22 April 2014

The wheel of time: Lev Tolstoy on Russo-Japanese war

A Russian blogger Alexander Shamarin posted on FB an article Writer and the State about a long forgotten, but very relevant these days episode. First a reminder: the subject of the post is a letter written by Lev (Leo) Tolstoy on the ongoing Russo-Japanese war. A short enough excerpt on the cause of war:
The Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904 – 5 September 1905) was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over Manchuria and Korea. The major theatres of operations were Southern Manchuria, specifically the area around the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden; and the seas around Korea, Japan, and the Yellow Sea.

Russia sought a warm water port on the Pacific Ocean, for their navy as well as for maritime trade. Vladivostok was only operational during the summer season, but Port Arthur would be operational all year.
And an even briefer summary of the casualties:
The number of Japanese army dead in combat is put at around 47,000 with around 27,000 additional casualties from disease,and between 6,000 and 12,000 of wounds. Estimates of Russian army dead range from around 40,000 to around 70,000 men. The total number of army dead is generally stated from around 130,000 to 170,000. China suffered 20,000 civilian deaths...
Leo Tolstoy sent an article to British Times at the time, protesting the war. I am embedding here a copy from a similar article by Tolstoy, for lack of the original English version (click to read):

You can read the rest of the article via the link above. The response of the "patriotic" Russian media was quite strong. Newspaper "Citizen" is perplexed by the nonentity that the great Russian writer has become:
"So, I thought, reading Tolstoy's lines, what a pitiful and miserable creature this big genius has withered to, comfortable in his study of Yasnaya Polyana, sending to my friends and brothers in blood and in spirit on the battlefield his poisonous words of indignation and embarrassment, at the moment when, in hardship and suffering, they bravely do their duty and die for something sacred, and when even the children in a multimillion nation understand and feel that in these minutes, besides food, shelter and weapons, words of love and encouragement are needed by each soldier, and that whoever at this time is confusing them by his words and deprives them of encouragement, is the worst enemy and executioner of these heroes."
(Sorry for the length of that sentence, but it goes on that way in the original).

"Moskow journals", the newspaper of the Moscow University, with the utmost rigor of a serious scientific publication states: Leo Tolstoy is no longer the great Russian writer:
Yes, citizen. Tolstoy - the enemy of the War; but he has long ago ceased to be a Russian, since about when he ceased to be Orthodox.

Thus the real war could not cause him any "clash of feelings", and there hasn't been a storm under his skull, for Count Tolstoy is now completely alien to Russia, and it is immaterial for him whether Japanese possess Moscow, St. Petersburg and the whole Russia [sic!], as long as Russia would quickly sign a peace treaty with Japan, on any, even the most humiliating and shameful, conditions. No Russian person can feel, think and speak so vulgarly and contemptibly, therefore Tolstoy can't be considered Russian.
If he still lives in Russia, this is only due to the generosity of Russian Government, which still reveres a former talented writer Leo Tolstoy, with whom the present old maniac and blasphemer from Yasnaya Polyana has nothing in common but the name...

Would the Government deemed it possible to rip the mask from citizen Tolstoy and show him to the Russian people, in all his hideous nakedness, this act would be the end of all our "Tolstoyanism" and then, but only then, one could allow the old screwball quietly live out his life in his Yasnaya Polyana and bury there his former glory.
Well, there is more in that post by Alexander Shamarin, but I think that the above provides enough food for thought.

Meanwhile the wheel turns.


Dick Stanley said...

Hardly an independent artist has ever existed who didn't oppose war.

Sennacherib said...

The little known 4th member of ZZ Top the early days.

BHCh said...

Turns out Kiselev and Zadornov are following in the steps of their servile ancestors from a century ago.

Who knew?

Dick Stanley said...


SnoopyTheGoon said...

That is true, but what is interesting in this case is the behavior of the "patriotic" press.

SnoopyTheGoon said...


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yes, indeed. Who could have guessed?