The Art of Dying

by Arthur Bismark*

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles written anonymously back in the late 1980's in Australia. We introduced the first Bismark lecture at the beginning of this year, and followed this debut with the second and third articles in subsequent issues. In this issue's instalment, the professor discusses how to make the most of your forthcoming elimination in a game of Diplomacy. Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

My sick friends,

Today we address the ultimate question with which every Diplomacy player must grapple — the acknowledgement of fallibility, the heady tumble from Godhead. Yes, I'm talking about the only death experience that counts, face to face with the Diplomacy board. Winston Churchill is said to have uttered on his deathbed, "At last, the final mystery. Jesus, I'd give anything for a cigar". To Alice B. Toklas' enquiry, "What's the answer? What's the answer?" A dying Gertrude Stein gasped, "What's the question?"

The question of course, as any good Diplomacy player will tell you, is to make the most of your demise.

I have always maintained that any idiot can win a Diplomacy games (indeed, they frequently do). Howeverm it takes a player with balls to skillfully and intelligently lose a game. The latter endeavour requires attributes which can be basically summed up in the words of the US astronaut program as the "right stuff".

In order to establish what exactly is the right stuff, we should first examine what isn't. It is common these days to see a losing player succumbing to apathy. They tend to distance themselves from the game in order to distance themselves against the hurt of loss. The signs of this erosion of morale are obvious; look for the supposed boredom, the faked stifled yawn, the sudden interest in an a adjacent game (any game in fact, apart from the one in which the player is losing) and, of course, aloof sarcasm (e.g. "There is no point in negotiating with liars, I'll leave my centers open this move, sort it out amongst yourselves") and so on. These are the hallmarks of a diplomatic sheep — he is telegraphing to his opponents that he will meekly follow them to the abattoir and wait in line for butchering at their convenience. To my mind there is nothing more useless than this attitude.

Some people might say, why bother persisting with a lost game? After all, in top level Chess, for example, it is the done thing to resign when one see the writing on the wall — Only the Chess amateur plays out a lost game. This where Chess and Diplomacy part company. The dying Diplomacy player must give no indication of resigning or even losing heart; he must negotiate, plan and execute moves as energetically and decisively as he did when he was winning the game, and impressing the opposition with his impersonation of Joseph Stalin on a bad day.

The object of this is two fold. Firstly, in Diplomacy, we never ever give up because circumstances can change dramatically. The opposition can commit errors from overconfidence, and of course there is always the possibility of divine intervention, particularly if you are in the vicinity of the San Andreas Fault, for example. Secondly, in order for circumstances to change dramatically (as mentioned above) you must appear to be a force in the game as this may well swing a player in favour of entering the fray on your side. Remember, if your attacker is making significant advances against you, someone must be perturbed about it. The Diplomacy world is a balanced world — when one country is gaining provinces another is dying, the scales have been strongly tipped, and there must be countries around you interested in trying to right the balance. In the words of the Immortal Bard (and I speak here of Shakespeare, not Bismark) — "The world is out of joint; O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right." (Hamlet). Here is your potential ally, your last throw of the dice. Seek him out, woo him, heighten his fears. The skillful player at death's door never stops selling ideas and trading information to friend and foe alike (indeed, they are so alike as to be interchangeable in this great game of ours). One never knows when the village idiot is actually going to believe the horse manure you are frantically shoveling.

Beyond the hope of survival and resurgence, we go on playing out a losing game for other compelling reasons. These may be summed up in the statement that no single game should be examined in isolation. It must be viewed as another link in the chain of your diplomatic status. We are not talking stab or any other ratings system here, but the most important measurement of all — how do the other players, your future allies and enemies view your performance? It is crucial that, even in defeat, you command respect and fear. The opposition must walk away from the game with the impression that you are a demon when cornered and can be relied upon to fight a tough dirty campaign. The successful transmission of this message is a means of fashioning a victory, of a kind, out of your defeat — you have lost the battle, but set up the conditions which may assist you in winning the war. To those of us who view Diplomacy as calling rather than "just a game", each and every game is a preparation for the next. Like a presidential candidate on the on the campaign trail, every stopover is important and we must expect reverses as the bandwagon rolls on towards its inexorable goal. And what is the goal for the Diplomacy disciple? Total world domination of course — the World Championships, every scalp going, every tin cup and shield up for grabs.

I began this evenings lecture by quoting the reputed last words of Winston Churchill and Gertrude Stein. Allow me to finish by recommending the following last words for the dying Diplomacy player. Simply look for the most damaging, unexpected point of attack, smile grimly, say "it's a good day to die" and take one of the bastards down with you.

Good night ladies and gentlemen. We will meet again in Valhalla.

*About the author: Arthur Bismark is a Fellow of the Institute of Pathological Mental Disorders, and an internationally acclaimed authority on paranoid schizophrenia. In 1969 he delivered a series of lectures designed to introduce the art of Diplomacy to hospitalised schizophrenics. These lectures were later published in the Envoy from 1988-1990 and again in FIST! from 1995-1997, and are considered a vital part of the modern day diplomatic arsenal.

Next time: Lecture 5, in which Arthur removes the brain of the Diplomacy cadaver, and points out the many amazing and vital functions this complex device is capable of.

Arthur Bismark
c/o the Editor

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