The Tao of war

Here is Boris, Prince Drubetskoy, the coming man who makes himself indispensable, who marries for money knowing that means he can never have Love, attached to the staff of Bagration. He knows that whatever happens at the battle of Borodino, he will gain for his master: if the battle is lost, it is the fault of Kutusov, Commander in Chief, and if won, it is the achievement of Bagration. So many men anticipate their own gain, of medals and advancement.

Bennigsen despises Kutusov. He sees an elementary error which will lead to slaughter: men at the base of a hill, from which they might be attacked. He orders them to the top of the hill, not thinking that they had been where they were for any reason- such as, to be concealed in ambush.

Solzhenitsyn pictures similar generals in August 1914, despising their commander so marching their own way, each in turn enveloped and annihilated by the Axis. In 1917, the Germans marched into Russia, as fast as they would in peacetime.

Clausewitz- whose concept of “friction” I remember, how any plan is worn away by Events, walks past, in animated conversation in German. War must be extended in space. I cannot put too high a price on this view. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky despises German thinking and analysis. Barclay de Tolly- despite his Scottish ancestry he is seen as a German, as all foreigners are called “German”- thinks things through, and loses. Bolkonsky knows he will die tomorrow. What matters in war is not theory, but spirit. The men who wish most to kill will do it. Barclay retreated at the moment to attack, when the fatherland had been besmirched by the invader, when Russian blood was up. No prisoners should be taken. War is murder, and chivalry makes it bearable, noble, possible; chivalry, the make-up on a pig, permits people to lie it is beautiful.

No-one understands. Napoleon wishes to advance, though that is what destroyed his army; the Russians want to hold him back. After, military historians try to find Causes: but causes are inaccessible to the human mind. The need to seek causes has been put into the soul of man. And the human mind, without grasping in their countlessness and complexity the conditions of phenomena, takes hold of the first, most comprehensible approximation and says, here is the cause. And claim the generals are geniuses, for intending the outcome achieved.

Kutuzov, who sleeps in staff meetings considering battle plans, is reading a French Gothic novel, Les Chevaliers du Cygne. Andrei, without knowing how, trusts him. The more he saw the absence of anything personal in this old man, in whom there seemed to remain only the habit of passions, and instead of intelligence (which groups events and draws conclusions) only the ability to calmly contemplate the course of events, the more calmed he felt over everything being as it had to be. “He won’t invent, won’t undertake anything, but he’ll listen to everything, remember everything, put everything in its place, won’t hinder anything or allow anything harmful. He understands that there is something stronger and more significant than his will- the inevitable course of events… and is able to renounce his personal will.”

Peter von Hess, the Battle of Borodino

Go on, you know you want to

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s