Why Generals Play Risk In The Break Room


Risk. The only board game I could play instead of eat or sleep.

The object of the game is world domination. The board is a map of the world, albeit skewed to a Napoleonic-era perception. Players command armies, occupy territories and wage war against the other players. Alliances are made and betrayed. Manipulation is the name of the game. In terms of imbuing values, it’s worse than Monopoly.

Among my friends, I am notorious for being the “puppet master.” I prefer to wage proxy wars. Why start a fight when someone else can fight for you? If my army in Brazil is locked in a stalemate by an army in North Africa, I’ll flatter and kiss the toes of the player controlling Europe, until she realizes (seemingly without my suggestion) that the player next door in Africa is her direst threat.

War begins — did Europe start it? Or did Africa? Too late. The Mediterranean fills with corpses. The Sahara is washed in blood. When the dust settles, both players are ruined. Meanwhile, I am unharmed. Like a carrion bird, I swoop down and pick off the aftermath.

Sound familiar?

This is the way the United States, and so many empires before it, fights its wars. We armed and financed the mujahideen when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Syria, where we train rebels to fight Assad and ISIS, is, despite open denial by Obama, the desert chessboard upon which we contest against Russia and Iran. The War in Donbass, fomented by the CIA-sniper-instigated revolt in Kiev, was a big, juicy bite out of the former Soviet empire. Belarus and Latvia for dessert, anyone?

One of Risk’s trickiest implications lies in what are called territory cards, which dramatically increase player’s reinforcements when turned in. Players must successfully conquer a territory every turn to earn these cards, or else fall severely behind the other players. Thus, players are constantly attacking each other for resources. If you idle, you lose.

Just like the real world. John Abizaid, a former U.S. commander, admitted that the Iraq War was motivated by oil. Iraq, after its devastating war with Iran, invaded Kuwait for oil. And what could be lying in the seabed of the South China sea that makes it so contestable? As much oil as in the fields of Saudi Arabia. Ca-ching!

When I’m not the puppet master of a Risk game, I play the wounded gazelle. Say the player in North America, choked in by three entrenching armies (including my own), left no other option, strikes my forces in Mexico. Just needed a territory card, he says. Nothing personal.

That’s when my propaganda machine starts rolling. “Look at poor me in wee little South America,” I cry to the other players. “I was attacked by the big bad dictator of North America. Look at him — he has an evil plan to control the whole continent and win major bonuses. He keeps his prisoners in death camps and eats the flesh of infants.” Suddenly, the entire world is dog-piling on North America. While I lead the coalition.

Wow. Sounds just like Fort Sumter. Or the sinking of the USS Maine. Or the sinking of U.S. merchant ships by German U-boats. Or Pearl Harbor. Or 9/11.

Then there’s the Golf of Tonkin Incident of 1964. The destroyer USS Maddox reported being attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats, followed by another attack two days later. This attack led to the passage of the Golf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed President Lyndon B. Johnson to support any Southeast Asian country attacked by “communists.” This, we all figure, paved the way for the Vietnam War.

In 2005, a National Security Agency study on the Gulf of Tonkin incident was declassified. The USS Maddox had, in fact, fired first. Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the second attack never occurred. Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp claimed the attack was completely imaginary.

There’s more. Recently declassified documents from after the Kennedy assassination revealed that the American Joint Chief of Staffs formulated an elaborate plan to detonate American airplanes, then pin it on Castro’s regime, to justify an invasion of Cuba. Who knows what other plans our current government might have locked away in a vault?

That must be why I beat my friends at Risk. Because I have studied and I know the true nature of war. It is brutal. It is treacherous. It is founded on lies. Worst of all, it is addicting.


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