Turning Points

Whether or not Solzhenitsyn made up the passage below about a Russian commander in 1914, it provokes numerous questions:

  • How often do critical moments in political behavior occur?
  • How often are they recognized?
  • How can one detect them in time and figure out how to respond?

“Today something had broken through the veil which shrouded Samsonov’s mind and the buzzing sensation which had lately so hindered his thinking. It was a completely useless thought, however; simple one sentence from a school textbook of German: “Es war die hochste Zeit, sich zu retten” (It was high time to escape). The quotation was from a passage about Napoleon in the burning city of Moscow. He remembered nothing else of it but that one sentence, thanks to the unusual combination of words “die hochste Zeit—which literally meant “the highest time,” implying that time could form a peak, at the summit of which was one single moment in which to escape. No one, perhaps, would ever know whether Napoleon had been in such peril in Moscow, or whether the timing of his escape really had been a now-or-never matter; but at this moment Samsonov’s heart was gripped by a feeling of dull, nagging unease that the next few hours would have precisely that significance for him: “die hochste Zeit.” Unfortunately, he could not perceive where that peak of time might be or in which direction he should apply a push in order to set events moving on the right course. He could neither achieve a clear grasp of the overall situation of his army nor devise a resolute course of action.” [Только не понимал он, где этот пик торчит, у б какую цторону толчок надо делать. Не мог он ясно охватить всё положение армии и указать решительное действие.]—Solzhenitsyn, August 1914, p. 314. Solzhenitsyn, August 1914, p. 314.

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