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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWar And Peace - Book Thirteen: 1812 - Chapter 1
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War And Peace - Book Thirteen: 1812 - Chapter 1 Post by :barnone Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :2040

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War And Peace - Book Thirteen: 1812 - Chapter 1

Man's mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their
completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in
man's soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of
the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the
cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to
him intelligible and says: "This is the cause!" In historical events
(where the actions of men are the subject of observation) the first
and most primitive approximation to present itself was the will of the
gods and, after that, the will of those who stood in the most
prominent position- the heroes of history. But we need only
penetrate to the essence of any historic event- which lies in the
activity of the general mass of men who take part in it- to be
convinced that the will of the historic hero does not control the
actions of the mass but is itself continually controlled. It may
seem to be a matter of indifference whether we understand the
meaning of historical events this way or that; yet there is the same
difference between a man who says that the people of the West moved on
the East because Napoleon wished it and a man who says that this
happened because it had to happen, as there is between those who
declared that the earth was stationary and that the planets moved
round it and those who admitted that they did not know what upheld the
earth, but knew there were laws directing its movement and that of the
other planets. There is, and can be, no cause of an historical event
except the one cause of all causes. But there are laws directing
events, and some of these laws are known to us while we are
conscious of others we cannot comprehend. The discovery of these
laws is only possible when possible when we have quite abandoned the
attempt to find the cause in the will of some one man, just as the
discovery of the laws of the motion of the planets was possible only
when men abandoned the conception of the fixity of the earth.

The historians consider that, next to the battle of Borodino and the
occupation of Moscow by the enemy and its destruction by fire, the
most important episode of the war of 1812 was the movement of the
Russian army from the Ryazana to the Kaluga road and to the Tarutino
camp- the so-called flank march across the Krasnaya Pakhra River. They
ascribe the glory of that achievement of genius to different men and
dispute as to whom the honor is due. Even foreign historians,
including the French, acknowledge the genius of the Russian commanders
when they speak of that flank march. But it is hard to understand
why military writers, and following them others, consider this flank
march to be the profound conception of some one man who saved Russia
and destroyed Napoleon. In the first place it is hard to understand
where the profundity and genius of this movement lay, for not much
mental effort was needed to see that the best position for an army
when it is not being attacked is where there are most provisions;
and even a dull boy of thirteen could have guessed that the best
position for an army after its retreat from Moscow in 1812 was on
the Kaluga road. So it is impossible to understand by what reasoning
the historians reach the conclusion that this maneuver was a
profound one. And it is even more difficult to understand just why
they think that this maneuver was calculated to save Russia and
destroy the French; for this flank march, had it been preceded,
accompanied, or followed by other circumstances, might have proved
ruinous to the Russians and salutary for the French. If the position
of the Russian army really began to improve from the time of that
march, it does not at all follow that the march was the cause of it.

That flank march might not only have failed to give any advantage to
the Russian army, but might in other circumstances have led to its
destruction. What would have happened had Moscow not burned down? If
Murat had not lost sight of the Russians? If Napoleon had not remained
inactive? If the Russian army at Krasnaya Pakhra had given battle as
Bennigsen and Barclay advised? What would have happened had the French
attacked the Russians while they were marching beyond the Pakhra? What
would have happened if on approaching Tarutino, Napoleon had
attacked the Russians with but a tenth of the energy he had shown when
he attacked them at Smolensk? What would have happened had the
French moved on Petersburg?... In any of these eventualities the flank
march that brought salvation might have proved disastrous.

The third and most incomprehensible thing is that people studying
history deliberately avoid seeing that this flank march cannot be
attributed to any one man, that no one ever foresaw it, and that in
reality, like the retreat from Fili, it did not suggest itself to
anyone in its entirety, but resulted- moment by moment, step by
step, event by event- from an endless number of most diverse
circumstances and was only seen in its entirety when it had been
accomplished and belonged to the past.

At the council at Fili the prevailing thought in the minds of the
Russian commanders was the one naturally suggesting itself, namely,
a direct retreat by the Nizhni road. In proof of this there is the
fact that the majority of the council voted for such a retreat, and
above all there is the well-known conversation after the council,
between the commander in chief and Lanskoy, who was in charge of the
commissariat department. Lanskoy informed the commander in chief
that the army supplies were for the most part stored along the Oka
in the Tula and Ryazan provinces, and that if they retreated on Nizhni
the army would be separated from its supplies by the broad river
Oka, which cannot be crossed early in winter. This was the first
indication of the necessity of deviating from what had previously
seemed the most natural course- a direct retreat on Nizhni-Novgorod.
The army turned more to the south, along the Ryazan road and nearer to
its supplies. Subsequently the in activity of the French (who even
lost sight of the Russian army), concern for the safety of the arsenal
at Tula, and especially the advantages of drawing nearer to its
supplies caused the army to turn still further south to the Tula road.
Having crossed over, by a forced march, to the Tula road beyond the
Pakhra, the Russian commanders intended to remain at Podolsk and had
no thought of the Tarutino position; but innumerable circumstances and
the reappearance of French troops who had for a time lost touch with
the Russians, and projects of giving battle, and above all the
abundance of provisions in Kaluga province, obliged our army to turn
still more to the south and to cross from the Tula to the Kaluga
road and go to Tarutino, which was between the roads along which those
supplies lay. Just as it is impossible to say when it was decided to
abandon Moscow, so it is impossible to say precisely when, or by whom,
it was decided to move to Tarutino. Only when the army had got
there, as the result of innumerable and varying forces, did people
begin to assure themselves that they had desired this movement and
long ago foreseen its result.

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The famous flank movement merely consisted in this: after theadvance of the French had ceased, the Russian army, which had beencontinually retreating straight back from the invaders, deviatedfrom that direct course and, not finding itself pursued, was naturallydrawn toward the district where supplies were abundant.If instead of imagining to ourselves commanders of genius leadingthe Russian army, we picture that army without any leaders, it couldnot have done anything but make a return movement toward Moscow,describing an arc in the direction where most provisions were to befound and where the country was richest.That movement from the Nizhni to the Ryazan, Tula, and
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