Monday, November 21, 2011

War and Peace

I'm at the 200 page mark, and had my first taste of battle.
For Tolstoy, leadership has to do with morale more than strategy -
The Russian general Bagration rides among his few thousand Russian soldiers as they prepare to face the main body of the French army. He agrees with what they say they're going to do (while his aide Andrei Bolkonsky, who has spent time and effort prior to this review taking the grand view of battle, envisioning troop movements, feints and counter-attacks, worries about his commander's casual and apparently thoughtless acquiescence to the fusiliers, the infantry and the cavalry). "Owing to the tact shown by ... [General] Bagration, Prince Andrei [Bolkonsky] noticed that, in spite of the chance character of events and their independence of the commander's will, his presence accomplished a very great deal. Commanders... became calm, soldiers and officers greeted him merrily and became more animated in his presence, and obviously showed off their courage before him."
At the far end of the deployment, two officers, one Russian and the other Austrian, engage in a personal squabble, ignoring the battle; their soldiers are disorganized and fearful, their training forgotten. "The troops... both infantry and hussars, sensed that their superiors themselves did not know what to do, and the indecisiveness of the superiors communicated itself to the troops."

Meanwhile, Nikolai Rostov is struck by an artillery shell, his horse killed out from under him. He wanders in a daze, unaware of his own wounds except that one arm is useless. In many ways he is still the child of his soft upbringing. "Something must be wrong, " he thought, "it's impossible that they should want to kill me... Me, whom everybody loves so?"
But the soldiers the general has encouraged in his uncommanding way, meet battle with cooperation and fortitude. The artillery gunners fight valiantly while their fellows die around them, creating diversions they have thought of themselves (setting the town behind the French lines on fire, which draws off French soldiers to battle the blazes) and displaying that unhesitating courage a general can only dream of.

This small detachment holds off the French, enabling the main body of the Russian army to escape being cut off from its allies and annihilated by Napoleon's troops.

Tolstoy uses such phrases as "Pleasant buzzing and whistling noises were heard rather often" (they're being fired upon); "his face expressed that concentrated and happy resolve"; "Prince Andrei felt that some invincible force was drawing him forward, and he experienced great happiness"; "there was established in [the artilleryman's] head a fantastic world of his own, which made up his pleasure at that moment. In his imagination, the enemy's cannon were not cannon but pipes, from which an invisible smoker released an occasional puff of smoke."

Tolstoy's soldiers love being in battle.

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