Ignorant Armies

With thanks to Matthew Arnold, who knew the problems of the infantry.

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 by night. When black plays the black pieces at night black is invisible. White, on the other hand, is starkly revealed – even the hand that moves white’s pieces can be clearly seen. It is unsure of itself, it starts, stops and trembles with indecision. 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 untaken. He will march through the night, unseen and unheard, from one darkling plain to the next until everything he beholds is his. Mind you, he is not unsympathetic to white. He knows his enemy is at a disadvantage, but that is the privilege of the invader. He can pick the time and place and make the outcome a forgone conclusion.

But on the other side, the white army stands firm, each man trusting in the man next to him. Every man peers into the thick darkness ahead of him. No movement of the enemy is detected, but the shuffling of clumsy feet, the metallic clicking of gun bolts, the nervous whinny of a knight’s horse and the murmur of 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?” he replies. “I am the 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,” another pawn complains. “They have weapons superior to ours. Look at my 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 the white faith. He is on our side. We walk in the light and the enemy hides in the darkness.”

“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 the unfamiliar ground.

Every man complains of being in unfamiliar territory. Who knows what traps are set beneath their feet and who can they depend on when they ask the way?

Even the black 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 wait for the day to come they will see that the ground is not worth the battle after all.

There is not enough land on which to bury the dead.

(delete this text and enter your own)

© harry 2022
critique and comments welcome.
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Brilliant analogy, Harry, and worthy of a large cheque, mate! It’s what we use the meta for. Enoyed. Mitch

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