Month: May 2016

Ad Victoriam Ad Valorem

Editor’s Note: I am pleased to welcome my good friend Howard Darkes as a guest author today on Campfire Chess. Howard is a longtime philosophy and literary mentor of mine. I hope that you enjoy his heartfelt reflection of Memorial Day. -Wesley Surber

Hello, Campers! My name is Howard Darkes and I first want to thank my longtime friend Wesley for granting me control of the blog today to share reflections on the past and to address some troubling concerns for the future. Today is Memorial Day in the United States of America and I believe that this is something that needs to be said because there is much mourning going on across the globe today. As the professional chess world is knee-deep in the Shamkir Chess Gashimov Memorial tournament that commemorates one of the greatest players of our generation, my country takes time during the season to reflect and recognize the countless men and women who have sacrificed their lives to defend the sovereignty of our nation and to continue our way of life.  It is on this day that we recognize, remember, and honor the people whose lives were sacrificed in pursuit of this selfless service or whose lives have since expired upon returning from home to enjoy the freedoms they so valiantly fought for.

Originally from Germany, my family has a long history of military service with the most recent generation being among those to continue that tradition. In memoriam, my paternal Grandfather served in the United States Army during World War II against the Axis Powers. It is today that our nation honors men like him, who has long departed this earth but his children, grandchildren, and now countless great grandchildren continue to enjoy freedoms that generations prior could only have dreamed of.

Unfortunately, the memory of those sacrifices and the freedoms that came with them are being tainted by the very men and women who have sworn an oath to uphold and defend the laws of our nation and to promote the very way of life that sets us apart from the rest of the world. These days, it is popular to hate America. In fact, it is almost as though hating America is much more socially acceptable than to acknowledge America’s contributions to the rest of the world throughout history. That is why, when sitting US President Barrack Obama gave his speech at the Hiroshima Memorial on May 27, my blood boiled for a while but my patriotism and depth of knowledge about the sacrifices of military service and dedication to duty that comes with such service helped me to overcome those feelings.

There were many moments in the Hiroshima Speech that betrayed the memory of fallen service US service members, but I want to take this Memorial Day to highlight a few of them.

The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.

In his speech, Barrack Obama paints a picture of World War II as some kind of playground dispute among the rich kids. It was the wealth, power, and quest for domination that drove the United States to drop nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not the carefully calculated decision to avoid millions of casualties assured by a US invasion of the Japanese mainland. Furthermore, he asserts that the players in the war had advanced ideas of justice, harmony, and truth. Yet, the philosophies of Nazi Germany resulted in the execution of countless Jews, Soviets, homosexuals, and other minority groups that President Obama has championed throughout his reign. Although it is often lost in the sensational history reports of Nazi atrocities in Europe, the Japanese Empire was no better. Japan’s notorious Unit 731 killed 3,000 people while conducting horrific medical experiments and approximately 300,000 people died as a result of biological weapons developed at the facility.


Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.

This is the crux of his speech because, in his opinion, American morality has evolved past the need for nuclear weapons and for war. His statements imply that if the United States, Nazi Germany, and Japan were engaged in a worldwide conflict that the American Government (and the American people) would never support the use of nuclear weapons against another nation. His words imply that Japan was attacked by the US out of fear because its people were different. Yet, it was the Japanese Empire that forced the US into a conflict with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Before that moment, the US had not been engaged in a war with the island nation. However, the attack prompted a response by America that raged across the Pacific Ocean and its myriad of tiny islands until the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the fighting and forged an alliance of peace between the two countries that brought about a technological revolution!

While the devastation levied on the two cities is tragic in-itself, it cannot be said enough how those sacrifices most likely saved the lives of countless others whose lives would have been snuffed out when the US launched an invasion of Japan. The pending invasion, known as Operation Downfall, projected that 500,000 US service members would have lost their lives and the fanatical warrior culture of the Japanese Empire would have required hand-to-hand combat in almost every home on the island. Some estimates of the initial invasion suggested that around 100,000 soldiers would be killed in combat on the island per month, so at one point, 500,000 Purple Hearts were commissioned by the War Department to prepare for the losses. Yet, intelligence on the nature of the Japanese enemy caused the US Government to make its calculated decision to deliver the nukes in an attempt to stave off the need for such an invasion. Japan surrendered six days later, after around 130,000 people were killed in the blast.

Why We Come Here

President Obama ended his speech with this:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

Taken out of the context of the rest of the speech, it is an accurate assessment of life and death. Ancient warfare philosophies have always taught that fighting should be done only as a last resort. When Hitler’s Germany and the Japanese Empire began systematically invading other countries and slaughtering innocents, the United States and its allies fulfilled their moral duty to intervene and to save those less fortunate. President Obama can speak all he wants to about the need for moral revolution, but a revolution is not the same as evolution. A moral revolution does need to occur in our society, but it needs to look to the heroes of World War II for the way ahead. The young men and women who laid down their lives for their brothers, sisters, and even for those who they did not know are the reason that I am able to sit here today and be critical of the man who stands up and claims to speak for the free world.


The reality is that Barrack Obama speaks for no one but himself. Even a half-hearted apology for the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a betrayal of the worst kind to the memory of the soldiers who gave their lives fighting to defend their homes and families. If anything, the bombs prove the American resolve to preserve life and to defend the lives of others. If that were not the case, then Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been just the first wave in a series of greater bombings and conquests that would not have ended with Germany and Japan’s surrender.

The Man Who Speaks for No One

Instead, I prefer to join the millions of people in the United States and around the world who disagree with President Obama’s self-loathing and anti-American sentiment. Those people in Europe whose families were rescued by the Allied powers continued to appreciate and respect those sacrifices. And I appreciate the sacrifices of every man and woman around the world who has decided to give his or her life for something greater than their own personal desires; to defend their homes, families, and the freedoms that they hold so dear. Today, we honor them all by reminding the world that the fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen gave their lives not to defend the personal philosophies of the United States Government or the opinions of its leaders. These people pledged to defend the foundations that make us different, which are rooted in the United States Constitution, by sworn oath ad victoriam ad valerum.

St Louis, MO… Chess Capital of the World

Saint Louis, Missouri has hosted some of the strongest chess tournaments in United States history over the past few years. When GM Susan Polgar moved her SPICE program to Webster University, a plethora of chess talent migrated from Lubbock’s Texas Tech University to her new home at Webster. Now, St Louis continues to gain attention and prestige as it is increasingly looked at as the new chess capital of America.

Chess is a global game, enjoyed by millions around the world. For much of the 20th Century the nucleus of chess was the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But now a new chess capital of the world is emerging – the American Midwest city of St Louis.

It’s a beautiful spring evening and Chuck is sitting opposite me, outside the St Louis chess club. He’s an African-American in late middle age who, during the day, runs a business selling meat. But this is where he comes after work. Between us is a beautiful inlaid chess board, on which stand elegant wood-carved pieces.

Is St Louis on track to becoming the chess capital of the world? Perhaps, because this is America and anything is possible.

Read more:

Two Years Around the Campfire

I set down at my computer one night in Ohio two years ago to start a blog called Off My Chess where I had intended to spend a little bit of time documenting my efforts to improve at chess. Since then, the website transitioned to a new server, then changed names, and has continued to roar along supporting the spread of chess to local, national, and international audiences. Since its inception, Campfire Chess has hosted audiences from 20 different countries including war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. I have profiled several great players, analyzed countless games, and published several digital magazines under the Campfire and OMC names.


Time to do some fishing… (Credit: Stargate SG-1/MGM)

Now, two years later, instead of looking deep into the future at what lies ahead, I want to take some time to reflect on where Campfire Chess is at this very moment. Is it where I had intended? Considering that the blog itself was never intended to be more than a personal record of my chess journey, I think that things are going much better than I had anticipated when I began.

With that in mind, I have decided to take a sabbatical from chess writing and focus on my studies for the month of May. I will be back in June to resume writing, but now it is time to celebrate the two-year milestone with some much needed rest and relaxation.

Until then…peace, w.s.

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