BOOK FOURTEEN: 1812
1. CHAPTER I
After the French victory at Borodino there was no general engagement
nor any that were at all serious, yet the French army ceased to exist.
What does this mean? If it were an example taken from the history of
China, we might say that it was not an historic phenomenon (which is
the historians' usual expedient when anything does not fit their
standards); if the matter concerned some brief conflict in which
only a small number of troops took part, we might treat it as an
exception; but this event occurred before our fathers' eyes, and for
them it was a question of the life or death of their fatherland, and
it happened in the greatest of all known wars.
The period of the campaign of 1812 from the battle of Borodino to
the expulsion of the French proved that the winning of a battle does
not produce a conquest and is not even an invariable indication of
conquest; it proved that the force which decides the fate of peoples
lies not in the conquerors, nor even in armies and battles, but in
The French historians, describing the condition of the French army
before it left Moscow, affirm that all was in order in the Grand Army,
except the cavalry, the artillery, and the transport- there was no
forage for the horses or the cattle. That was a misfortune no one
could remedy, for the peasants of the district burned their hay rather
than let the French have it.
The victory gained did not bring the usual results because the
peasants Karp and Vlas (who after the French had evacuated Moscow
drove in their carts to pillage the town, and in general personally
failed to manifest any heroic feelings), and the whole innumerable
multitude of such peasants, did not bring their hay to Moscow for
the high price offered them, but burned it instead.
Let us imagine two men who have come out to fight a duel with
rapiers according to all the rules of the art of fencing. The
fencing has gone on for some time; suddenly one of the combatants,
feeling himself wounded and understanding that the matter is no joke
but concerns his life, throws down his rapier, and seizing the first
cudgel that comes to hand begins to brandish it. Then let us imagine
that the combatant who so sensibly employed the best and simplest
means to attain his end was at the same time influenced by
traditions of chivalry and, desiring to conceal the facts of the case,
insisted that he had gained his victory with the rapier according to
all the rules of art. One can imagine what confusion and obscurity
would result from such an account of the duel.