Near Fily, outside of Moscow – Letters from Russia, Part 11

Letters from Russia, Sept. 11, 1812 letter (handwritten)
Letters from Russia, Sept. 11, 1812 letter (handwritten)

Sept 11, 1812
Near Fily, outside of Moscow

Oh my sweet Genevieve,

This dangerous wager with lives and spoils continues and the revulsion in me festers. After the hideous cruelty at Borodino, the army has reached a fever pitch as momentum pulls us to Moscow like a stormy outgoing tide – the deeper we move into Russia, the farther away I am from return to you.  Oh why did we not stop in Smolensk of at the Neiman and call upon the strongest from each side to fight to decide the victor!  Of course this folly of being strongest and ‘most right’ fills the armies (both I assume) or else their would be no reason to fight.  It goes beyond the love of motherland, a love of victory, to a desire of belonging to something strong as though belonging to something ‘right’ as a vindication of one’s existence and ability.  The reward for them is not the institutions that bring order, culture & equality to a land, but rather the thirst for the revelry that follows a battle.

The dead are quickly forgotten, and understandably so, as is respect and decency in the thick & moist aftermath of battle – they (the fallen) are forgotten in the pillage, the rape, the murder & these spoils of our war which entice the most hitherto most-principled man – officer or soldier.  Yet no thought is given to the humans their actions affect.  The shock and rage that will burrow in each witness – each victim – as these allegedly civilized men loose themselves in pandemonium.

These decent French men – who at home may walk a mile to help a friend or bounce the most delicate baby on a knee while laughing – loose all thought of kindness, mercy, or respect for life.  The villagers’ lives or livelihoods are sacrificed simply because they were brave enough to abandon their homes to fire, or even stay and defend their small tract against a foreign country.   For me, if I loose my kindness towards others, I shall be dead myself.

Though I sit here cold and alone, I am free.   I can look at another person in the eyes and know, despite my army’s power over them, I do not feel a conqueror and I will not harm them for they have done nothing to me.  I am embarrassed of my nation, gluttonous on victory as we approach Moscow – the domes of cathedrals gleaming like a secret.  What joy is being an uninvited guest, forcing a way in after killing thousands? I for my own self reject this violence if for no reason other than empathy for the thousands who flee even now into the night – the children & the old, lame, sick, insane.  Even the sanest and most brutal of enemy soldiers does not deserve my wrath but my help ~ which I am rather helpless to give.  I did give my coat to a wounded young man I found in the woods.  He was shaking violently, his muddy clothing torn from explosion – I covered him with my wool coat before running to get a doctor or a litter.  When I returned, my coat was stolen (as were his boots), and I was derided for my efforts by the staff as the boy was Russian.

Fervently, Henri