Solzhenitsyn on Military Defeat

Lessons from history are revealed not by events but by good history, i.e., by interpretation, and a good historical novel can serve that purpose remarkably well. Consider the following marvelous explanation for Tsarist Russia’s debacle in WWI at the hands of the rapidly modernizing and efficiency-oriented Germany: “Although it was by now so familiar that he ought to have taken it for granted, Vorotyntsev was still depressed whenever experience confirmed the invariable rule that every headquarters (and the high the headquarters the more marked the phenomenon) was staffed by people who were selfish, rank-conscious, hidebound, and slack, whose only concern was to eat and drink their fill. [самолюбов, чинолюбов, окостенелых, любителей жить как живётся, только бы есть-пить досыта и подыматься в чинах] They regarded the army as a convenient, highly polished, and well-carpeted staircase, upon whose steps medals and badges of rank were handed out. It never occurred to them that this staircase involved obligations rather than rewards, that there was such a thing as military science, whose techniques altered every decade or so, and that therefore officers ought to study constantly and keep abreast of change. If the War Minister himself boasted that he had not read a single military textbook in the 35 years since he had left the university, why should anyone else bother to exert himself? Once you had been long enough in the service to earn a general’s epaulettes, what else was to be gained by a show of zeal? There was no higher to go. For the staircase was so arranged as to encourage the ascent of slow-witted men who did what they were told, rather than those with brains and independence of mind. Provided to stuck to the letter of regulations, orders, and directives, you could make as many blunders as you liked; you could be defeated, you could retreat, be routed, run away–no one would ever blame you and you would not even be called upon to investigate the cause of your failure. But woe to you if you once diverged from the letter, if you ever though for yourself or acted on your own initiative; then you would not even be forgiven your successes, and if you failed, you would be eaten alive.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, August 1914, Tr, Michael Glenny (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972), p. 107.

2 comments on “Solzhenitsyn on Military Defeat

  1. Mavrinan says:

    Wow, someone else who writes about Solzhenitsyn. This passage knocks into rubbish the view of some that Solzhenitsyn was nothing but a reactionary who idolized the pre-Soviet past of Russia.

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