Chapter 1

NAPOLEON BEGAN THE WAR with Russia because he could not help going to Dresden, being dazzled by the homage paid him there, putting on the Polish uniform, yielding to the stimulating influence of a June morning, and giving way to an outburst of fury in the presence of Kurakin and afterwards of Balashev.

Alexander refused all negotiations because he felt himself personally insulted. Barclay de Tolly did his utmost to command the army in the best way possible, so as to do his duty and gain the reputation of a great general. Rostov charged the French because he could not resist the temptation to gallop across the level plain. And all the innumerable persons who took part in the war acted similarly, in accordance with their personal peculiarities, habits, circumstances, and aims. They were all impelled by fear or vanity, enjoyment, indignation, or national consideration, supposing that they knew what they were about and that they were acting independently, while they were all the involuntary tools of history and were working out a result concealed from themselves but comprehensible to us. Such is the invariable fate of all practical leaders, and the higher their place in the social hierarchy, the less free they are.

Now the leading men of 1812 have long left their places; their personal interests have vanished, leaving no trace, and nothing remains before us but the historical results of the time.

But once let us admit that the people of Europe under Napoleon’s leadership had to make their way into the heart of Russia and there to perish, and all the self-contradictory, meaningless, cruel actions of the men who took part in this war become intelligible to us.

Providence compelled all those men in striving for the attainment of their personal aims to combine in accomplishing one immense result, of which no one individual man (not Napoleon, not Alexander, still less any one taking practical part in the campaign) had the slightest inkling.

Now it is clear to us what was the cause of the destruction of the French army in 1812. No one disputes that the cause of the loss of Napoleon’s French forces was, on one hand, their entering at too late a season upon a winter march in the heart of Russia without sufficient preparation; and on the other, the character the war had assumed from the burning of Russian towns and the hatred the enemy aroused in the peasantry. But obvious as it seems now, no one at the time foresaw that this was the only means by which the best army in the world, eight hundred thousand strong, led by the best of generals, could be defeated in a conflict with the inexperienced Russian army of half the strength, led by inexperienced generals. Not only was this utterly unforeseen, but every effort indeed was being continually made on the Russian side to hinder the one means that could save Russia; and in spite of the experience and so- called military genius of Napoleon, every effort was made on the French side to push on to Moscow at the end of the summer, that is to do the very thing bound to bring about their ruin.

In historical works on the year 1812, the French writers are very fond of saying that Napoleon was aware of the danger of lengthening out his line, that he sought a decisive engagement, that his marshals advised him to stay at Smolensk, and similar statements to show that even at the time the real danger of the campaign was seen. The Russian historians are still fonder of declaring that from the beginning of the campaign there existed a plan of Scythian warfare by leading Napoleon on into the heart of Russia. And this plan is ascribed by some writers to Pfuhl, by others to some Frenchman, and by others to Barclay de Tolly; while other writers give the credit of this supposed scheme to the Emperor Alexander himself, supporting their view by documents, proclamations, and letters, in which such a course of action certainly is hinted at. But all these hints at foreseeing what actually did happen on the French as well as on the Russian side are only conspicuous now because the event justified them. If the event had not come to pass, these hints would have been forgotten, as thousands and millions of suggestions and suppositions are now forgotten that were current at the period, but have been shown by time to be unfounded and so have been consigned to oblivion. There are always so many presuppositions as to the cause of every event that, however the matter ends, there are always people who will say: “I said at the time that it would be so”: quite oblivious of the fact that among the numerous suppositions they made there were others too suggesting just the opposite course of events.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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