They Will Not Stop It, They Are Not Horrified at What They Have Done

Mankind may have been created in the image of God but it’s Satan they model their behavior after. What else are we to make of a chapter like today’s where mutilated bodies decorate the earth, strangers charge at each other’s throats, and a murderous terror animates the hearts of men? Pierre is horrified at it all. Surely, he tells himself, these men will stop what they’re doing once they see what they’ve done.

Men have seen what they’ve done. A parade of brutal histories precede the Battle of Borodino, beating a savage march of war, rapine, and wickedness. Our chronicles of butchery are no great secret. Nevertheless, we persist. Bodies hang from the bridges of Nuevo Laredo. Parties of the privileged target humanitarian boats offering refuge to those fleeing war zones, political chaos, and economic privation in the Mediterranean. Untold stories of woe remain buried underneath the rubble of Mosul.

The time for an accurate redefinition of the word humanity is, it seems, long overdue.

One of the central questions of War and Peace is how to live in a world with so much humanity. One potential answer hinted at throughout the book appears in today’s chapter. Previously we have noted how often Tolstoy contrasts nature’s detached view of the madness of mankind’s drama. We see this literary device again today:

But behind the veil of smoke the sun was still high, and in front and especially to the left, near Semyonovsk, something seemed to be seething in the smoke, and the roar of cannon and musketry did not diminish, but even increased to desperation like a man who, straining himself, shrieks with all his remaining strength.

The sun — pardon — sheds some light on how we should live in a world so brutal and unforgiving. We should elevate ourselves to its height, taking an expansive view from above of all the seeming horrors below until the horrors shrink into their true nature of insignificance.

DAILY MEDITATION

You can rid yourself of many useless things among you that disturb you, for they are entirely in your imagination; and you will then gain for yourself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in your mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every part of everything, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This is the two hundred and eighteenth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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