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Ignorant Armies


Harry Buschman

“And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

- Matthew Arnold

Black has the advantage at night. Black plays the black pieces at night. He is invisible. White, on the other hand, is starkly revealed - the hand that moves the white pieces can be seen. It is unsure of itself, it starts, stops and trembles in fear. It wants to appear sure of itself but it can’t hide its uncertainty.

Black boasts that he will beat this white army and leave not a piece unbroken. He will march through the night, unseen and unheard, from one plain to the next until everything he beholds is his. Mind you, he is not unsympathetic. He knows his enemy is at a disadvantage, that is the privilege of the invader. To pick the time and the place and to make the outcome a forgone conclusion.

But on the other side, the white army stands firm, each man aware of the man next to him. Each man peers into the thick darkness ahead of him. No movement of the enemy is detected, but the shuffling of many feet, the metallic clicking of gun bolts and the murmur of many voices can be plainly heard. A pawn, holding his lance well ahead of him, says to the knight behind him, “It is unfair to keep us out here in the dark, we will be picked off one by one.”

“Do you think it is any easier for me? I am a bigger target, I am in far greater danger than you. When they come for us I will be the first one they see”

“We don’t have the proper equipment,” the pawn complains. “They have weapons superior to ours. Look at this lance! It’s broken in the middle and I’ve had to bind it with cord myself!”

The Bishops, who stand between the knights and the Royal Family swing their censers and shake their heads knowingly. “We shall prevail. Have no fear - the Almighty is with us. He is on our side. We are in the light and the enemy is in the dark.”

“I’d feel better if my lance were in one piece,” the pawn mutters.

Back in the dark the black pawns huddle in the cold, the knight’s horses stumble over unfamiliar soil. Every man complains of being on unfamiliar ground. Who knows what lay beneath their feet and who can they depend on to show them the way? Even the Bishops and the Royal Family of the Dark agree that there is no substitute for being on familiar ground.

... and so the great and final battle will not be fought tonight. The danger of defeat is too great on both sides, and if they should wait for the day to come they might see that the ground is not worth the battle after all -- there is not enough land to bury the dead.

The End

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