War and Peace is a novel written by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, which is regarded as a central work of world literature and one of Tolstoy’s finest literary achievements.
The novel chronicles the history of the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families. The novel was first published in its entirety in 1869.
Tolstoy said that War and Peace is “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle”. Large sections, especially the later chapters, are a philosophical reflection on the notion of peace and war. The Encyclopedia Britannica states: “It can be argued that no single English novel attains the universality of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace”.
Tolstoy recognizes the material and human consequences of war and conflict on the well-being of humanity as follows:
“After the burning of Smolensk a war began which did not follow any previous traditions of war. The burning of towns and villages, the retreats after battles, the blow dealt at Borodino and the renewed retreat, the burning of Moscow, the capture of marauders, the seizure of transports, and the guerrilla war were all departures from the rules”.
In regards to the causes which provoke wars, Tolstoy reminds the long debate among historians on this matter. He concludes that the real cause of conflicts always stems from human beings and never from a supernatural or divine force.
“The historians, in accord with the old habit of acknowledging divine intervention in human affairs, want to see the cause of events in the expression of the will of someone endowed with power, but that supposition is not confirmed either by reason or by experience….Without admitting divine intervention in the affairs of humanity we cannot regard ‘power’ as the cause of events. Power, from the standpoint of experience, is merely the relation that exists between the expression of someone’s will and the execution of that will by others. To explain the conditions of that relationship we must first establish a conception of the expression of will, referring it to man and not to the Deity”.
Consequently, Tolstoy emphasizes that war is always caused by the will of a man or of several men.
“With the present complex forms of political and social life in Europe can any event that is not prescribed, decreed, or ordered by monarchs, ministers, parliaments, or newspapers be imagined? Is there any collective action which cannot find its justification in political unity, in patriotism, in the balance of power, or in civilization? So that every event that occurs inevitably coincides with some expressed wish and, receiving a justification, presents itself as the result of the will of one man or of several men”.
Tolstoy continued his reflection posing the question about the reasons which leads man to be directly involved in war and to kill other human beings in a conflict situation. Prince Andrew confessed that his life on the earth does not like.
‘Well, why are you going to the war?’ asked Pierre. ‘What for? I don’t know. I must. Besides that I am going…’ He paused. ‘I am going because the life I am leading here does not suit me!’
However, historians recognize that activity of States with the other Nations is expressed in wars, and that the increase or decrease in the strength of the nation depends on the success or defeat of an army. Tolstoy stresses that the final objective of war is to submit the enemy:
“All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in their conflicts with one another is expressed in wars and that as a direct result of greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nations increases or decreases. Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, having quarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy’s army, gains a victory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men, and subjugates a kingdom and an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesser success of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essential indication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation- even though it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army- a hundredth part of a nation- should oblige that whole nation to submit”.
The first step to create a more peaceful world is to really desire peace and to reject humiliation of the enemy, as well as, war as a means to settle any type of dispute.
“I do not wish to utilize the fortunes of war to humiliate an honored monarch. ‘Boyars,’ I will say to them, ‘I do not desire war, I desire the peace and welfare of all my subjects.’ However, I know their presence will inspire me, and I shall speak to them as I always do: clearly, impressively, and majestically”.
Despite of difficulties to end with war, Tolstoy strongly believes in the perpetual peace.
“That abbe is very interesting but he does not see the thing in the right light…. In my opinion perpetual peace is possible but- I do not know how to express it… not by a balance of political power…”
In the book, there is a scene in which two enemies involuntary encounter face to face in the field of battle, and immediately both soldiers discover that they are children of the same humanity. This real feeling is the only way to eliminate war over the earth.
“Apart from conditions of war and law, that looks established human relations between the two men. At that moment an immense number of things passed dimly through both their minds, and they realized that they were both children of humanity and were brothers”.
Source: Paz sin Fronteras