Another very brief chapter (they’re getting shorter and shorter, aren’t they?) as Tolstoy pulls out his flamethrower to use on any remaining historians who still think Napoleon is a great man, and that the escape from Russia was all carefully orchestrated.

Finally, he lets Napoleon himself have it – just in case Napoleon thought he’d done pretty good, Tolstoy reminds us no – “great” is not some transcendent category that lies above right and wrong.

Granted, using that logic, the question I have is what makes the Russians “right” in this particular case? (Apart from the fact they were defending their homeland.) I’m not sure . . . But I can don my Russian cap for the time being and feel the rage.

After all, I’ve only got less than two months left to go and the one-year War and Peace project will all be over . . .

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 14.18 – Taking a Sledgehammer

  1. I guess in some ways the question about who is right and who is wrong, between the French and the Russians, is a different question than the one that this chapter is addressing – it’s more, I think, a look at our concept of greatness and the way that we, especially when we look back on history, have sometimes had a tendency to think of the people, who we have labelled as history’s great movers and shakers, as somehow independent of being “good” or “bad”. I think it’s something we tend to do more, the greater the time between their life and ours is. We’re more likely to judge a prominent figure from recent history on the basis of the good things and the bad things they did, but someone from much further back tends to get remembered more, I think, by the magnitude of their influence.

    Tolstoy, of course, is telling us that that is wrong from two angles – firstly, single people never have great influence anyway and, secondly, everyone, no matter who they are, has to be assessed by the moral value of what they have done and, in that respect, greatness lies not in perceptions of magnitude of influence but, rather, in “simplicity, goodness and truth”.

    A short chapter, yes – but a profound one, and probably one that should be recited, hand on heart, by anyone taking political office.

  2. And like someone said (Tolstoy?), there is often a big difference ‘tween what really happened and what the ‘historians’ have to say. Napoleon, of course, has his historians, the Russians have theirs. When we hear from somebody like Tolstoy – who really did serve in the forces – we’re hearing it from the POV of a military person who was really there.

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