Reading for Sunday, 5 April

In many wars, you read of small things that have a major impact on the way a battle runs its course. I remember reading about an incident during the American Civil War, where a soldier (I think it might have been a Confederate) was in a field and picked up some cigars that were lying on the ground, wrapped in paper.

The soldier thought he was lucky because he’d scored some cigars – but even more amazing was that the piece of paper was an outline of the enemy’s plan of attack. Some senior officer had wrapped it around some cigars, managed to lose them – and here they were, in the hands of the enemy.

A small thing – but it made a huge difference to the upcoming battle.

In much the same way, Tolstoy lays out this theory here in this chapter. The generals are concerned with the major things – who will replace the fallen generals during the war. But as Tolstoy quickly shows us – this is all just office politics and has very little bearing on the actual war.

Also irrelevant in the scheme of things is the rather bitchy letter from the Tsar to Kutuzov asking him why he’s not doing any attacking.

What’s of far more significance is the lone Cossack who goes hunting hares. He comes across the left flank of the French army, and lo and behold . . . it becomes the tiny little cogwheel that sets the Russian army off again to attack the French. The impetus of history, as always in Tolstoy’s world, is not found with the great men.

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 13.3 – Small Things

  1. Yes, this chapter really is a wonderful and rather poetic way of ilustrating the point Tolstoy has been making much more academically in the previous couple of chapters – that it’s the small cogs that make the big wheel turn – and once again Tolstoy returns to his analogy of the clock. It makes so much sense when it’s told in this way, I think, when we see the theory illustrated with these little anecdotes. But, of course, we could also have been told the story of how the Cossack, or the hare for that matter, happened to be in that place at that time … another little cog in the same enormous wheel. And so it would go on and on and on … and that, I guess, is precisely Tolstoy’s point.

  2. I wonder if it was true – about the cigars.

    But yes, I see how that story about the Cossack is much the same as the civil war story. And it made all the difference.

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