Reading for Sunday, 29 March

While this chapter is very familiar to me, and the accompanying scene in the Bondarchuk movie, I still find it remarkably difficult to read. I’m not squeamish, but there is something quite horrific about this particular chapter.

I think because here we have, the quite deliberate taking of life. On the battlefield, there is a lot of carnage as well, but you can always be a little bit more removed from the whole thing – soldiers fire bullets in the general direction of other soldiers, cannons take out a group of people impersonally.

But this is the ultimate in bringing death to someone else. The executioner knows exactly who they’re going to kill and the person on the receiving end knows full well they’re going to die.

What’s made worse is that there’s no real reason given until the last paragraph for the execution, so there’s no sense of justice in any of this. It’s just slaughter. Tolstoy interestingly portrays it as something that neither the French nor the Russians want to partake in, but nonetheless, it’s happening.

It’s another one of his times, I think, where he tries to show that the flow of history just rolls along, and we end up doing things that we wouldn’t otherwise do, because that’s the way everyone’s actions have driven us to this point.

I still like the idea that someone out there had the influence to put a stop to this and chose not to – to actually make someone responsible for this – but then this isn’t my book.

However, I’m sure we all breathed a sigh of relief (even though you all read it weeks ago) that Pierre is alive and well.

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 12.11 – Firing Squad

  1. Yes, it’s certainly a gruesome scene Matt and, as with you, the same scene from Bondarchuk came very much to mind when I read this again. The meaninglessness and horror of it all is just so strong, in pretty well evey sentence of this chapter.

    I kind of see your point about wanting there to be “someone” who was responsible for this, “someone” who could have stopped it – but I think I prefer it told the way it’s told here because I do tend to think that that is very much how these things go … some of the most horrific things that people do to one another, especially that people “officially” do to one another, are not just under the whim or control of one person. They are horrible, and eveyone is horrified by them, but no one is responsible for them – and that, I think, is the most horrifying bit of all.

    But, as I’ve mentioned before when we’ve discussed this issue, I don’t think Tolstoy is telling us that we are, or should be, just passive participants in it all – but rather that we are, each and every one of us, part of the tide and it’s only collectively that we can change things. To me, then Tolstoy’s doctrine on these matters is not a pessimistic, defeatist one, but rather a rallying cry to take action.

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