The Battle of Borodino, with the occupation of Moscow that followed it and th_light of the French without further conflicts, is one of the most instructiv_henomena in history.
All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in thei_onflicts with one another is expressed in wars, and that as a direct resul_f greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nation_ncreases or decreases.
Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, havin_uarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy's army, gains _ictory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men, and subjugates a kingdo_nd an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far a_e know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesse_uccess of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essentia_ndication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation—eve_hough it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army- a hundredth part of _ation—should oblige that whole nation to submit. An army gains a victory, an_t once the rights of the conquering nation have increased to the detriment o_he defeated. An army has suffered defeat, and at once a people loses it_ights in proportion to the severity of the reverse, and if its army suffers _omplete defeat the nation is quite subjugated.
So according to history it has been found from the most ancient times, and s_t is to our own day. All Napoleon's wars serve to confirm this rule. I_roportion to the defeat of the Austrian army Austria loses its rights, an_he rights and the strength of France increase. The victories of the French a_ena and Auerstadt destroy the independent existence of Prussia.
But then, in 1812, the French gain a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken an_fter that, with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist,
but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic Franc_tself. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history: to say that the fiel_f battle at Borodino remained in the hands of the Russians, or that afte_oscow there were other battles that destroyed Napoleon's army, is impossible.
After the French victory at Borodino there was no general engagement nor an_hat were at all serious, yet the French army ceased to exist. What does thi_ean? If it were an example taken from the history of China, we might say tha_t was not an historic phenomenon (which is the historians' usual expedien_hen anything does not fit their standards); if the matter concerned som_rief conflict in which only a small number of troops took part, we migh_reat it as an exception; but this event occurred before our fathers' eyes,
and for them it was a question of the life or death of their fatherland, an_t happened in the greatest of all known wars.
The period of the campaign of 1812 from the battle of Borodino to th_xpulsion of the French proved that the winning of a battle does not produce _onquest and is not even an invariable indication of conquest; it proved tha_he force which decides the fate of peoples lies not in the conquerors, no_ven in armies and battles, but in something else.
The French historians, describing the condition of the French army before i_eft Moscow, affirm that all was in order in the Grand Army, except th_avalry, the artillery, and the transport—there was no forage for the horse_r the cattle. That was a misfortune no one could remedy, for the peasants o_he district burned their hay rather than let the French have it.
The victory gained did not bring the usual results because the peasants Kar_nd Vlas (who after the French had evacuated Moscow drove in their carts t_illage the town, and in general personally failed to manifest any heroi_eelings), and the whole innumerable multitude of such peasants, did not brin_heir hay to Moscow for the high price offered them, but burned it instead.
Let us imagine two men who have come out to fight a duel with rapier_ccording to all the rules of the art of fencing. The fencing has gone on fo_ome time; suddenly one of the combatants, feeling himself wounded an_nderstanding that the matter is no joke but concerns his life, throws dow_is rapier, and seizing the first cudgel that comes to hand begins to brandis_t. Then let us imagine that the combatant who so sensibly employed the bes_nd simplest means to attain his end was at the same time influenced b_raditions of chivalry and, desiring to conceal the facts of the case,
insisted that he had gained his victory with the rapier according to all th_ules of art. One can imagine what confusion and obscurity would result fro_uch an account of the duel.
The fencer who demanded a contest according to the rules of fencing was th_rench army; his opponent who threw away the rapier and snatched up the cudge_as the Russian people; those who try to explain the matter according to th_ules of fencing are the historians who have described the event.
After the burning of Smolensk a war began which did not follow any previou_raditions of war. The burning of towns and villages, the retreats afte_attles, the blow dealt at Borodino and the renewed retreat, the burning o_oscow, the capture of marauders, the seizure of transports, and the guerrill_ar were all departures from the rules.
Napoleon felt this, and from the time he took up the correct fencing attitud_n Moscow and instead of his opponent's rapier saw a cudgel raised above hi_ead, he did not cease to complain to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexande_hat the war was being carried on contrary to all the rules—as if there wer_ny rules for killing people. In spite of the complaints of the French as t_he nonobservance of the rules, in spite of the fact that to some highl_laced Russians it seemed rather disgraceful to fight with a cudgel and the_anted to assume a pose en quarte or en tierce according to all the rules, an_o make an adroit thrust en prime, and so on—the cudgel of the people's wa_as lifted with all its menacing and majestic strength, and without consultin_nyone's tastes or rules and regardless of anything else, it rose and fel_ith stupid simplicity, but consistently, and belabored the French till th_hole invasion had perished.
And it is well for a people who do not—as the French did in 1813- salut_ccording to all the rules of art, and, presenting the hilt of their rapie_racefully and politely, hand it to their magnanimous conqueror, but at th_oment of trial, without asking what rules others have adopted in simila_ases, simply and easily pick up the first cudgel that comes to hand an_trike with it till the feeling of resentment and revenge in their soul yield_o a feeling of contempt and compassion.