This very short, but beautifully written chapter brings together a couple of recurring themes throughout the book. First of all, we have Andrei surveying the position at Schöngraben, and composing military strategy in his head. Note carefully the large-scale strategies he works out. When this happens, that division will move there, that regiment will do this, etc. A far cry from the micro-detailed world of reality that Tolstoy paints for us – as we shall see.
The other element is one that I think most of us would be able to relate to, one way or another – regardless of our beliefs – the discussion on death by Captain Tushin.
Quite correctly, he gets to the heart of why we fear death – and the situations that can cause it – so much. We don’t know what or where we are going to. As a Christian myself, I believe in life after death, but there is a sense in which, not having seen it, this life is the only one I know. And it is so for most humans – we will cling to this life which we know with an amazing tenacity.
Several years ago, I used to suffer from panic attacks – on a regular, almost daily, basis. Although it was mostly in the mind, it felt like I was having a heart attack. I can tell you – Christian beliefs or not – I was terrified at the thought of dying.
Or maybe you’ve never stopped to think about these things. Sometimes it takes something as severe as a battle, to really make you think about the possibility. For me it was panic attacks. And even though they are gone, I still find a plane trip can make me contemplate mortality for some reason – realising that there’s nothing you can do if the plane goes down.
It does ask an interesting question, though – are we at peace with our own mortality? How would we be? Terrified? Calm? These are the questions that get to the heart of being really human, I think.