W hy doesn’t the United States government
just leave Bobby Fischer alone? Alone is
obviously where the reclusive chess master — famed for beating Russian champion Boris Spassky during the frostiest days of the Cold War — wants to be.
He’s fighting extradition to the United States from Japan, where he recently materialized, on the seemingly trivial and anachronistic charge that he violated trade sanctions against Yugoslavia in 1992 by going there to play chess.
Fischer is reportedly about to marry a Japanese woman and wants to renounce his U.S. citizenship.
There seems little purpose, and much potential unnecessary cost and cruelty in trying to make some kind of example of Fischer by dragging him back into the limelight he’s shunned.
How can you make an example of someone like Fischer, anyway? He’s not like the rest of us. The one-time chess prodigy rose like a rocket through the game’s ranks, culminating in his 1972 match with Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland. In spite of his annoying antics, Fischer’s victory made him an American hero. It also put a dent in the Soviet’s sense of their own superiority — much like sprinter Jesse Owens’ performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics served as pointed rebuke to the racist dogma of then-German Chancellor Adolph Hitler.
It was a re-match with Spassky 20 years later, in Yugoslavia, that drew the elusive Fischer out of obscurity. He again beat Spassky, pocketing $3.35 million. But the U.S. government charged him with violating United Nations sanctions aimed at punishing Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic for waging war in the Balkans.
The idea that playing a chess match in Yugoslavia in any way aided Milosovic — currently in The Hague on trial for war crimes — is absurd.
Why it’s America’s responsibility to enforce outdated U.N. sanctions against Yugoslavia is unclear. And although Fischer holds some admittedly outlandish views, eccentricity isn’t a crime yet. His extradition and prosecution will only reinforce Fischer’s belief, groundless or not, that he’s been “persecuted” by his native land.
Although the U.S. government has Fischer in check, legally speaking, there seems little reason to prolong this match. America can afford magnanimity. Let’s call it a draw and allow the master to withdraw with what’s left of his dignity.