And here we begin Book 14. Does it come as a surprise to anyone that we begin with a chapter of philosophy and history? I would have been a bit disappointed if he’d started anywhere else.

I won’t comment on the philosophy, because there’s not necessarily any new ideas, but I must admit, I’ve now gotten curious about what the French think of this book. There’s a certain sense of relentless French-bashing in this chapter, as Tolstoy describes the great French general’s army falling part, despite winning the last battle of the war and conquering the enemy’s country.

Also, as he describes the fencing analogy, where Russia threw down its sword and grabbed a cudgel, you can’t help but get a sense of pride coming through these words that Russia, as a nation, collectively banded together to make life miserable for the French – even if nobody particularly planned it and it was just guided by the events of history.

Nonetheless, I think Tolstoy’s saying that the collective force of millions of irritated Russians acted to throw Napoleon out. Certainly, that is the contrast he is making with “traditional” war, where an army, barely amounting to a fraction of the population, conquers another country’s army, and the other country just says, “Oh well, our army’s gone – we must be beaten.” Not so Russia . . .

2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 14.1

  1. Yes, I think Tolstoy is certainly being very patriotic here – but as before, in a very populist sort of way … it’s a tribute to the Russian people, not to the Russian generals, not even to the Russian military, that Tolstoy is writing here.

    And I guess I do see slightly different angle here than just a case of “more of he same” in terms of putting forward his philosophies. Here I read the emphasis as not being so much about the great tide of history, but more about the value in a people doing what needs to be done rather than what rules and convention tell it to do.

    But without the doubt, the final paragraph of this chapter reads almost like a hymn – in a sense (and I remembered thinking this when I read W&P the first time) almost incongruous against the essentially pacifist ideals that Tolstoy sprouts elsewhere.

  2. . . . threw down its sword and grabbed a cudgel – well said, Matt.

    It would be nice to see the people of Afghanistan stand up and go against these cruel regimes – ‘course, you can’t very well fight when you’re weak and hungry.

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