War And Peace

CHAPTER VIII

Chinese

NAPOLEON enters Moscow after the brilliant victory de la Moskowa: there can be no doubt of the victory, since the French are left in possession of the field of battle. The Russians retreat and leave Moscow—well stocked with provisions, arms, implements, and countless riches—in the hands of Napoleon. The Russian army, of one-half the strength of the French, during the course of a whole month makes no effort to attack. Napoleon's position is most brilliant. One would have supposed that no great genius was needed with an army of double the strength to fall upon the Russian forces and destroy them, to negotiate an advantageous peace; or, in case of negotiations being refused, to make a menacing march upon Petersburg, or even, in case of failure in this, to return to Smolensk or to Vilna, or to remain in Moscow, to retain, in short, the brilliant position in which the French army now found themselves. To do all this it was only necessary to take the simplest and easiest measures: to keep the soldiers from pillage, to prepare winter clothes (of which there was a supply in Moscow amply sufficient for the whole army), and regularly to collect the provisions, of which the supply in Moscow was, on the showing of the French historians, sufficient to feed the whole army for six months. Napoleon, the greatest of all military geniuses, with absolute power, as historians assert, over the army, did nothing of all this.

Far from doing anything of the sort, he used his power to select out of all the various courses open to him the stupidest and most pernicious of all. Of all the different things Napoleon might have done—spending the winter in Moscow, going to Petersburg, going to Nizhni-Novgorod, going back a little more to the north or to the south, by the road Kutuzov afterwards took—no course one can imagine could have been more ruinous for his army (as the sequel proved) than the one Napoleon actually did adopt; that is, the course of staying in Moscow till October, letting the troops plunder the town, then in hesitation leaving a garrison behind, marching out of Moscow, going to meet Kutuzov and not giving battle, turning to the right and going as far as Maley Yaroslavets, again refusing to risk a battle, and finally retreating, not by the road Kutuzov had taken, but by Mozhaisk and the Smolensk route through devastated country. Let the most skilful tacticians, supposing that Napoleon's object was the destruction of his army, try and devise a series of actions which could, apart from any measures that might be taken by the Russian forces, have ensured with such certainty the complete destruction of the whole French army as the course taken by Napoleon.

This the genius Napoleon did. But to say that Napoleon ruined his army because he wanted to do so, or because he was very stupid, would be just as unjust as to say that Napoleon got his troops to Moscow because he wanted to, and because he was very clever and a great genius.

In both cases his personal activity, having no more force than the personal activity of every soldier, was merely coincidental with the laws by which the event was determined.

Quite falsely (and simply because the sequel did not justify Napoleon's actions) do historians represent Napoleon's faculties as flagging at Moscow. Just as before, and afterwards in the year 1813, he used all his powers and faculties to do the best for himself and his army, Napoleon's activity at this time was no less marvellous than in Egypt, in Italy, in Austria, and in Prussia. We do not know with any certainty how real was the genius of Napoleon in Egypt, where forty centuries looked down upon his greatness, because all his great exploits there are recounted to us by none but Frenchmen. We cannot judge with certainty of his genius in Austria and Prussia, as the accounts of his doings there must be drawn from French and German sources. And the unaccountable surrender of corps of soldiers without a battle, and of fortresses without a siege, must dispose Germans to postulate Napoleon's genius as the unique explanation of the war as it was waged in Germany. But we have, thank God, no need to plead his genius to cloak our shame. We have paid for the right to look facts simply and squarely in the face, and that right we will not give up.

His activity in Moscow was as marvellous and as full of genius as anywhere else. Command upon command and plan upon plan was continually being issued by him from the time he entered Moscow to the time he left it. The absence of the citizens and of a deputation, and even the burning of Moscow, did not daunt him. He did not lose sight of the welfare of his army, nor of the doings of the enemy, nor of the welfare of the people of Russia, nor of the conduct of affairs at Paris, nor of diplomatic negotiations as to the terms of peace.

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