Saturday, April 14, 2012

Diving Deeper 15 - War and Peace 11

Returning to Fatalism

Tolstoy returns several times to his belief that all things in life, or in history, are fated to happen. 

We are forced to fall back on fatalism to explain the irrational events of history (that is to say, events the intelligence of which we do not see).   The more we try to account for such events in history rationally, the more irrational and complicated do they become to us.  (War and Peace, p. 717).  

God's Folk

There was a custom in Irish speaking areas, certainly when I was growing up, to call simple, uneducated, innocent and somewhat slow people "daoine Le Dia," that is "people with God."  It would seem that Tolstoy has a similar understanding with respect to what he calls "God's Folk."   And Princess Maria, Prince Andrei's sister looks after these special people on their large estate. (See, ibid., p. 816 ff.)

The Battle of Borodino

"Battle of Borodino, 7th September 1812", 1822 by Louis Lejeune
The Battle of Borodino was fought on September 7, 1812, and it was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the French invasion of Russia and of all the Napoleonic Wars.  It involved more than 250,000 troops and resulted in at least 70,000 casualties. The French Grande Armée, under Emperor Napoleon I,  attacked the Imperial Russian Army of General Mikhail Kutuzov near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk, and eventually captured the main positions on the battlefield, but failed to destroy the Russian army despite heavy losses. About a third of Napoleon's soldiers were killed or wounded; Russian losses were also heavy, but her casualties could be compensated since large forces of militia were already with the Russian Army and replacement depots which were close by had already been gathering and training troops.  Although the Battle of Borodino can be seen as a victory for Napoleon, some scholars and contemporaries described Borodino as a Pyrrhic victory.   Russian historian Oleg Sokolov agrees that Borodino ultimately constituted a Pyrrhic victory for the French, which would ultimately cost Napoleon the war and his crown, although at the time none of this was apparent to either side.

Anyway, once again, there is nothing as good as the threat of one's extinction in war to concentrate the mind before battle.  Here are some of the reflections, yet again of Prince Andrei, before this particular battle:

He gazed at the row of birch-trees with their motionless green and yellow foliage, and the white bark shining in the sun. "To die, to be killed tomorrow.... to be no more .... and that all this shall still be but no me..."  He pictured the world without himself, and the birches with their light and shade, the curly clouds and the smoke of the camp-fires - everything around him suddenly underwent a transformation into something sinister and threatening.  A cold shiver ran down his spine....  (Ibid., p. 915)

"Tens of thousands of men meet - as they will tomorrow - to massacre one another, to kill and maim, and then they will offer up thanksgiving ceremonies for having slain such vast numbers (they even exaggerate the number) and proclaim a victory, supposing that the more men they have slaughtered the more credit to them.  Think of God looking down and listening to them!" cried Prince Andrei in a shrill piercing voice.  "Ah, my friend, life has become a burden to me of late.  I see that I have begun to see and understand too much.  And it doesn't do for a man to taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.... ah well, it's not for long," he added.... (Ibid., p. 922)

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