Home > Uncategorized > Leo Tolstoy: As if there were any rules for killing people

Leo Tolstoy: As if there were any rules for killing people

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

If the aim of the European wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century had been the aggrandizement of Russia, that aim might have been accomplished without all the preceding wars and without the invasion. If the aim was the aggrandizement of France, that might have been attained without the Revolution and without the Empire. If the aim was the dissemination of ideas, the printing press could have accomplished that much better than warfare. If the aim was the progress of civilization, it is easy to see that there are other ways of diffusing civilization more expedient than by the destruction of wealth and of human lives.

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Napoleon felt this, and from the time he took up the correct fencing attitude in Moscow and instead of his opponent’s rapier saw a cudgel raised above his head, he did not cease to complain to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being carried on contrary to all the rules – as if there were any rules for killing people.

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The troops were moving on, leaving about ten thousand wounded behind them. There were wounded in the yards, at the windows of the houses, and the streets were crowded with them. In the streets, around carts that were to take some of the wounded away, shouts, curses, and blows could be heard.

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We need only confess that we do not know the purpose of the European convulsions and that we know only the facts – that is, the murders, first in France, then in Italy, in Africa, in Prussia, in Austria, in Spain, and in Russia – and that the movements from the west to the east and from the east to the west form the essence and purpose of these events, and not only shall we have no need to see exceptional ability and genius in Napoleon and Alexander, but we shall be unable to consider them to be anything but like other men….

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“Yes – love,” he thought again quite clearly. “But not love which loves for something, for some quality, for some purpose, or for some reason, but the love which I – while dying – first experienced when I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I experienced that feeling of love which is the very essence of the soul and does not require an object. Now again I feel that bliss. To love one’s neighbors, to love one’s enemies, to love everything, to love God in all His manifestations. It is possible to love someone dear to you with human love, but an enemy can only be loved by divine love. That is why I experienced such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What has become of him? Is he alive?…”

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