A Soldier’s Duty
Prince Andrei, in a situation we’re all despairingly familiar with this year, finds himself confronted with a totally incompetent world leader. This world leader is Emperor Francis of Austria who speaks to Prince Andrei not to obtain useful information from a reliable source but, rather, “as if his sole aim were to put a given number of questions — the answers to these questions, as was only too evident, did not interest him.”
Prince Andrei endures. After all, the good Emperor is bestowing on him an honorable award for services rendered: the Grand Cross of Maria Theresa. It’s quite the accomplishment. Prince Andrei can’t wait to get back to Bilibin’s to collect his thoughts and write home to his father.
His plans are brutally interrupted, however, when he arrives at Bilibin’s only to find that Bilibin himself is rushing to evacuate. The French, Bilibin informs Prince Andrei, are now on their side of the Danube, having crossed over the bridge at Auersperg. Brünn will be occupied any moment now.
Bilibin pleads with Prince Andrei to join him in retreat. But — ed el s’ergea col petto e con la fronte com’avesse l’inferno a gran dispitto — Andrei decides against this advice. He will instead, with boastful dreams of saving the day, rejoin Kutuzov and lead the Russians to an improbable victory against the invading French fiends.
We began these meditations by thinking about the importance of our roles in life. Today’s chapter offers us an opportunity to return to this idea. I’m sure many people, finding themselves in Prince Andrei’s position, would have gladly accepted the safe option of joining Bilibin in retreat. But instead Prince Andrei decides to fight. Why?
Because that’s what a soldier would do. In my opinion Prince Andrei decides to fight because that is the duty — the role — of a soldier. In fulfilling this duty Prince Andrei acts virtuously.
If, furthermore, you are on the council of any city, you should remember that you are a councillor; if a youth, a youth; if an old man, an old man. For each of these names, if rightly considered, always points to the acts appropriate to it.