Chapter 1

THE BATTLE of Borodino with the occupation of Moscow and the flight of the French, that followed without any more battles, is one of the most instructive phenomena in history.

All historians are agreed that the external activity of states and peoples in their conflicts finds expression in wars; that the political power of states and peoples is increased or diminished as the immediate result of success or defeat in war.

Strange are the historical accounts that tell us how some king or emperor, quarrelling with another king or emperor, levies an army, fights a battle with the army of his foe, gains a victory, kills three, five, or ten thousand men, and consequently subdues a state and a whole people consisting of several millions; and incomprehensible it seems that the defeat of any army, one hundredth of the whole strength of a people, should force that people to submit. Yet all the facts of history (so far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement, that the successes or defeats of a nation’s army are the causes or, at least, the invariable symptoms of the increase or diminution of the power of a nation. An army gains a victory, and immediately the claims of the conquering people are increased to the detriment of the conquered. An army is defeated, and at once the people loses its rights in proportion to the magnitude of the defeat; and if its army is utterly defeated, the people is completely conquered. So (according to history) it has been from the most ancient times up to the present. All Napoleon’s earlier wars serve as illustrations of the rule. As the Austrian armies were defeated, Austria was deprived of her rights, and the rights and power of France were increased. The victories of the French at Jena and at Auerstadt destroyed the independent existence of Prussia.

But suddenly, in 1812, the French gained a victory before Moscow. Moscow was taken, and in consequence of that, with no subsequent battles, not Russia, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself ceased to exist. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history, to maintain that the field of Borodino was left in the hands of the Russians, or that after the evacuation of Moscow, there were battles that destroyed Napoleon’s army—is impossible.

After the victory of the French at Borodino, there was no general engagement, nor even a skirmish of any great importance, yet the French army ceased to exist. What is the meaning of it? If it had been an example from the history of China, we could have said it was not an historical fact (the resource of historians when anything will not fit in with their rules). If it had occurred in a conflict on a small scale, in which only small numbers of soldiers had taken part, we might have looked upon it as an exception. But all this took place before the eyes of our fathers, for whom it was a question of life and death for their country; and the war was on a larger scale than any wars we know of.

The sequel of the campaign of 1812—from Borodino to the final expulsion of the French—has proved that victories are not always a cause nor even an invariable sign of conquest; it has proved that the force that decides the fate of peoples does not lie in military leaders, nor even in armies and battles, but in something else.

The French historians, who describe the position of the French troops before they marched out of Moscow, assert that everything was in good order in the Grande Armée, except the cavalry, the artillery, and the transport, and that there was no forage for the horses and cattle. There was no remedy for this defect, because the peasants of the surrounding country burned their hay rather than let the French have it.

Victory did not bring forth its usual results, because the peasants, Karp and Vlas, by no means persons of heroic feelings (after the French evacuation, they hurried with their carts to pillage Moscow), and the immense multitude of others like them burnt their hay rather than bring it to Moscow, however high the prices offered them.

Let us imagine two men, who have come out to fight a duel with swords in accordance with all the rules of the art of swordsmanship. The fencing has lasted for some time. All at once one of the combatants, feeling that he is wounded, grasping that it is no joking matter, but a question of life and death, flings away his sword, and snatching up the first cudgel that comes handy, begins to brandish that. But let

  By PanEris using Melati.

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