To understand how China thinks about its’ rivalry with the United States, one needs to understand the game of go. That’s the message Dr. David Lai, a Professor of Asian Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, gave during a half-day seminar on go held March 4 at the U.S. Army War College, also in Carlisle. More than 30 attended, about half of them U.S. Army officers.
The seminar was the idea of Colonel Jack Pritchard, Chief of the Strategic Wargaming Division of the War College. Colonel Pritchard, who had never played go, became intrigued by references to the game in literature on military and political strategy, including a monograph written by Dr. Lai titled “Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi” as well as Lai’s recent article “China’s Moves and Countermoves in the Asia Pacific,” Parameters, Spring 2015. Col. Pritchard asked a member of his staff, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Travis, to organize a seminar that would introduce the game to other officers and civilians closely associated with the War College and affiliated programs.
LTC Travis, who has played go with the Carlisle Go Club, planned the event in consultation with Lai and two other Carlisle go players, Dr. Howard Warshaw and Dr. Fred Baldwin (above, right). The result was a four-hour session, divided between lectures and actual play. Dr. Baldwin opened with a brief history of go from its Chinese origins to the present, emphasizing its appeal to strategic thinkers. Then, Dr. Lai applied go concepts more specifically to Chinese geopolitical aims. Dr. Warshaw followed this up with an explanation of the rules of go and fielded questions on go basics, including capturing, life-and-death, and scoring.
During the second half of the seminar, the officers and other go neophytes played against each other on 9×9 and 13×13 boards, during which Warshaw, Baldwin, Lai and four other frequent Carlisle-area players were available to answer questions. Warshaw and Baldwin noted that the officers grasped the basics quickly, especially considering that none of them had ever played the game before.
The War College is the Army’s version of graduate school for senior officers, those at the rank of Lieutenant Colonels or Colonels. Speaking from a War College perspective, LTC Travis remarked that Col. Pritchard and he considered the seminar a success. He also indicated that it may be possible to incorporate an introduction to go into the school’s academic curriculum on a more systematic basis.
Edited by Noah Doss and Howard Wong; photos courtesy Donald S. Travis