A Duty Disturbed
Welcome to Book One, Part Two of War and Peace (simply Part Two in some translations). We’ve left the cozy confines of peacetime aristocratic Russia and entered the comfortless world of war with its marches over foreign soil. Specifically, we’re now in Braunau, a place near the contemporary border between Austria and Germany.
We’re told that the Russian army is currently occupying many villages and towns in the Archduchy of Austria. The infantry regiment we spend our time with has just stopped its march outside of Braunau. The regimental commander receives a message that the commander-in-chief wishes to inspect the regiment. The regimental commander interprets this order to mean that the commander-in-chief desires to examine the regiment in the full glory of their parade order so the regiment busies themselves all night long prepping themselves to look as great as possible. This is a tough order because, after marching so long, they are a complete mess.
In the morning, however, an aide-de-camp and a Cossack arrive with news from the commander-in-chief that he wishes to display the regiment in the shabby state they have been in during the march. The idea is to show them to the Austrians the wretched state of the Russians, ostensibly to get more support for them.
So now the regimental commander has to undo everything he worked so hard to achieve the night before.
We’re all about a month into our New Year resolutions and I’m sure we can all relate to the plight of the regimental commander. We often fail at what we set out to do. Sometimes that failure is totally on us. If that’s the case then we need to work even harder on achieving our goals. Sometimes, however, like the regiment commander today, the failure is not on us. Things beyond our control get in the way. We shouldn’t let these type of failures bring us down so long as we acted well according to our duties.
It is your duty to order your life well in every single act; and if every single act does its duty, as far as possible, be content; and no one is able to hinder you so that each act shall not do its duty. But something external will stand in the way. Nothing will stand in the way of your acting justly and soberly and considerately. “But perhaps some other active power will be hindered.” Well, but by acquiescing in the hindrance and by being content to transfer your efforts to that which is allowed, another opportunity of action is immediately put before you in place of that which was hindered, and one which will adapt itself to this ordering of which we are speaking.
Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations