Man's mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but th_esire to find those causes is implanted in man's soul. And withou_onsidering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of whic_aken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the firs_pproximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: "This is th_ause!" In historical events (where the actions of men are the subject o_bservation) the first and most primitive approximation to present itself wa_he will of the gods and, after that, the will of those who stood in the mos_rominent position—the heroes of history. But we need only penetrate to th_ssence of any historic event—which lies in the activity of the general mas_f men who take part in it—to be convinced that the will of the historic her_oes not control the actions of the mass but is itself continually controlled.
It may seem to be a matter of indifference whether we understand the meanin_f historical events this way or that; yet there is the same differenc_etween a man who says that the people of the West moved on the East becaus_apoleon wished it and a man who says that this happened because it had t_appen, as there is between those who declared that the earth was stationar_nd that the planets moved round it and those who admitted that they did no_now what upheld the earth, but knew there were laws directing its movemen_nd that of the other planets. There is, and can be, no cause of an historica_vent except the one cause of all causes. But there are laws directing events,
and some of these laws are known to us while we are conscious of others w_annot comprehend. The discovery of these laws is only possible when we hav_uite abandoned the attempt to find the cause in the will of some one man,
just as the discovery of the laws of the motion of the planets was possibl_nly when men abandoned the conception of the fixity of the earth.
The historians consider that, next to the battle of Borodino and th_ccupation of Moscow by the enemy and its destruction by fire, the mos_mportant episode of the war of 1812 was the movement of the Russian army fro_he Ryazana to the Kaluga road and to the Tarutino camp—the so-called flan_arch across the Krasnaya Pakhra River. They ascribe the glory of tha_chievement of genius to different men and dispute as to whom the honor i_ue. Even foreign historians, including the French, acknowledge the genius o_he Russian commanders when they speak of that flank march. But it is hard t_nderstand why military writers, and following them others, consider thi_lank march to be the profound conception of some one man who saved Russia an_estroyed Napoleon. In the first place it is hard to understand where th_rofundity and genius of this movement lay, for not much mental effort wa_eeded to see that the best position for an army when it is not being attacke_s where there are most provisions; and even a dull boy of thirteen could hav_uessed that the best position for an army after its retreat from Moscow i_812 was on the Kaluga road. So it is impossible to understand by wha_easoning the historians reach the conclusion that this maneuver was _rofound one. And it is even more difficult to understand just why they thin_hat this maneuver was calculated to save Russia and destroy the French; fo_his flank march, had it been preceded, accompanied, or followed by othe_ircumstances, might have proved ruinous to the Russians and salutary for th_rench. If the position of the Russian army really began to improve from th_ime of that march, it does not at all follow that the march was the cause o_t.
That flank march might not only have failed to give any advantage to th_ussian army, but might in other circumstances have led to its destruction.
What would have happened had Moscow not burned down? If Murat had not los_ight of the Russians? If Napoleon had not remained inactive? If the Russia_rmy at Krasnaya Pakhra had given battle as Bennigsen and Barclay advised?
What would have happened had the French attacked the Russians while they wer_arching beyond the Pakhra? What would have happened if on approachin_arutino, Napoleon had attacked the Russians with but a tenth of the energy h_ad shown when he attacked them at Smolensk? What would have happened had th_rench moved on Petersburg?… In any of these eventualities the flank marc_hat brought salvation might have proved disastrous.
The third and most incomprehensible thing is that people studying histor_eliberately avoid seeing that this flank march cannot be attributed to an_ne man, that no one ever foresaw it, and that in reality, like the retrea_rom Fili, it did not suggest itself to anyone in its entirety, bu_esulted—moment by moment, step by step, event by event—from an endless numbe_f most diverse circumstances and was only seen in its entirety when it ha_een accomplished and belonged to the past.
At the council at Fili the prevailing thought in the minds of the Russia_ommanders was the one naturally suggesting itself, namely, a direct retrea_y the Nizhni road. In proof of this there is the fact that the majority o_he council voted for such a retreat, and above all there is the well-know_onversation after the council, between the commander in chief and Lanskoy,
who was in charge of the commissariat department. Lanskoy informed th_ommander in chief that the army supplies were for the most part stored alon_he Oka in the Tula and Ryazan provinces, and that if they retreated on Nizhn_he army would be separated from its supplies by the broad river Oka, whic_annot be crossed early in winter. This was the first indication of th_ecessity of deviating from what had previously seemed the most natura_ourse—a direct retreat on Nizhni-Novgorod. The army turned more to the south,
along the Ryazan road and nearer to its supplies. Subsequently the inactivit_f the French (who even lost sight of the Russian army), concern for th_afety of the arsenal at Tula, and especially the advantages of drawing neare_o its supplies caused the army to turn still further south to the Tula road.
Having crossed over, by a forced march, to the Tula road beyond the Pakhra,
the Russian commanders intended to remain at Podolsk and had no thought of th_arutino position; but innumerable circumstances and the reappearance o_rench troops who had for a time lost touch with the Russians, and projects o_iving battle, and above all the abundance of provisions in Kaluga province,
obliged our army to turn still more to the south and to cross from the Tula t_he Kaluga road and go to Tarutino, which was between the roads along whic_hose supplies lay. Just as it is impossible to say when it was decided t_bandon Moscow, so it is impossible to say precisely when, or by whom, it wa_ecided to move to Tarutino. Only when the army had got there, as the resul_f innumerable and varying forces, did people begin to assure themselves tha_hey had desired this movement and long ago foreseen its result.