Fyodor Dostoevsky: The abysmal cunning of war
From The Diary of a Writer
Translated by Boris Brasol
Undeniably, from the diplomatic standpoint, and consequently from the standpoint of common sense, all world questions are always explained by the mere fact that such and such states sought to expand their borders; or this or that brave general had this or that desire; or that some prominent lady was displeased with this or that, etc. (Let this be undeniable; I will concede it because this is superlative wisdom.) Nevertheless, even were we to accept these realistic causes and explanations, isn’t there a certain moment, a certain point in the progress of human affairs, a certain phase, when suddenly there appear some strange forces – which take possession of everything at once, and which drag everything irresistibly, blindly, as it were, downhill or, perhaps, into an abyss?
(On plans by European nations to league against Russia)
In fact, all nations in Europe have been doing so throughout their whole histories whenever the possibility arose of strengthening themselves at the expense of their neighbors.
This has been the case from the most savage primordial times down to the recent contemporaneous Franco-Prussian war. And what became then of their whole civilization? – The most learned and enlightened of all nations fell upon another equally learned and enlightened nation, and seizing upon the opportunity, devoured it as a wild beast, drank its blood, squeezed out of it all its sap, in the form of billions in indemnity, and chopped off its whole side, in the form of its two best provinces.
It is asserted that supposedly somewhere there was a war in progress, I have even heard that there actually was a war in progress, but I am told – this I read everywhere – that if somewhere there is something on the order of a war, – all this is understood in a wrong sense…
At all events, it has been decided that war will impede nothing, that is, no healthy function of the nation which – according to the latest views of everything that is called “supreme wisdom” – are pre-eminently and solely centered in diplomacy; and that all these military promenades, manoeuvres, and so forth – admittedly necessary – in truth constitute but one of the phases of superior diplomacy, – nothing else.
“…Permit me to remind you that just now I gave in and agreed with you, for form’s sake, that diplomats are nevertheless clever; but you have driven me, madam, to the point where I am compelled not to conceal from you the most secret underlying reason for my view on the subject. Several times in my life, madam, the thought has occurred to me that in diplomacy at large, among all nations, there have been but very few clever men. It is even surprising. On the contrary, the dullness of this caste in the European history of the present century…That is, you see, they are all clever – more or less – this is undeniable; they are all witty but what are their minds? Has a single one of them penetrated the substance of things and foreseen those mysterious laws which lead Europe toward something unknown, strange, dreadful, which, however, is already obvious at present, which is taking place quite evidently in the sight of those who are at least a little capable of foresight?…”
On the Earl of Beaconsfield/Benjamin Disraeli
And how swiftly does he strike! For it was he who permitted the massacre of the Bulgarians; nay, more – he also plotted it, for he is a novelist, and this is his chef-d’oeuvre. And yet, he is seventy years old, and he will soon have to retire into the earth – this he knows himself. And how he must have rejoiced over his rank of viscount! Surely, he must have dreamed about it all his life, when he was still writing his novels! What do these people believe in? How do they manage to sleep at night? What kind of dreams are they dreaming? What do they do in the solitude with their souls? – Oh, their souls must be full of elegance!…Day in and day out they eat such delightful dinners in company with such refined and witty interlocutors; in the evenings they are fondled in the cream of society by such lovely ladies – oh, their lives are so respectable; their digestion – so wonderful; their dreams – so light, like those of infants!…