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War And Peace 642

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War And Peace

admit that the French retreat from Moscow was a series of victories for Napoleon and defeats for Kutuzov. But putting national vanity entirely aside one feels that such a conclusion involves a contradiction, since the series of French victories brought the French complete destruction, while the series of Russian defeats led to the total destruction of their enemy and the liberation of their country. The source of this contradiction lies in the fact that the historians studying the events from the letters of the sovereigns and the generals, from memoirs, reports, projects, and so forth, have attributed to this last period of the war of 1812 an aim that never existed, namely that of cutting off and capturing Napoleon with his marshals and his army. There never was or could have been such an aim, for it would have been senseless and its attainment quite impossible. It would have been senseless, first because Napoleons disorganized army was flying from Russia with all possible speed, that is to say, was doing just what every Russian desired. So what was the use of performing various operations on the French who were running away as fast as they possibly could? Secondly, it would have been senseless to block the passage of men whose whole energy was directed to flight. Thirdly, it would have been senseless to sacrifice ones own troops in order to destroy the French army, which without external interference was destroying itself at such a rate that, though its path was not blocked, it could not carry across the frontier more than it actually did in December, namely a hundredth part of the original army. Fourthly, it would have been senseless to wish to take captive the Emperor, kings, and dukes--whose capture would have been in the highest degree embarrassing for the Russians, as the most adroit diplomatists of the time (Joseph de Maistre and others) recognized. Still more senseless would have been the wish to capture army corps of the French, when our own army had melted away to half before reaching Krasnoe and a whole division would have been needed to convoy the corps of prisoners, and when our men were not always getting full rations and the prisoners already taken were perishing of hunger. All the profound plans about cutting off and capturing Napoleon and his army were like the plan of a market gardener who, when driving out of his garden a cow that had trampled down the beds he had planted, should run to the gate and hit the cow on the head. The only thing to be said in excuse of that gardener would be that he was very angry. But not even that could be said for those who drew up this project, for it was not they who had suffered from the trampled beds. But besides the fact that cutting off Napoleon with his army would have been senseless, it was impossible. It was impossible first because--as experience shows that a three-mile movement of columns on a battlefield never coincides with the plans--the probability of Chichagov, Kutuzov, and Wittgenstein effecting a junction on time at an appointed place was so remote as to be tantamount to impossibility, as in fact thought Kutuzov, who when he received the plan remarked that diversions planned over great distances do not yield the desired results. Secondly it was impossible, because to paralyze the momentum with which Napoleons army was retiring, incomparably greater forces than the Russians possessed would have been required. Thirdly it was impossible, because the military term "to cut off" has no meaning. One can cut off a slice of bread, but not an army. To cut off an army--to bar its road--is quite impossible, for there is always plenty of room to avoid capture and there is the night when nothing can be seen, as the military scientists might convince themselves by the example of Krasnoe and of the Berezina. It is only possible to capture prisoners if they agree to be captured, just as it is only possible to catch a swallow if it settles on ones hand. Men can only be taken prisoners if they surrender according to the rules of strategy and tactics, as the Germans did. But the French troops quite rightly did not consider that this suited them, since death by hunger and cold awaited them in flight or captivity alike. Fourthly and chiefly it was impossible, because never since the world began has a war been fought under such conditions as those that obtained in 1812, and the Russian army in its pursuit of the French strained its strength to the

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