BOOK NINE: 1812
1. CHAPTER I
From the close of the year 1811 intensified arming and concentrating
of the forces of Western Europe began, and in 1812 these forces-
millions of men, reckoning those transporting and feeding the army-
moved from the west eastwards to the Russian frontier, toward which
since 1811 Russian forces had been similarly drawn. On the twelfth
of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian
frontier and war began, that is, an event took place opposed to
human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated
against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries,
thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms,
and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of
all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them
did not at the time regard as being crimes.
What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes?
The historians tell us with naive assurance that its causes were the
wrongs inflicted on the Duke of Oldenburg, the nonobservance of the
Continental System, the ambition of Napoleon, the firmness of
Alexander, the mistakes of the diplomatists, and so on.
Consequently, it would only have been necessary for Metternich,
Rumyantsev, or Talleyrand, between a levee and an evening party, to
have taken proper pains and written a more adroit note, or for
Napoleon to have written to Alexander: "My respected Brother, I
consent to restore the duchy to the Duke of Oldenburg"- and there
would have been no war.
We can understand that the matter seemed like that to
contemporaries. It naturally seemed to Napoleon that the war was
caused by England's intrigues (as in fact he said on the island of St.
Helena). It naturally seemed to members of the English Parliament that
the cause of the war was Napoleon's ambition; to the Duke of
Oldenburg, that the cause of the war was the violence done to him;
to businessmen that the cause of the way was the Continental System
which was ruining Europe; to the generals and old soldiers that the
chief reason for the war was the necessity of giving them
employment; to the legitimists of that day that it was the need of
re-establishing les bons principes, and to the diplomatists of that
time that it all resulted from the fact that the alliance between
Russia and Austria in 1809 had not been sufficiently well concealed
from Napoleon, and from the awkward wording of Memorandum No. 178.
It is natural that these and a countless and infinite quantity of
other reasons, the number depending on the endless diversity of points
of view, presented themselves to the men of that day; but to us, to
posterity who view the thing that happened in all its magnitude and
perceive its plain and terrible meaning, these causes seem
insufficient. To us it is incomprehensible that millions of
Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon
was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England's policy was
astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged. We cannot grasp what
connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter
and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men
from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolensk
and Moscow and were killed by them.