I got a bit of amusement out of this chapter, which attempts to explain the mathematics behind warfare, and also how a bunch of scattered guerillas can beat the snot out of a massed army.

I’m not sure what real military historians would make of it all – after all, does this apply in general to most battles – or is the Russian experience of beating the French a bit of an anomaly?

Either way, I was thinking that Tolstoy really set the ground rules for most war movies to come. In many of the films coming out nowadays (from Braveheart right on down to Lord of the Rings), an army that is smaller and less well-equipped comes out and whups the bad guys. While partly this is due to getting help from other allies, secret weapons, etc., nearly always there is a scene where somebody delivers some sort of speech or makes some sort of comment that fires up the spirit of the underdogs, and it’s that spirit that goes out and makes them win.

Actually, never mind Tolstoy – really, we’re back to Shakespeare’s Henry V again. Henry delivers his St Crispin’s day speech, basically saying, “Guys, we don’t need more men! We just need to have courage and go out there and bash the French! Who’d want to have more men if they’re cowards anyway?”

Of course, Shakespeare phrases it a lot more nicely than that, so I’ll leave you with Kenneth Branagh rattling off the speech. Notice also the soundtrack for this speech, that has been ripped off in film trailers for years afterwards (most recently I saw them using it to advertise Australia).

One thought on “One-Year War and Peace 14.2 – The X Factor

  1. That’s certainly an inspiring speech and you’re right, Matt – there have been many incarnations of it since. I think Tolstoy even gave something similar to Kutuzov a while back, didn’t he?

    As for those equations – yes, they do seem a somewhat over-zealous way of mounting the argument that there is different science to war than the conventional one of the day. But this is, ultimately, a very important feature of Tolstoy’s overall argument – that this great tide of history which he talks about so often actually is a knowable thing, because it follows laws … laws that can be deciphered. So those countless millions of things that work together to drive history are not, in Tolstoy’s analysis, random events driven by free will, but phenomena that obey laws. This history, for Tolstoy, becomes not an art, not even really a narrative, but a science. I don’t totally disagree with him, either – although for me, as a Marxist, I probably would ultimately think those laws are different ones to those that he might describe. But, in any event, there’s no denying the eloquence of his argument.

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