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

Tolstoy and Love

Nikolai Rostov finds Marya Bolkonska, newly bereaved, alone and unsupported. The more generous she is to the muzhiks, the more rebellious they are. Their head-man rebels with them, her steward cannot control them. He goes and shouts at them, though he and one soldier are alone in the crowd and they could overwhelm him. They become obedient, and Princess Marya can escape the French, to Moscow.

She finds herself with tender feelings for him, and his comrades josh him about this plain, old maid- in her late twenties! Her luminous gaze makes one forget the plainness of her face, and she is extremely wealthy. Yet he thinks with guilt of Sonia, his parents’ penniless ward, who has loved him since childhood, and to whom he has promised himself. Dolokhov the duellist loved her, but Nikolai encouraged her love enough to make her reject him: so he beguiles Nikolai into a cheating card game, and wins 42,000 roubles from him. Nikolai’s father pays up, enmeshing him further in debt.

Marya’s brother Andrei loved Nikolai’s sister Natasha. She is not intelligent, but she is sweet. Andrei’s father opposed the match, and sends away for a year, for a German cure. Andrei was wounded at Austerlitz, feared dead, but taken to a French hospital. On the battlefield he looked up at the lofty, infinite sky. Everything is a deception, there is nothing except that sky. That changes a man. Theirs is a pure sweet love; but she falls into the clutches of Elena, countess Bezukhov. Elena’s brother Anatole fancies Natasha, so Elena overawes her with her social prowess, patronises her, adopts her and throws her together with Anatole. His contemptuous awareness of his own superiority arouses a woman’s curiosity, fear, and even love.

She sees him at the opera, and he stares at her. She is delighted that he is captivated. He speaks boldly and simply, and she loves his smile. He stares at her breasts. She would prefer him to look into her eyes, but when he does, she felt with fear and horror that between him and her that barrier of modesty which she had always felt between herself and other men was not there at all.

He wants to elope, and she consents. Dolokhov realises this is foolish: Anatole will run through his few thousand roubles in cash in no time, and is married to a Pole. Anatole has no thought for the future. He takes his carriage to her house at night. But her hostess, a princess and courtier, is wise to him, and thwarts him.

Though they have not kissed, Natasha is shamed forever. Pierre Bolkonsky pities her, and loves her; yet, trapped in his loveless marriage, he decides not to see her, though he is her only moral bulwark. Andrei feels terrible rage, and only desires a duel with Anatole. They meet at the field of Borodino.

And at Austerlitz, Nikolai loved the Sovereign, wanting only to see him, to be seen as a hero and catch his momentary attention, to die for him.

Borovikovsky, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovitch

Second guessing

Stillness. Presence.

The light glinting on the polished wood of the chair opposite is beautiful. The music is not bad. What do you feel?

What one ought to or might feel gets in the way of perceiving what one does; and one can feel contradictory things. I feel some anxiety, looking round when the door opens. I am concerned about my toe, which is infected

are you squeamish about such things? I can discuss this with perfect ease, even when eating. Actually eating at a sewage farm would nauseate me, I imagine, but talking of it does not. Anyway, my toe was infected before, and it had a small cut, then redness by the nail, then a pus spot

are you interested in such things? I hope in what I can say about it.

I go to the pharmacist. Would she have a look at this?As I wait I consider the lights in the roof, and the colours of the displays: Presence. What do I feel? Nausea, because of the toe.

When I take my sock off, the redness is considerably worse. I went to get an excuse to get antimicrobials, but really want them now. She could sell me something to draw out the pus, but I want to kill it. I phone the surgery immediately, and get to see the nurse. Strange, I procrastinate everything, but not this: it has touched me.

Now, two days later, I am slightly nauseous from the antibiotics. The instruction was to take them an hour before food or two hours after, four a day, which would be inconvenient, but does not seem to matter. The swelling is much reduced, and I think, was I premature in getting the antibiotics, which will adversely affect gut flora?

What do you feel? Still some anxiety. There is no point in being anxious about what one has done. Second guessing is pointless. But it is an explanation for the anxiety, which will do for now.

Possibly non-specific anxiety attaches itself to circumstance. I remain anxious, no matter how much I tell myself that is uncalled-for.

Pyotr Bezukov, taken prisoner by the retreating French army, learned, not with his mind, but with his whole being, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfying of natural human needs, and that all unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity; but now, in these last three weeks of the march, he had learned a new and more comforting truth- that there is nothing frightening in the world. As there is no situation in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so there is no situation in which he can be perfectly unhappy and unfree. The limit to suffering and the limit to freedom are very close- that when he used to put on his tight ballroom shoes, he suffered just as much as now, when he walked barefoot and his feet were covered with sores.

Yet he weeps in relief when the partisans rescue him.

Sorry about the non-inclusive language. Possibly, Tolstoy could only speak for men. Another cup of chocolate- why not?

Renoir, la tasse de chocolat

The Duel

Dolokhov, famed for tying a policeman to the back of a bear, and throwing them in the river- it was so funny, watching the policeman cry out as the bear swam- is the lover of Princess Elena, wife of Count Pyotr (or Pierre) Bezukhov. Anonymous correspondents, who only wish to do good, tell Pierre of his wife’s unfaithfulness, without denting his faith in her- for surely her adultery would be impossible? However when at a drunken dinner Dolokhov toasts “Beautiful women- and their lovers” Bezukhov challenges him to a duel.

They meet the next day. Bezukhov does not want to tell his second that he has never held a pistol before. Dolokhov despises those poor boys who write apologising to their mothers- they are dead already. In a duel, it is necessary to decide to kill the other man, with all the despatch possible. They start forty paces apart, and walk towards each other through the forest. Bezukhov shoots first, grievously wounding Dolokhov: he returns home, believing he may have killed him.

“How did I come to that?” “Because you married her, an inner voice answered. He knew he never loved her. He knew it was not right; but her father placed her close to him, and he was aware of her as an animal, rather than as a lady in a gown. Then her father, who looked at his children as a parent who had always treated them with affection would- because he has observed the manner of other parents, and mimicked it- places them together repeatedly, until it is known to all that they will marry. Pierre did not see how he could escape. Elena knew Pyotr had vast estates, with thousands of “souls”, that is, serfs.

He did not understand her, her eternal calm, contentment, and lack of any predilections and desires, and the whole answer was in this terrible word that she is a depraved woman…he recalled the clarity and coarseness of expression typical of her, despite her upbringing in high aristocratic circles.

He could not  remain under the same roof with her. He could not imagine how he was going to speak to her now.

The Countess herself, in a white satin dressing gown embroidered with silver, and with her hair done up simply (two enormous braids wound twice round her lovely head en diadème) came into the room calmly and majestically; only there was a wrinkle of wrath on her marble and slightly prominent forehead… Pierre glanced at her timidly.

“What is this? What have you done, I ask you?… You believe that Dolokhov is my lover,” she said with her coarse precision of speech, pronouncing the word lover like any other word. “You are a fool… groundlessly jealous of a man who is better than you in all respects…”

At this he seizes the marble slab from a table, and swung it at her. She shrieks, and he feels the enthusiasm and enchantment of rage. A week later he gives her power of attorney for the major part of his fortune, and leaves for Petersburg.

That clarity of thought and perception of Dolokhov and HĂ©lène, which I have envied as freedom and even wisdom, comes from their depravity. I love Tolstoy’s sharpness, a sentence to define the Prince, another to make the duel more terrifying. War and Peace reads easily, and contains some fascinating stories.

Maria Anna Moser, Portrait of Victoria, Grafin Tannenberg