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Subject: Kissinger's favorite game? rss

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Christopher Chabris
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In the Wikipedia article on Diplomacy (and in many other articles that have been published about Diplomacy, in magazines, newspapers, and online) it is stated that Diplomacy was Henry Kissinger's favorite game. The Wikipedia article sources this to an interview of Kissinger in Games & Puzzles magazine, May 1973. Other sources, however, state explicitly that there is no evidence that Kissinger ever played. I emailed David Parlett, former editor of Games & Puzzles, to ask about this, and he said that no interview of Kissinger had run in that issue -- only an article offhandedly stating that it was his favorite game, but with no quote from Kissinger.

So ... it seems that Kissinger's love of Diplomacy could be one of those "facts" that gets passed around and mutated over time, with the original version and proper sourcing being lost, or perhaps never having existed.

My question is whether any of the learned Diplomacy fans here can point me to a specific source with firsthand evidence that Kissinger ever played Diplomacy, said he played Diplomacy, said it was his favorite game, or anything similar. I'm not looking for yet more sources that just state this as fact with no attribution. A quote from Kissinger, or from someone who played with him or saw him play, is really what I need.

I'm planning to write a blog post about this story, and will of course mention anyone who provides useful information. Thanks!
 
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Paul Schulzetenberg
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This does seem like the kind of story that could have started as an offhand joke and then metastasized into urban legend. It's almost too perfect: Kissinger, the notoriously ruthless practitioner of foreign policy prone to gamesmanship, and Diplomacy, the notoriously ruthless game about foreign policy? If there ever was a gaming story that was bound to have a life of its own, it'd be this one.

I admit to being skeptical of it in the past when I heard it, as it always seems to be "somebody once said" variety, and I've definitely never heard Kissinger himself say anything on the subject. And he's not exactly shy. Certainly if it was his favorite game, he'd probably have said something on the subject by now.

I look forward to reading your finished post. Please post here when you have it complete.
 
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Like him or not...Kissinger played "real' Diplomacy....whistle
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Christopher Chabris
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I agree, Kissinger loving Diplomacy is one of those "too good not to be true" stories. I think there may be some real truth to it, so I want to find the source, if it exists. I will definitely put a link to my final post on the subject here. Incidentally, in my Wall Street Journal column this week, I wrote about the Niculae et al. study of betrayal based on online Diplomacy game records (link may be paywalled, unfortunately):

http://www.wsj.com/articles/when-diplomacy-leads-to-betrayal...
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I believe the fellow is still alive, right? Ask him. A WSJ columnist just might have access .
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Christopher Chabris
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Believe me, I tried to ask him. It's not as easy as it might seem. I did get a somewhat useful response from Kissinger's people (too late for publication in column, unfortunately), but I still want to find some original, contemporaneous evidence that he played. One commenter on my WSJ article on Diplomacy said that Kissinger once signed her Diplomacy board. But I'd like something better than that!
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David Helmbold
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See the diplomacy wikipedia page - there are references/citations there.
 
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Christopher Chabris
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That's how this whole problem started. Those references are either wrong or not to original sources. There are no sources cited there that directly corroborate the claim that Kissinger ever said that Diplomacy was his favorite game. The main reference is to an interview that apparently does not exist, according to the editor of the magazine cited.
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Diplomacy was reportedly played not only by Kissinger but also by Walter Cronkite and in the Kennedy White House as well. This was reported in the Chicago Tribune and other large media publicaions; you can find links in this thread: Allan B. Calhamer passed away Monday, Designer of Diplomacy
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Paul Schulzetenberg
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Sphere wrote:
Diplomacy was reportedly played not only by Kissinger but also by Walter Cronkite and in the Kennedy White House as well. This was reported in the Chicago Tribune and other large media publicaions; you can find links in this thread: Allan B. Calhamer passed away Monday, Designer of Diplomacy

The Chicago Tribune cites "newspaper accounts", which means they couldn't/didn't confirm it independently.

Quote:
John F. Kennedy reportedly played it in the White House, and Henry Kissinger was a fan as well, according to newspaper accounts.

The New York Times is the same way. Every single source I can find sources their statement from other newspapers or other accounts. Nobody seems to have done their own reporting, and nodbody has a definitive source for this information.

It's interesting, because as I look at more of the material on this online, it makes me wonder if the Kennedy and Cronkite connections are also tenuous.

The Kennedy thing seems to trace back to the London Evening Standard. Avalon Hill published a snippet from an article in advertisements for Diplomacy in The General.

The General, Vol 12, No. 1, p 37 wrote:
"The Kennedys are said to play it at the White House and I understand the Western Alliance is demanding early assurances that Jack sometimes wins."
- Angus McGill, London EVENING STANDARD, March 20. 1963

Even that, though, says the Kennedys "are said to play it," which means that there wasn't confirmation from the Kennedys or the White House, but that somebody told the reporter that the Kennedys played it. The online archives for the Evening Standard don't go back that far, but it'd be interesting to see if the whole article gives a bit more context for it.

For Cronkite, the the oldest citation I can find is Wikipedia, which references a Washington Post article from 1986. I couldn't find a copy of that article, but if you can buy it if you really want from the archive. I'd be surprised if it's anything more than same old stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I really want this to be true. But if nobody can confirm an original source, I'm inclined to chalk it all up as urban legend.
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Unitoch wrote:
Don't get me wrong, I really want this to be true. But if nobody can confirm an original source, I'm inclined to chalk it all up as urban legend.
Chalk it up any way you choose.

The New York Times and Chicago Tribune have solid reputations - far better than Wikipedia - and they know a thing or two about source checking. They were writing obituaries for the game designer in the links provided, not scholarly works with footnotes. I recall reading about those luminaries playing the game when I first purchased my Games Research version circa 1970, when I assume it would have been disputed if it weren't true.
 
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Sphere wrote:
when I assume it would have been disputed if it weren't true.
Come on, really?
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zurn wrote:
Sphere wrote:
when I assume it would have been disputed if it weren't true.
Come on, really?
Why would I have said it if I didn't meant it?

The New York Times and Chicago Tribune carry more weight with me than a couple of skeptics on BGG, but you have every right to form your own opinions. There's no point in further back-and-forth, so I'm jumping thread after leaving you with one more link, a course description from Brown University: http://www.brown.edu/academics/pre-college/catalog/course.ph...
 
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Sphere wrote:
zurn wrote:
Sphere wrote:
when I assume it would have been disputed if it weren't true.
Come on, really?
Why would I have said it if I didn't meant it?

The New York Times and Chicago Tribune carry more weight with me than a couple of skeptics on BGG, but you have every right to form your own opinions. There's no point in further back-and-forth, so I'm jumping thread after leaving you with one more link, a course description from Brown University: http://www.brown.edu/academics/pre-college/catalog/course.ph...
Lol... this piece of trivia is such a harmless thing to let go regardless of its veracity, that I doubt anyone at the time would have bothered to dispute it even if they did manage to know both that it wasn't true and that the article existed. I doubly doubt they would have bothered if it was an obituary about the game's designer. So the lack of any dispute on the statement that we know of, 40 years ago, doesn't mean much, let alone prove the point. That reputable publications reported it in the first place is certainly better than nothing, but I don't think there's anything wrong with some healthy skepticism.

I'm sure Sphere would have agreed had he stuck around to read that.
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Paul Schulzetenberg
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Sphere wrote:
The New York Times and Chicago Tribune carry more weight with me than a couple of skeptics on BGG, but you have every right to form your own opinions. There's no point in further back-and-forth, so I'm jumping thread after leaving you with one more link, a course description from Brown University: http://www.brown.edu/academics/pre-college/catalog/course.ph...

You're welcome to leave if you want, but thank you for the link. I'll respond as if you're going to read this, because I'm still interested and I'll presume that anybody finding this thread might be as well.

I'd say you're right to trust both of those papers over "a couple of skeptics on BGG." But they're not saying what you think they're saying.

I'm not trying to impugn either paper, and I'm not trying to accuse them of bad journalism. The point I was trying to make was that those very reputable papers were only saying that "It was reported" (NYT) and "according to newspaper accounts." (Chicago Trib)

That phrasing may not seem important at first glance, but the journalistic difference between that and something like a direct quote from Kissinger or his staff is huge. In order for those weaker statements to get by the professional fact-checkers at those publications, the only thing that needs to be confirmed is that it was printed in other newspapers. That, as we have just proved in this very conversation, is trivially easy to prove with a bit of Googling.

But that still doesn't mean that Kissinger ever played the game. It just means that people said they played the game. And because of the way that stories tend to grow over time, it would be easy for a few smaller publications to pick up on hearsay and publish it, and for the larger newspapers to then (correctly) assert that other places had published that information. Eventually, it becomes repeated so much that it's just accepted as fact. That's what this sounds like.

To (over)simplify:
Small newspaper: "Hobbyists say"
Medium newspaper: "It is said"
High-profile, major newspaper: "It has been reported" or "Newspapers said"

All of that's true, and yet the original statement has never been properly fact-checked.
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Christopher Chabris
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That's what's odd about this supposed fact. It has been repeated in various forms in many places, including reputable newspapers. (Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal wouldn't let me repeat it, even in the very weak "it is said ..." form, which is what set me on this attempt to track down some original documentation.) If these reputable newspapers had an original source, they would either give it, e.g. by saying "Henry Kissinger told XXX that Diplomacy was his favorite game" or they would the fact directly, with no hedging. But as has been noted, they don't really do that. What seems most likely is that the "fact" was first printed as an assertion in an obscure publication or in marketing materials, so no subsequent reprintings of it have been able to cite a direct quote from Kissinger or anyone close to him. It's quite possible that Diplomacy WAS his favorite game. But it's hard to find a fully reliable source.

I'm going to write a blog entry about this with more detail and I will put a link here in this thread when I do, probably in a week or so. Thanks to everyone who has commented! I hope someone can still dig out a good, original source.
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The reports of Kissinger having been an avid Diplomacy player were circulating in the press by 1970. I don't recall a source being cited, but it was "common knowledge". In those days reporters actually did some research instead of just reading reach other; it's quite likely someone would have spoken up if it was false.

I do recall one of Nixon's daughters was quoted in a major magazine (Life?) saying her husband and Nixon's other son-in-law liked to play Diplomacy (and she complained "a game that takes hours to play"). That's the only primary source I recall anywhere close to this story.
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Paul Schulzetenberg
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Barticus88 wrote:
The reports of Kissinger having been an avid Diplomacy player were circulating in the press by 1970. I don't recall a source being cited, but it was "common knowledge". In those days reporters actually did some research instead of just reading reach other; it's quite likely someone would have spoken up if it was false.

I do recall one of Nixon's daughters was quoted in a major magazine (Life?) saying her husband and Nixon's other son-in-law liked to play Diplomacy (and she complained "a game that takes hours to play"). That's the only primary source I recall anywhere close to this story.

Thanks for the corroboration and thanks especially for the lead on Nixon's daughter. I don't really agree with the implication that reporters were better back in the day. I think especially in the lifestyle and hobbies sections where this kind of stuff tended to show up, the reporting and fact-checking was (and still is) not as thorough as it is in many of the rest of the sections of these papers.

That said, I hear your point that these statements were more widely circulated back in the day. I'm not old enough to have been involved in the Diplomacy community back in the '60s and '70s. Maybe it really was so well known that nobody bothered to cite their sources. But certainly it seems like there should be a primary source out there somewhere that we could find this information.

Your lead on Nixon's daughter helped me find some more info. The daughter was Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who married Dwight D. Eisenhower's grandson David Eisenhower. David was the Diplomacy afficianado. A little bit of Google searching turned this up in the Washington post (emphasis mine):

Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2010 wrote:
Eisenhower, a bookish 62-year-old with a soft, round face and a welcoming manner, bonded over baseball with both his future wife and his father-in-law. He played APBA, a dice-driven board game, with her when they were courting; he compiled lists of the greatest players at each position with the former president. Games delight and distract in glory times and in moments of crisis. David's best friend, former Virginia congressman Tom Davis, remembers playing whiffle ball with his pal on the White House tennis court when Nixon was president and relaxing over the board games Diplomacy and Risk at David and Julie's Washington apartment in the midst of Watergate.

As an aside, I never knew Nixon played APBA Baseball. That's pretty interesting.

There's also some stuff about this in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book The Final Days, which was the follow up to All the President's Men. Both are about the Watergate conspiracy and how it unraveled. Google Books provides the full text (again, emphasis mine).

Woodward and Bernstein, ch 19 wrote:
David Eisenhower liked to play games. During the first Nixon term, he and the President frequently played a game of pocket billiards they called Golf. Balls were set before each of the six pockets and one on the cue spot, and the object was to sink all seven balls in as few shots as possible. Once the President had done it in three. But he had stopped playing in 1971.

As the second Nixon term progressed, David played games more and more. He would get a whiffle-ball game going on the White House tennis court with some of the staffers... David and Julie also played a lot of bridge. And David loved the board game Diplomacy, which he always won.

That's sourcing I feel comfortable leaning on. You can also find some stuff about Tricia Nixon mentioning her husband playing it as well, so you're definitely right about that.

While I was looking for this connection, I also found a connection that establishes Kissinger as familiar with the game Go. From a review of Kissinger's book On China:

Lü Pin wrote:
[Kissinger] also believes concepts from the board game Go, also known as Chinese chess, can be used to explain the starting point of China's foreign strategy and even includes an illustration of chess games in the book.

What do these mean for the Kissinger connection? The David Eisenhower snippets establish that someone with connection to the Nixon White House used to play games with members of the administration, and even with the president himself. The book review makes it clear that Kissinger is at least familiar enough with some board games that he has a tendency to think of them as more than merely something that children play. Both together make the Kissinger connection more plausible, but still don't establish that he ever played it, much less that he considered it his favorite game.

If there's some enterprising geek in London, it might be worth it to check out some library archives to see what the article in the 1963 London Evening Standard is about. If you're in the newspaper archives, it may also be worth checking out the London Daily Mail. Diplomacy World #5, from Sept 1974 has the following quote attributed to the London Daily Mail:

Diplomacy World wrote:
"They play it in the White House. In fact, it's the rage in America. And, at Cambridge, the Dean of Trinity College, John Gallagher, is an expert. In ecclesiatical [sic] circles, the Bishop of Woolwich knows all about it...IT? The game called Diplomacy."
- Chas. Greville, London Daily Mail, Nov. 1962

I'm still hoping that somebody else comes out with some better sources. I really want the Kissinger/Cronkite/Nixon connections to be true. Whatever the case, it's been interesting digging into this to see if I could find a concrete source.
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Just to clarify, the stories about Kissinger playing Diplomacy were always that he played while a professor at Harvard, not that he played while National Security Adviser or Secretary of State.

I'm glad my memory about Nixon's sons-in-law checks out. I was pretty sure on that. Nixon and APBA Baseball is news to me, but Nixon playing some miscellaneous card games I had heard.

One can easily imagine Kissinger and Nixon and and the sons-in-law and whomever playing Diplomacy at the White House around 1971, but we have no evidence.
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Barticus88 wrote:
Just to clarify, the stories about Kissinger playing Diplomacy were always that he played while a professor at Harvard, not that he played while National Security Adviser or Secretary of State.

Aha! The plot thickens. I did some Googling and didn't find anything promising for a primary source about the Harvard connection. But there's some promising overlap that you can put together from Wikipedia's articles on Kissinger and Calhamer and the NYT obituary on Calhamer.

Kissinger was at Harvard as a member of the faculty of the Department of Government from 1950 to 1971. Calhamer did his undergrad studies at Harvard, and came up with the idea for Diplomacy (called Realpolitik at that point) in 1954 while at Harvard Law School. He definitely played it with a bunch of his fellow law students. However, Calhamer was gone before that year was up, and so ends the direct connection between Diplomacy and Harvard. It seems unlikely that Kissinger would have played it at that time -- Calhamer hadn't yet produced the game for sale, they were in different sections of the school, one was faculty and the other a student, and there was a very short time for them to have played.

The more plausible Harvard connection between Kissinger and Diplomacy would be after Calhamer released the game in 1959. Kissinger could have played it at Harvard between 1959 and when he left in 1971. Calhamer self-published 500 copies of Diplomacy in 1959, then sold the rights to Games Research in 1961 (date courtesy of Grantland). Games Research was a Boston-based company according to their publisher page here on BGG, and Calhamer had the Harvard connection to many alumni, so it isn't completely out of hand to think that much of Diplomacy's early growth would have been at or around Harvard and Boston. Though we don't have evidence Kissinger and Calhamer ever met, it would have certainly been possible for some third party to bring it to Kissinger and tell him about this game that simulates foreign policy, something very relevant to Kissinger's field of study.

But of course, that's all speculation. I can still dream about confirmation from a primary source. Maybe somebody will come forward with a moldy old syllabus from the 1960s taught by a Dr. Kissinger that has Diplomacy somehow in the lesson plan.
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Christopher Chabris
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A lot of great information in this thread -- thanks! But still no original source about Kissinger. There was a lengthy article in a recent Diplomacy magazine about plenty of other Harvard people who played it in the 60s, but even after all his investigation, the author couldn't find anyone to say that Kissinger played.

I will probably go ahead and write something soon based on what I've found so far, and update it later if anyone finds something more definitive.

-Chris
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I wonder if modern politicians play diplomacy
I wonder if famous people play games in their speciality. Like has Richard Dawkins played Evolution or Dominant Species and so forth
 
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The NYT a reliable source? On the level of the WSJ? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
 
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About as accurate as Al Jazeera
 
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