War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book IX: Chapters 8–15

The discussions continued a long time, and the longer they lasted the more heated became the disputes, culminating in shouts and personalities, and the less was it possible to arrive at any general conclusion from all that had been said. Prince Andrew, listening to this polyglot talk and to these surmises, plans, refutations, and shouts, felt nothing but amazement at what they were saying. A thought that had long since and often occurred to him during his military activities — the idea that there is not and cannot be any science of war, and that therefore there can be no such thing as a military genius — now appeared to him an obvious truth."What theory and science is possible about a matter the conditions and circumstances of which are unknown and cannot be defined, especially when the strength of the acting forces cannot be ascertained? No one was or is able to foresee in what condition our or the enemy's armies will be in a day's time, and no one can gauge the force of this or that detachment. Sometimes — when there is not a coward at the front to shout, 'We are cut off!' and start running, but a brave and jolly lad who shouts, 'Hurrah!' — a detachment of five thousand is worth thirty thousand, as at Schon Grabern, while at times fifty thousand run from eight thousand, as at Austerlitz. What science can there be in a matter in which, as in all practical matters, nothing can be defined and everything depends on innumerable conditions, the significance of which is determined at a particular moment which arrives no one knows when? Armfeldt says our army is cut in half, and Paulucci says we have got the French army between two fires; Michaud says that the worthlessness of the Drissa camp lies in having the river behind it, and Pfuel says that is what constitutes its strength; Toll proposes one plan, Armfeldt another, and they are all good and all bad, and the advantages of any suggestions can be seen only at the moment of trial. And why do they all speak of a 'military genius'? Is a man a genius who can order bread to be brought up at the right time and say who is to go to the right and who to the left? It is only because military men are invested with pomp and power and crowds of sychophants flatter power, attributing to it qualities of genius it does not possess. The best generals I have known were, on the contrary, stupid or absent-minded men. Bagration was the best, Napoleon himself admitted that. And of Bonaparte himself! I remember his limited, self-satisfied face on the field of Austerlitz. Not only does a good army commander not need any special qualities, on the contrary he needs the absence of the highest and best human attributes — love, poetry, tenderness, and philosophic inquiring doubt. He should be limited, firmly convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he will not have sufficient patience), and only then will he be a brave leader. God forbid that he should be humane, should love, or pity, or think of what is just and unjust. It is understandable that a theory of their 'genius' was invented for them long ago because they have power! The success of a military action depends not on them, but on the man in the ranks who shouts, 'We are lost!' or who shouts, 'Hurrah!' And only in the ranks can one serve with assurance of being useful."

So thought Prince Andrew as he listened to the talking, and he roused himself only when Paulucci called him and everyone was leaving.

At the review next day the Emperor asked Prince Andrew where he would like to serve, and Prince Andrew lost his standing in court circles forever by not asking to remain attached to the sovereign's person, but for permission to serve in the army.

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