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War and Peace

War and Peace


by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace Morality and Ethics Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Volume.Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation.

Quote #10

There was a stir in the ranks of the soldiers and it was evident that they were all hurrying – not as men hurry to do something they understand, but as people hurry to finish a necessary but unpleasant and incomprehensible task. [...]  Twelve sharpshooters with muskets stepped out of the ranks with a firm regular tread and halted eight paces from the post. Pierre turned away to avoid seeing what was going to happen. Suddenly a crackling, rolling noise was heard which seemed to him louder than the most terrific thunder, and he looked round. There was some smoke, and the Frenchmen were doing something near the pit, with pale faces and trembling hands. [...] On the faces of all the Russians and of the French soldiers and officers without exception, he read the same dismay, horror, and conflict that were in his own heart. [...] The fifth man was the factory lad in the loose cloak. The moment they laid hands on him he sprang aside in terror and clutched at Pierre. (Pierre shuddered and shook himself free.) The lad was unable to walk. They dragged him along, holding him up under the arms, and he screamed. When they got him to the post he grew quiet, as if he suddenly understood something. Whether he understood that screaming was useless or whether he thought it incredible that men should kill him, at any rate he took his stand at the post, waiting to be blindfolded like the others, and like a wounded animal looked around him with glittering eyes. Pierre was no longer able to turn away and close his eyes. His curiosity and agitation, like that of the whole crowd, reached the highest pitch at this fifth murder. [...] The soldiers dragged [the body] awkwardly from the post and began pushing it into the pit. They all plainly and certainly knew that they were criminals who must hide the traces of their guilt as quickly as possible. (

A commitment to extreme realism forces the author to include scenes of total horror like this one. There is nothing subtle here from a moral perspective. But this execution does raise many uncomfortable questions about the process of occupying a foreign country, dealing with unhappy locals, and the need for soldiers to become a police force without much training or understanding. (Battlefield skills don't necessarily translate into civil policing very well.) Oh, and yes, this is a good place to look for connections to the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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