Reading for Wednesday, 15 April

But all of this was just more calm before yet another storm. Everyone’s rounded up and the French are on the move again.

The thing to note with this chapter is, of course, Tolstoy’s view that men, under normal circumstances, do not act inhumanely. I’m not entirely in agreeance with him, but nonetheless the flow of this book has been from the French, who become almost humane to their prisoners in the last couple of chapters – but now become cold again as they are swept along by the movement of events.

It’s very much the old question that often gets asked about the Germans in WWII. Were they all anti-Semitic willing servants of Hitler? Or were most of them against him and terrified? Obviously, a bit of both, but who can tell what most drives someone’s actions at any given point of time? At the end of the day, you only have their actions and either what they say their motives were or what someone else thinks their motives were.

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 13.13 – Peace Shattered

  1. “Peace shattered” is certainly the right words for this chapter, Matt. It comes as a pretty brutal shock after the last couple of chapters, with their focus on simplicity and kindness and goodness. Everyone is transformed – literally beyond recognition – here. It was grim reading indeed. I am probably more inclined to agree with what we are being told here than I think you are, Matt. I think I do believe that people are very much shaped by the conditions in which they find themselves and that good people can do bad things if the circumstances demand it of them. Not that I believe people are automatons, either – but that things like war (and greed, and wealth, and power) can change people in very profound and frightening ways. It might not be as simple as putting on a uniform – and yet the metaphor seems to work very well here and is, even read literally, disturbingly believable.

  2. Well, my thought on this is that while in the actually prison camp, the French men were able to be as kind as they felt toward the prisoners. Once they were ordered to get them out of there, and be ‘on the march’, they were wide open to other ‘eyes’ . . . they couldn’t risk the possibility of their superiors, people who might report to their superiors, or other Russians, seeing their ‘kindness’ toward their prisoners.

    Take Rostopchin – he would have had a field day in his daily journals if he’d seen French soldiers being kind to their prisoners. And that wouldn’t have gone down well with the French generals – especially Murat!

    I can well imagine there were men in Hitler’s regime who were ‘kind’ . . . the ones we read about were all cruel. But in situations where no one could see what they were doing, I guess there were indeed some kind men and women who showed kindness when they were supposed to be cold and cruel toward the Jews and other classes of people Hitler wanted destroyed.

    In the story, Sarah’s Key, which I’m presently reading and discussing, there is some kindness shown there, by a French policeman, who allows Sarah and Rachel to escape from the camp.

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