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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWar And Peace - Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter 1
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War And Peace - Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter 1 Post by :ID3000 Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :3653

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War And Peace - Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter 1

From the close of the year 1811 intensified arming and concentrating
of the forces of Western Europe began, and in 1812 these forces-
millions of men, reckoning those transporting and feeding the army-
moved from the west eastwards to the Russian frontier, toward which
since 1811 Russian forces had been similarly drawn. On the twelfth
of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian
frontier and war began, that is, an event took place opposed to
human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated
against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries,
thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms,
and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of
all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them
did not at the time regard as being crimes.

What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes?
The historians tell us with naive assurance that its causes were the
wrongs inflicted on the Duke of Oldenburg, the nonobservance of the
Continental System, the ambition of Napoleon, the firmness of
Alexander, the mistakes of the diplomatists, and so on.

Consequently, it would only have been necessary for Metternich,
Rumyantsev, or Talleyrand, between a levee and an evening party, to
have taken proper pains and written a more adroit note, or for
Napoleon to have written to Alexander: "My respected Brother, I
consent to restore the duchy to the Duke of Oldenburg"- and there
would have been no war.

We can understand that the matter seemed like that to
contemporaries. It naturally seemed to Napoleon that the war was
caused by England's intrigues (as in fact he said on the island of St.
Helena). It naturally seemed to members of the English Parliament that
the cause of the war was Napoleon's ambition; to the Duke of
Oldenburg, that the cause of the war was the violence done to him;
to businessmen that the cause of the way was the Continental System
which was ruining Europe; to the generals and old soldiers that the
chief reason for the war was the necessity of giving them
employment; to the legitimists of that day that it was the need of
re-establishing les bons principes, and to the diplomatists of that
time that it all resulted from the fact that the alliance between
Russia and Austria in 1809 had not been sufficiently well concealed
from Napoleon, and from the awkward wording of Memorandum No. 178.
It is natural that these and a countless and infinite quantity of
other reasons, the number depending on the endless diversity of points
of view, presented themselves to the men of that day; but to us, to
posterity who view the thing that happened in all its magnitude and
perceive its plain and terrible meaning, these causes seem
insufficient. To us it is incomprehensible that millions of
Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon
was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England's policy was
astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged. We cannot grasp what
connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter
and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men
from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolensk
and Moscow and were killed by them.

To us, their descendants, who are not historians and are not carried
away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event
with unclouded common sense, an incalculable number of causes
present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes
the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of
causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by
its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its
impotence- apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident
causes- to occasion the event. To us, the wish or objection of this or
that French corporal to serve a second term appears as much a cause as
Napoleon's refusal to withdraw his troops beyond the Vistula and to
restore the duchy of Oldenburg; for had he not wished to serve, and
had a second, a third, and a thousandth corporal and private also
refused, there would have been so many less men in Napoleon's army and
the war could not have occurred.

Had Napoleon not taken offense at the demand that he should withdraw
beyond the Vistula, and not ordered his troops to advance, there would
have been no war; but had all his sergeants objected to serving a
second term then also there could have been no war. Nor could there
have been a war had there been no English intrigues and no Duke of
Oldenburg, and had Alexander not felt insulted, and had there not been
an autocratic government in Russia, or a Revolution in France and a
subsequent dictatorship and Empire, or all the things that produced
the French Revolution, and so on. Without each of these causes nothing
could have happened. So all these causes- myriads of causes- coincided
to bring it about. And so there was no one cause for that
occurrence, but it had to occur because it had to. Millions of men,
renouncing their human feelings and reason, had to go from west to
east to slay their fellows, just as some centuries previously hordes
of men had come from the east to the west, slaying their fellows.

The actions of Napoleon and Alexander, on whose words the event
seemed to hang, were as little voluntary as the actions of any soldier
who was drawn into the campaign by lot or by conscription. This
could not be otherwise, for in order that the will of Napoleon and
Alexander (on whom the event seemed to depend) should be carried
out, the concurrence of innumerable circumstances was needed without
any one of which the event could not have taken place. It was
necessary that millions of men in whose hands lay the real power-
the soldiers who fired, or transported provisions and guns- should
consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals, and should
have been induced to do so by an infinite number of diverse and
complex causes.

We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of
irrational events (that is to say, events the reasonableness of
which we do not understand). The more we try to explain such events in
history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they
become to us.

Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal
aims, and feels with his whole being that he can now do or abstain
from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that
action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and
belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined

There are two sides to the life of every man, his individual life,
which is the more free the more abstract its interests, and his
elemental hive life in which he inevitably obeys laws laid down for

Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious
instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of
humanity. A deed done is irrevocable, and its result coinciding in
time with the actions of millions of other men assumes an historic
significance. The higher a man stands on the social ladder, the more
people he is connected with and the more power he has over others, the
more evident is the predestination and inevitability of his every

"The king's heart is in the hands of the Lord."

A king is history's slave.

History, that is, the unconscious, general, hive life of mankind,
uses every moment of the life of kings as a tool for its own purposes.

Though Napoleon at that time, in 1812, was more convinced than
ever that it depended on him, verser (ou ne pas verser) le sang de ses
peuples*- as Alexander expressed it in the last letter he wrote him-
he had never been so much in the grip of inevitable laws, which
compelled him, while thinking that he was acting on his own
volition, to perform for the hive life- that is to say, for history-
whatever had to be performed.

*"To shed (or not to shed) the blood of his peoples."

The people of the west moved eastwards to slay their fellow men, and
by the law of coincidence thousands of minute causes fitted in and
co-ordinated to produce that movement and war: reproaches for the
nonobservance of the Continental System, the Duke of Oldenburg's
wrongs, the movement of troops into Prussia- undertaken (as it
seemed to Napoleon) only for the purpose of securing an armed peace,
the French Emperor's love and habit of war coinciding with his
people's inclinations, allurement by the grandeur of the preparations,
and the expenditure on those preparations and the need of obtaining
advantages to compensate for that expenditure, the intoxicating honors
he received in Dresden, the diplomatic negotiations which, in the
opinion of contemporaries, were carried on with a sincere desire to
attain peace, but which only wounded the self-love of both sides,
and millions and millions of other causes that adapted themselves to
the event that was happening or coincided with it.

When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of
its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it
is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes
it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it?

Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions
in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. And the
botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue
decays and so forth is equally right with the child who stands under
the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and
prayed for it. Equally right or wrong is he who says that Napoleon
went to Moscow because he wanted to, and perished because Alexander
desired his destruction, and he who says that an undermined hill
weighing a million tons fell because the last navvy struck it for
the last time with his mattock. In historic events the so-called great
men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but
the smallest connection with the event itself.

Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will,
is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole
course of history and predestined from eternity.

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