Sochi-Malaparte

February 6, 2014

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In the paper today, there was an article about the race to save stray dogs in Sochi, before the opening of the Winter Olympics. “Get the strays off the streets, or we will shoot them,” is the word from the officials.  This follows articles during the past week about security concerns for the games:  they are being held near a war zone, and terrorism in the region is common.  Putin, Chechnya, mega-waste-projects…a great day for sport!

The article brought to mind a passage in, Kaputt, the harrowing account of WWII on the eastern front written by Curzio Malaparte.  He is with German SS troops somewhere near the Soviet border, deep in winter snow.  The Germans are preparing for a battle in a location favorable to them when suddenly the place is filled with the sound of barking dogs.  The Germans go crazy with fear, the officers ordering the men to shoot every dog immediately as they run towards their lines.

The Russians have starved the dogs so that when released, they will run furiously towards the German soldiers, looking for food.  Some of them have explosives strapped to their backs with wires attached that stick straight up.  When the dogs with explosives run beneath a tank or truck, the wire brushes the metal, triggering the bomb.  Vehicles start exploding all over the place.

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Victor Serge

April 28, 2012

I put Victor Serge alongside of Vasily Grossman as an awe-inspiring Russian writer of whom I knew next to nothing, brought to my attention by the wonderful New York Review of Books Press (and also by my friend who recommended Kolyma Tales.)  Serge’s novels are not, in fact, well known at all; certainly not here in America.  He wrote in French, was published in French, and was saved from death in the Gulag because of the outcry of French literary intellectuals who were acquainted with his work.  Good thing he knew French!  His novels were only first published in English in the early 1970s.

Serge was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich, in 1890, the son of anti-Tsarist agitators living in exile in Belgium.  He grew up in the militant atmosphere of exiled socialist-communist revolutionaries, and only set foot in Russia in 1919, after years of agitation, prison, writing, various exiles, and a life of poverty.  He landed in Petrograd/Saint Petersburg/Petersburg/Leningrad in the midst of the terrifying five-year Russian Civil War, and threw himself into The Revolution.  He remained a committed revolutionary, but retained his fierce independent (was it anarchist?) bent, and was quick to recognize the ‘betrayal of The Revolution’ that Stalin represented.  From there, it was all downhill.

His writings are unique in their blend of intense sympathy for the revolutionary cause, their unflinching recognition of the crimes committed in its name, their profound disgust with the course of the Soviet revolution, their poetic style, and the modernistic techniques he absorbed from European literary developments.  No plain social realism, no bitter denunciations of the cause betrayed, no simple answers.  Most interesting to me:  he focuses like a laser on the questions of just how people can believe they are struggling for the better  future of humanity while committing acts they know to be outrageous crimes; and why did so many people simply carry on with their work, fatalistically expecting to be unjustly arrested, tried, and perhaps executed?

The shortest of these three novels here, Conquered City, was the first written, and takes place in Petrograd during the siege he witnessed beginning in 1919.  The physical privation of citizens is horrifying.  The novel is actually a series of vignettes, some of which take place out of the city on the various fronts of the civil war, and which introduce characters from all realms of the Russian Empire:  bandits, intellectuals, proletarian communists, proletarian White sympathizers, counter-revolutionaries, Party leaders, and on. Serge depicts them all with sympathy, yes, even the counter-revolutionaries!  Throughout, all are subject to terror:  the Red Terror, or the White Terror.

One episode involves a dedicated young woman communist, hell-bent on “getting a case [investigation of a counter-revolutionary cell] moving.”  She is enthusiastic, relentless, and totally committed to the cause, with little thought for…well, anything. She cracks the case.  It turns out that a well planted worker is actually an enemy agent, and the lover of a formerly middle-class young woman.  Turns out that this woman was friendly with a well-respected, energetic, young communist agent, Arkady.  The woman’s brother was ‘suspected’ of something – wasn’t everyone? – and was hauled in for questioning.  Arkady knew immediately it was all garbage, and got the fellow released.  Now the man’s sister is known to be the lover of a man who is known to be an enemy of the people, and Arkady released his brother!  He’s done for, and he knows it.  Osipov, his friend, arrests him.  “What have you done, my poor old friend, what have you done!”  They shake hands.

Later, another mutual friend visits Osipov and challenges him on the arrest of Arkady:  “You know brother, we’re committing a crime.

“A crime?”  Osipov tossed back at him.  “Because one of us got hit this time around?  Don’t you understand that one must pay with one’s blood for the right to be pitiless?  Do you by any chance imagine that we won’t all end up like that?”

Class war is a dirty business, but “it must be done.”  These views recur again and again through the books.  With views like that, people will do anything.

The Case of Comrade Tulayev may be Serge’s best known novel, and I found it to be the most extraordinary of the three.  It takes place at the height of the Great Purge of the late 1930s triggered by the assassination of Kirov.  A young man gets hold of a revolver, determined to kill Stalin.  On his nightly walks, he actually sees him occasionally, stepping into a limousine at a Kremlin gate.  With the revolver in hand, he approaches the gate again, and Stalin is there!  But he totally looses his nerve, and walks on.  A little later, he sees another Party boss – it’s Tulayev, yes, certainly it’s that murderous scum!  He’s being dropped at the door of his mistress’ apartment.  He walks up to him, shoots him, and runs.  The ripples of terror immediately spread far and wide.

The chapters of the novel tell the story of Party members caught in the net of the pseudo-investigation into the murder.  There must be a conspiracy of course:  how could it be otherwise?  Most of them end up dead, shot for their invented complicity in the international plot against the Socialist state.  Among the victims: a long-exiled party member brought in from his Siberian house-arrest for interrogation; a young woman studying textile production in Paris on a plush-assignment (her father is a bigwig in the police organs – he is arrested too) who reads of the arrest of a former teacher and makes the fatal mistake of sending a telegram to papa demanding that he help the man; a commissar working in Spain – just what was Stalin’s aim in the Spanish Civil War? – who intercedes to help a young American communist arrested as a Trotskyite [He actually confronts Stalin in the Kremlin, and is let off with a posting to Siberia to work in forestry.]

One victim, in prison, is visited by another old Bolshevik who has been broken.  He urges the resister to give in, confess to whatever is asked:

Better men than you and I have done it before us.  Others will do it after us.  No one can resist the machine.  No one has the right, no one can resist the Party without going over to the enemy.  Neither you nor I will ever go over to the enemy…And if you consider yourself innocent, you are absolutely wrong?  We innocent?  Who do you think you’re fooling?  Have you forgotten about our trade?  Can Comrade High Commissar for Security be innocent?  Can the Grand Inquisitor be as pure as a lamb?  Can he be the only person in the world who doesn’t deserve the bullet in the neck which he distributed like a rubber-stamp signature at the rate of seven hundred per month on the average?  Official figures – way off, of course.  None will ever know the real figures…”

As someone wrote of Kruschev, commenting on his secret speech denouncing Stalin’s crimes, he too was up to his elbows in blood.  They all knew the score.  They had quotas for arrests, imprisonment, execution…  Amazing that through all this, Serge still manages to convey why these people got into this in the first place:  their intense thirst for justice, fairness, an end to the crushing tyrannical poverty of the old regime, and a deeply felt desire for a society in which human equality is prized.  To note this as an irony is so obvious as to be ridiculous.

Unforgiving Years is the last of the three that I read, and the strangest in many ways.  In this book, Serge adopts a style that is at times elliptical, modernistic, and sometimes seems hallucinatory.  It is the tale of a communist agent who has had enough – he can’t go on, and he decides to escape to Mexico.  He knows the machinations of the security apparatus and how hard they are to evade, and he knows that his knowledge only gives him a little head start over his inevitable pursuers.  There’s also the business of his lover:  he wants to take her too, and that makes it harder.

The novel seems like a screenplay for a political film noir, but the level of tension, paranoia, and sheer horror exceeds anything from that genre.  At times, I felt that Thomas Pynchon had cribbed the entirety of Gravity’s Rainbow, from Serge:

In every war there is a rear that holds better than the front, a rear fat with noble sentiments, creature comforts, and lucrative deals:  this rear, which balances the front, makes the insanity total…The beaches of California still exhibit, in season, a full complement of pretty women with smiling thighs:  such is the natural order of things.  After all, there’s philosophical solace to be found in the fact that some still live while others die, an obvious improvement on everyone dying…But it  is no longer possible to embark upon a  coherent line of reasoning without falling into absurdity.

This novel was published in English in 1970, about the time Gravity’s Rainbow came out, but who knows?  Maybe Pynchon read it in French?

The ending of the story takes place in a paradisaical Mexican mountain setting but has all the weirdness and menace of the finale of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway.  Knowing as we do the end which Trotsky met in hiding, it is no surprise what happens, but just how the long arm of the Party reaches out to crush those who stray is terrifying nevertheless.

Not exactly happy reading these three books, but Victor Serge is a novelist for the ages – brilliant!


Kolyma Tales

March 21, 2012

Kolyma Tales is a book of short stories, some very short, about life and death in the area of the Soviet Gulag considered by aficionados of its horror to be the deepest pit of its hell.  Kolyma (Koh-lee-mah) is a region in the far east and north of Siberia where prisoners were sent to die while scratching some gold from the frozen earth.  Temperatures would drop to sixty below zero, Centigrade, I assume.  Victor Shalamov somehow survived there for seventeen years and wrote what are considered some of Russian literature’s greatest short stories.

Most of the stories focus on a single situation involving a few characters, rather than narrating a dramatic series of events.  Often there is darkly ironic, or deadpan twist to the end.  The style is spare, precise, and descriptive, without sentiment.  They are brutally powerful, without overwhelming you with depression.

A well fed leader of the camp prospecting squad approaches a convict to participate in his escape plan.  The convict suspects a trap, but goes along, after saying he needs to gather strength:  can he have a can of Lend Lease condensed milk?  The squad leader gives it to him; the other convicts watch him eat it, like dogs that can’t turn their fascinated heads away.  The convict says he’s changed his mind.  The leader finds other dupes:  all end up dying in the attempt.

After WWII, hordes of Russian POWs, released into the custody of Stalin’s government, were sent to the Gulag.  They didn’t die fighting:  they must be traitors.  Unlike the usual run of the convicts, sentenced under Article 58, i.e. ‘political prisoners’ rounded up by quota from among the intellectual and middle classes, these men knew strategy, were used to risk, and understood how to use force.  Some stage a breakout under a major.  A good try, but…

One ‘funny’ tale is simply the indictment of an ‘injector’, a mechanical part of a pump that failed, leading to a failure of the crew to meet the work quota.  The part is denounced and indicted for its crime.  Is it a joke, or is it the work of a prison guard mechanically filling out forms, perhaps not knowing he’s describing a part and not a human convict?  Still a joke…

Endless descriptions of the struggle to stay warm, to scrounge food, to come to terms with the swarms of lice that make their home on your body, to avoid work intended to kill you, to somehow ‘cheat’ a few days rest by faking illness, inducing infection in sores, anything.  One man pretends his back is broken, and will not straighten up no matter what…for weeks.  He succumbs to a diabolical doctor who injects him with a stimulant just for the joy of proving the superiority of his medical knowledge.

Several stories cover the ‘criminal element.’  These are the thieves, rapists, and murderers who were sentenced to the Gulag, but who are not considered “enemies of the people” because they were not sentenced under No. 58.  They pose no danger to the building of socialism in one country.  They form terrifying gangs and live by fleecing the other convicts and any camp administrators they can.  The guards fear them and leave them alone – they murder with impunity.  They make the system work pretty well for themselves, avoiding assignments to the death-details, but sometimes they need the convicts for whom they have utter contempt.  They select an educated man as a “novelist,” one who will entertain them by reciting good stories from literary classics.  This man is protected and given respect.  Culture has its value, after all.

At one point, Shalamov refers to the guard tower as the architectural emblem of all that is Kolyma:  a surviving tower is shown below in an old photograph.  The Mask of Sorrow is a monument constructed to memorialize the victims of the Kolyma Gulag, and was constructed in 1996 with contributions from six cities in the region.

Shalamov’s stories were finally published in the USSR during Gorbachev’s presidency.


Natasha and other stories

February 1, 2012

This collection of short stories by David Bezmozgis, an immigrant to Canada from the USSR left me wanting to read his novel, The Free World.   They are sharp, witty, poignant, and sometimes very disturbing, all focusing on the experience of Russian Jewish transplants to the New World of Toronto.

All the stories are from the viewpoint of Mark Berman, starting when he is about six years old, and in a typical childhood lapse of responsibility, he brings not-quite-mock tragedy to a neighbor by letting her dog run loose, from which a serious injury follows.  A little later in life, Mark is a discipline problem in the Hebrew school he attends, a place from which he would gladly get expelled so he could go to the regular public school, but for the trauma it would bring his parents, or his mother, at least.  Unlike many Russian immigrant Jews I have met, these seem more concerned with maintaining themselves within the religious community.  He receives a harrowing lesson in the meaning of being a Jew, at least as his rabbi conceives it, when he must repent for a disturbance to which he is party on Holocaust Memorial Day.

These stories are not solemn or pious:  Mark has quite a bit of distance between himself and his religious and ethnic heritage.  There is much he may reject, but he is not so foolish as to try to deny it.  He finds comfort in the familiar.

I too find much in his descriptions familiar, while alien at the same time.  For many years, I lived in a section of Brooklyn that was awash with Russian immigrant Jews from the Soviet Union, the last great exodus before the fall of communism.  My ancestors were similar immigrants a hundred years ago or so, and I grew up hearing Yiddish spoken by the older generation, although their English was mostly regular urban American. But the experience of leaving the USSR, not the WWI era shtetl is something else again.

I recall seeing a trio of immigrants in the hallway of my apartment building in Brooklyn:  the pretty young girl, skinny and trying, with some success, to be sexy with her outrageous clothing, and a pair of electric blue eyes; the mother, middle-aged, sturdy, a pretty woman, clearly enjoying the easier life in the USA, and a pair of electric blue eyes; the grand mother, a real Soviet specimen, built like a barrel, wrapped in a dull frock, her face worn and weathered, all her teeth capped in silver, her legs and ankles thick with standing in endless queues for commodities…but those same electric blue eyes!  Three generations’ progress on display!

The title story of the collection finds Mark grown up to high school age, getting high constantly, and obsessed, of course, with sex and girls.  His uncle marries a new immigrant, clearly a woman looking for a ticket out of the USSR and not much more, and the young cousin, Natasha, enters the family.  She and her mother are a real piece of work each, two females who have been ground up into something horrifying and spit out.  Though she is fourteen, she and Mark begin a regular sexual affair, one that seems to lack everything except sex.  It ends abruptly as Natasha’s place in the family is thrown into doubt, just as Mark’s place in the dope-dealing and smoking social circle he has fallen into is suddenly closed to him.  It would be terribly sad, except he seems to come through it okay.  Natasha seems hard as iron, and will survive, but that seems the most that can be said for her.

The final story involves Mark helping his grandfather get a new apartment in a subsidized home for old immigrant Jews.  Two who live there are suspected of being gay.  One dies:  the other, Herschel, doesn’t have title to the apartment.  They weren’t married, of course – the apartment should go to someone else, a good Jew.  The building is run by a rabbi, and it is his job to ensure that the tiny synagogue there has a minyan (the required ten male Jews) for services.  The two gay guys always showed up, which is more than he can count on from the new seekers for the living space.  What should he do?  He’s besieged with requests.  Mark asks what will happen to Herschel and is told:

…my job is to have ten Jewish men.  Good, bad, it doesn’t matter.  Ten Jewish men.  Only God can judge good from bad.  Here the only question is Jew or not.  And now I am asked by people here who never stepped into a synagogue to do them a favor.  They all have friends, relatives who need an apartment.  Each and everyone a good Jew.  Promises left and right about how they will come to synagogue.  I’ve heard these promising before.  And they say:  With so many good Jews who need apartments, why should Herschel be allowed to stay?  This is not my concern.  My concern is ten Jewish men.  if you want ten Jewish saints, good luck.  You want to know what will happen to Herschel?  This.  They should know I don’t put a Jew who comes to synagogue in the street.  Homosexuals, murderers, liars, thieves – I take them all.  Without them we would never have a minyan.

Without them we would never have a minyan.  Could be a slogan for life in general.


Demons II: Conclusion

October 31, 2011

So, Demons comes to an end, but I’m not sure that there was a complete exorcism, although this scene after the murder of Shatov is a start:

…he snatched out the revolver and pointed it straight into the open mouth of the still screaming Lyamshin, whom Tolakchenko, Erkel and Liputin had already seized firmly by the arms, but Lyamshin went on shrieking even in spite of the revolver.  Finally, Erkel, somehow bunched up his foulard and stuffed it deftly into his mouth, and thus the shouting ceased.  Meanwhile, Tolkachenko tied his hands with a leftover end of rope.

Can we say that anything has been resolved, when we have young people like this in town who gape at suicides for fun?

I remember one of them saying aloud right then that “everything has become so boring that there’s no need to be punctilious about entertainment, as long as it’s diverting.”

Stepan Verkhovensky, the stuffy old-time liberal is aghast at the events in the town, and at the role his son played in organizing it all.  He glimpses the truth that his own abstract, self-satisfied intellectual games helped set the stage for it, and shattered by the knowledge, he sets off wandering in Russia, like King Lear on the heath.  Still, he remains absurd, childishly seeking a new female protector in the person of bible saleswoman he happens upon, and he still utters French expressions as would any self-respecting member of the intelligentsia.  So much for finding the real Russia.

Joyce Carrol Oates has written a fine essay on the novel in which she jeers at critics who insist on judging the book by an arbitrary standard, including Nabokov, and where she draws many parallels with Shakespearean tragedy:

Much has been said of the unevenness of The Possessed: Dostoyevsky has been accused of creating caricatures rather than characters, and of exaggerating the imbecilic nature of his “anarchists.”  Several close readings of the novel have convinced me that this is not the case.  Of course if The Possessed—like any of Dostoyevsky’s work, beginning with The Double—is measured against the conventional standards of naturalism, it will seem somewhat feverish and improbable: but so will King Lear and Hamlet.

Oates remarks on the frequent comparison of Stavrogin to Prince Hal, a foolish one, she thinks:  Hamlet is the more suitable comparison.  An exceedingly dark Hamlet, and all the darker for knowledge of the suppressed chapter, At Tikhon’s, in which the jaded superman character, above all normal human feeling, reveals his cruel seduction/rape – it’s not completely clear which – of a twelve-year-old girl who then killed herself.  His demonic narcissism and self-destructiveness makes him a perfect front man, for Pytor’s nihilist machinations, as well as being a figure of magentic attraction for him:

No need for education, enough of science!  There’s sufficient material even without science for a thousand years to come, but obedience must be set up.  Only one thing is lacking in the world:  obedience.  The thirst for education is already an aristocratic thirst.  As soon as there’s just a tiny bit of family or love, there’s a desire for property.  We’ll extinguish desire:  we’ll get drinking, gossip, denunciation going: we’ll get unheard-of depravity going:  we’ll stifle every genius in infancy.

So I wince when I hear anarcho-hipsters singing Pink Floyd’s We Don’t Need No Education, from The Wall.  Those who learned the lessons carried on, but in a more organized fashion.  They had the courage and ego to create a structure to ensure their place at the vanguard of the destructive wave

In the meantime your whole step is towards getting everything destroyed: both the state and its morality.  We alone will remain, having destined ourselves beforehand to assume power:  we shall rally the smart ones to ourselves and ride on the backs of the fools.  You should not be embarrassed by it.  This generation must be re-educated to make it worthy of freedom.  There are still many thousands of Shatovs ahead of us.

But if Dostoyevsky is ruthless in his depiction of the nihilists, their hangers-on, and by implication, their progeny in the revolutionaries of 1917, he is not light on the Establishment.  Governor von Lembke is an idiot – is he the only thing standing between Russia and the abyss?  Well, he has a German name anyway…

And, in the end, what is to be done?  I will go on to read just that novel since it appears to be one of the most influential in the history of 19th century Russia.


Faithful Ruslan – a dog story?

June 17, 2011

Despite my immersion in the three volumes of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag, the novels of Vassily Grossman, and other Stalin-era material, I had never heard of Faithful Ruslan, by Georgi Vladmiov.  Many thanks to the author of the anonymous comment at this dog-oriented post who pointed me to it!  Vadlimov is not well-known here, but he should be.

The plot takes place over a year or two at the time of the great political thaw in the USSR, when Khrushchev made his secret speech denouncing Stalin’s great crimes (he did not refer to his own deep complicity in those crimes, of course) and many prisoners of the slave labor system, The Gulag Archipelago, were released.  Ruslan is a guard dog, born and bred to the role, who is let go after his master cannot bear to shoot him down.  He struggles to find a role in the world after his entire universe is upturned, except that he doesn’t really understand how completely it has been ended.  The camp is gone, the prisoners have not escaped: they were released, and they are not returning.

The story is told from a ominiscient (human) point of view, but the portrayal of dog-consciousness is absolutely wonderful.  Inherent in the structure of the tale are many levels of dramatic irony: we, the human readers know things that the hero, a dog, could never know in his time, or ever;  we know things simply by virtue of being readers, many years after the events related; the human characters know things the dogs do not know; and the dogs know, or seem to know, some things the humans do not and could not know.  The fractured points of view which comment on one another give the tale tremendous power.

On another level, the story is an allegory of Stalin’s USSR, and of human subservience to authority in general.  The allegory is not subtle – is subtlety called for in a discussion of Stalin’s rule?  Ruslan regards his hard master as a godlike being, and he lives simply to serve him and love him.  At one point, he dreams of a world in which everyplace is within the barbed wire of a great prison camp – wouldn’t that be wonderful! – but of course, there must be an inside and an outside, or where would you place the malefactors who would not follow the rules?

Through Ruslan’s memories and the conversations of the humans around him, we get vignettes of camp life that are harrowing in their brutality.  This relatively simple tale is very deep, sad, and upsetting.  My copy of this book is an old library edition – I’m not sure if it has been republished lately.  I was aware reading the blurbs and introduction that the great troika of 20th century horrors – Hitler’s genocide, Stalin’s gulag, Mao’s mass-murder by purge and policy – are fading away into history.  Do young people today feel them with the immediacy that I did as a student, though even then it was old news?


Tolstoy Epilogue – Boney Demolished

December 30, 2010

I am wrapping up my re-reading of War and Peace, and have reached the Epilogue in which Tolstoy gives us a peek at the settled lives his characters lead after the tumult of 1812.  He starts off with another round in his demolition of Napoleon and The Great Man Theory of History, and then descends into rather tedious domestic relations, before returning to a lengthy essay on causation in history.  A few years later, Tolstoy would begin Anna Karenina with one of literature’s most famous first lines:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

but in his Epilogue, he hasn’t realized this yet, and he is quite boring and almost sentimental in his description of the endless happiness of his happily married figures.  It’s only a few false steps after a journey of a thousand miles though, and they are preceded by one of Tolstoy’s wonderfully condensed valentines to young lovers on the brink of joy as Pierre and Natasha get together:

She glanced back.  For a few seconds they looked silently into each other’s eyes, and the distant and impossible suddenly became near, possible, and inevitable.        .            .            .             .              .              .          .              .            .

What could be the stuff of soap opera melodrama is nothing more than this.  The two lines of evenly spaced dots are in the original.

Tolstoy then goes on to dissect and discard the myth of Napoleon Bonaparte, treating him as an egotistical, short-sighted, vainglorious man, with “childish boldness and self-confidence,” (which echoes Tolstoy’s description of Prince Andrei’s sally at Austerlitz),  who managed to be at the right place at the right time to ride the crest of historical waves, and then be crushed beneath them as they broke.  He was certainly making a valuable correction to the romantic hero-worship of people such as Carlyle, but he goes too far, confusing and conflating the moral and historical meanings of the word “great.”

He describes the invasion of Russia in 1812 in pseudo-scientific, metaphorical terms as waves of migration moving one way and another, causing backwashes, as though he is discussing the great Asiatic migrations of the 5th or 12th centuries, that gave us the barbarian invasions of Rome and the Mongol Hordes.  He never says what causes those waves, and he doesn’t entertain the idea that perhaps a “great man” is simply one who knows when he is at the right place in the right time.  He sees it as simply chance upon chance.  He refers mysteriously to the “purposes” of history, and uses metaphors of the theatre – the last act, the script, the role figures play – and so on.  Perhaps he thinks that God is the director, but it’s a short jump from Tolstoy to Karl Marx who thought he had scientifically described the same laws of history that Tolstoy mystifies.

Perhaps history is bunk, or just one damned thing after another.  Or perhaps there are causes to be discerned in history, but they only hold true for specific instances, and are never universal laws.  Or perhaps causes only exist in retrospect…Tolstoy seems to prefigure Lichanos’ Iron Law of Historical Causation when he says:

Why did it happen this way and not otherwise?                                                                                                                                            Because this is how it happened.

Tolstoy did his historical debunking of Napoleon some fifty years after the fact, but James Gillray was onto the same ideas while Boney was in his glory.  One of his caricatures is at the top of this post, and another, a comic strip political cartoon nearly two centuries before Doonesbury, is shown below.  It illustrates several of the episodes alluded to by Tolstoy in his acid recounting of the rise of the Great Man.

For more Gillray images of Napoleon, visit this excellent site:  Brown University Digial Library