking barbarians have persisted
since the invasion of Christian zealots in northern Europe over a thousand years ago, and few of these cultural portraits
paint an honest picture. From the Near East came science, technology, and letters,
merging and morphing into new forms that still mark our cultures today, including religion in the form of Christianity. From there, it spread across Eurasia and Europe and into the Nordic culture by the
turn of the first millennia, making its way by both land and sea into North America and beyond.
* * *
My route into North America
is rather easy. With only a few armies, I sail my way across the North Atlantic
and begin eliminating enemies in my trek westward across the continent. My opponents,
the remaining inhabitants of the Americas, have beaten one another into submission and are hardly a match for my armies. Rivals in south Asia are growing steadily, but my relentless march into Africa makes
up for my opponent’s gains, and soon I will be poised to strike into South America by way of Africa, my conquest all
* * *
The first slaves brought
over to South and Central America were primarily from west and central Africa. Catholic
missionaries had urged European kings to forbid the enslavement of the native peoples of the New World, believing that they
actually had souls. It was thought, however, that Africans lacked such a spiritual
prerequisite and, therefore, could make no claim to a shared humanity. Thus
began the justified enslavement of tens of millions of Africans from their homes into the Americas, over half of whom may
have died in transit. And for those who did make it “safely” overseas,
the worst was yet to come as beatings, rape, and even murder knew no bound.
* * *
There is bound, of course,
to be some glitches in my plan for world conquest. Nothing can be won without
taking a risk. Although my opponents in the Americas prove challenging, their
desperate struggle ends on the plains of the Western United States, as army after army hunts down and kills the enemy, forcing
them to retreat until nothing remains. It is, I know, my destiny.
* * *
It was called “Manifest
Destiny.” God had allegedly ordained white Europeans to conquer America
and to settle the land that once belonged to native tribes. Pushed back from
one territory to another, the Indian peoples had to choose resistance or capitulation, but whatever their choice, the result
was the same everywhere: deceit, treachery, and forced relocation. The successive
discovery of one valuable resource or another led the invaders to take increasingly more land, while exaggerated, one-sided
stories of the ruthlessness of “savage Injuns” fueled the resolve of the people and the government of this new
nation to force the native into assimilation or death.
* * *
Dead. Every last one of them, dead. It is now just one opponent
and I remaining on the board. In taking the Americas, I have to dedicate most
of my reinforcements for securing my flanks in Alaska and Iceland. However,
my enemy is swarming across all of Asia, building-up his reserves in China and India.
We fight in Afghanistan and the Middle East, spilling over into much of Africa and, now, Southern Europe. I have a lot of reinforcements due on my next turn, but as long as he continues to roll the red dice,
continues to stay on the offensive, I must fight to regain all that I am steadily losing.
* * *
We are not losing the
war in Iraq, the administration informs us. Just the opposite: we are winning. It’s been five years since we began our “just war” against Islam,
and already we have lost more Americans than on 9/11. And the cost to the Iraqi
people? Conservative estimates say it may well be 400,000 while others say the
number dead exceeds 800,000. That’s half a million wives, half a million
husbands, half a million sons, half a million daughters who will never see the sun rise again, whose unborn children will
never even know what the sun is. And still, the killing goes on . . .
In just four years, the
United States fought and won a global war on three continents. The bombing of
Dresden, Germany during World War II just three months before the unconditional surrender of the Nazis yielded approximately
30,000 civilian deaths in just three days. And individual soldiers trained as
assassins scoured the countryside, killing high-level renegade Nazi officials, something the history books rarely discuss. It’s difficult to conduct a fanatical insurgency when the enemy is willing
to stop at nothing – regardless of how immoral – to end resistance.
* * *
Resistance is fast becoming
futile. Most of South America has fallen from my grip, and Mexico is in the
hands of the enemy, too. Alaska and Greenland remain strong, but the entirety
of the board – except for Great Britain and Iceland – is now the red enemy’s territory. My opponent’s Indian and Chinese masses, once considered isolated and inconsequential, spread across
the game board while I wasted armies fighting in places I could never hold. And
while I sit feeling secure with my pyrrhic victories in one hemisphere, my opponent builds armies in the Ukraine that sweep
across lands once considered allies.
Now I sit, isolated from
the rest of the world, contemplating my next move. So few allies, so many enemies. And the red dice are in my hands . . .