BOBBY FISCHER: THE LYNCHING OF THE RETURNING HERO
by Murray N. Rothbard
Twenty years ago, Bobby Fischer was the hero of the American media.
A remarkable chess prodigy and genius, Bobby surmounted a concerted
attempt by the dominant Soviet grandmasters to keep him out of the
world championship. His defeat of then champion, Soviet grandmaster
Boris Spassky, at the match at Rejkjavik was the toast of the world;
here was the first American chess player to become the best in the
world. Fischer's victory revivified chess in the U.S. and across
the globe, and succeeded in making tourneys a big business.
Bobby was an eccentric, but many geniuses are eccentric, and virtually
every top chess player shares that quality. As in the case of many
geniuses, Bobby made many demands of officials around him, in his
case tournament directors; from a distance, the demands seemed picky
and a little batty. His demands not being met, Bobby retired from
world chess, and has not played in public for seventeen years. Now,
lured by a multi-million dollar gate guaranteed by a Yugoslav businessman,
Bobby, still maintaining that he is undefeated world champion, agreed
to play his old rival Spassky, the first ten-game winner to be declared
One would think that the media would hail the return of the colorful,
charismatic, and memorable Bobby. Americans, after all, are sentimental
and love "Comeback Kids," as Slick Willie has realized. And yet,
oddly enough, Bobby's return has been greeted with a stream of frenetic
and hysterical abuse by the once-admiring media, the Smear Brigade
being led by such Respectable organs as the New York Times
and the Washington Post, the Post being particularly
vicious. The other organs of opinion duly followed the line set
down by the elites.
Let us note some of the common charges.
One: Bobby is "paranoid," having charged that the Soviet
grandmasters delayed his championship for a decade by conspiring
to draw against each other, saving all their ammunition to turn
against him. And yet, years later, defecting Soviet grandmaster
Victor Korchnoi backed up Bobby's "paranoid" charges to the hilt.
Two: Bobby makes excessive, trivial, and loony demands of
tournament directors. And yet, virtually all of these supposedly
wacko demands have now been adopted, and chess experts have begun
to see their merits. For example: It was Bobby's correct charges
of Soviet conspiracy that forced the international chess authorities
to change the way they pick championship contenders, turning from
tournaments (where deliberate draws can be concocted) to one-on-one
matches, where such conspiracies cannot take place. Bobby has also
pioneered in changing tournament time clocks, to guard against being
rushed to beat the time clock. This innovation showed a principled
regard for the good of the game, since one of Bobby's attributes
as a chess player is that he himself was virtually never in time
Three: Bobby, now 50, is older and fatter and balder than
he was as a gangling youth twenty and more years ago. Well, gee,
that's a helluva charge: tell me, guys, who isn't older and
fatter and balder twenty years later?
Four: Bobby must be a nut, since he lived as a "recluse"
for these lapsed seventeen years. Well, being a "recluse" is often
in the eye of the beholder. In Bobby's case, it seems to mean guarding
his privacy against the prying of the barracuda press. Is it really
nutty, for a celebrity to want the press to leave him alone?
Five: The writer in the Washington Post, who reached
the acme of frenzy in denouncing poor Bobby, noted that since Bobby
is in violation of the absurd UN "sanctions" against Yugoslavia,
his "dealing with the enemy" Serbs by playing chess could subject
Bobby to a large fine and ten years in jail. For playing chess?!
The Post writer declared that prison for Bobby wouldn't be
bad, since it would compare favorably with the residential motels
in Pasadena where Bobby has been living for the past two decades.
I'm sure this writer is one of these guys bleeding with compassion
for the "homeless." How would his fans like it if he said that jail
is fine for the homeless, since jail is better than living on the
streets? If the Post guy would never make such an "insensitive"
statement, does he really think that living in cheap motels is worse
than being homeless?
Six: Bobby is now accompanied by an 18-year-old Hungarian
girlfriend, a fellow tournament chess player who thinks Bobby is
the greatest. Fischer has actually been denounced for having a young
girlfriend, by people who liken this fact to the Woody Allen case
So why the unfair and out-of-line hysteria about Bobby? Well, it
turns out that Bobby, an independent thinker in other fields than
chess is definitely not Politically Correct. Apparently, even chess
players are not allowed to stray beyond the narrow bounds of PC
without being severely punished. When asked about the "sanctions"
against him, Bobby heroically pulled out a letter from the U.S.
Treasury, warning him that if he went through with the match, he
would be violating UN sanctions and subject to fine and imprisonment.
Bobby met this challenge by heroically spitting on the Treasury
letter, and declaring that he doesn't recognize the sovereignty
of the United Nations in fact, that the world would be a lot better
without the UN. Bobby then magnified his deviation from the accepted
norm by denouncing Zionism as racism, and declaring that "Bolshevism
is a mask for Judaism." The stunned journalist pointed out that,
as a lad born in Brooklyn of Jewish descent, Fischer is himself
a Jew under "Jewish law" because his mother is Jewish. One wonders
why the supposedly secular American press treats "Jewish law" as
if it were the law of the land; would they accord the same reverence
to, say, Muslim law?
So we are faced with the important question: are we going to insist
that successful people in every walk of life, in order to maintain
their positions, will have to sign on to the entire barrage of political
correctness? Before we honor or consult a dentist, an actor, an
astronomer, a baseball pitcher, a composer, are we going to run
them through the gauntlet of p.c., quiz them unmercifully, and make
sure that every one of them is sound on the Jewish, black, gay,
Hispanic, disabled, animal rights, and dozens of other issues of
the day? Are we going to fit everyone, regardless of occupation,
to the Procrustean bed? How far are we going to forge the chains
of totalitarianism in our society?
Are we going to have say, metaphorically, and even literally if
he is nabbed for "violation of sanctions": Free Bobby Fischer and
All Political Prisoners?!