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.


2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 2.16 – Plans and the Afterlife

  1. I guess there are as many thoughts and theories about death, and why we fear it, as there are people – it is, at once, both one of the most universal and one of the most personal, things that we experience. The thing that strikes me so much in this chapter, though, is the way the philosophising about death (which they, like us, can so easily put aside for a few minutes while another vodka is poured) is suddenly and brutally interupted by the harsh reminder that death is literally at the doorstep for these men. I remember, actually, that moment in the Bondarchuk film of War and Peace, and being very much shaken by it there, as here.

    Incidentally, Matt, I, too, suffered from panic attacks for some years and also overcame them but, like you, continued to have a fear of flying. My recovery from that fear came a couple of years ago when I forced myself to do a tandem skydive. It was just terrifying – but also exhilerating, and it certainly helped cure the fear of flying: although, even now, whenever I get on a plane I do sometimes find myself wondering who will play me when they cover the forthcoming flight on a future episode of “Aircrash Investigation”.

  2. Artillery Sentry – Before the guns an artillery sentry was pacing up and down; he stood at attention when the officer arrived, but at a sign resumed his measured, monotonous pacing.

    Officer – Before the guns an artillery sentry was pacing up and down; he stood at attention when the officer arrived, but at a sign resumed his measured, monotonous pacing.


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