Real Butchers

Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murat
Translators, Pevear and Volokhonsky

I should read this short novel every year, in January. This time I read it thinking of Vietnam, the American occupiers (Russians), the indigenous resistance (Chechens), and the rivalries among the Vietnamese (Shamil v. Hadji Murat). Then there’s destroying the forests with herbicides (and the Russians cutting down the forest trees [441]). And the mutilation of corpses as in “beers for ears” (Hadji Murat’s head carried around in a sack). And these passages for meditation…

But deep in her heart Aksinya was glad of Pyotr’s death. She was pregnant again by the salesclerk she lived with, and now no one could reproach her anymore, and the salesclerk could marry her, as he had said he would when he was persuading her to love him. 410

HM: “Fear came over me and I ran away…Never afterwards. Since then I always remembered that shame, and when I remembered it, I was no longer afraid of anything.” 422

To disagree with Nicholas’s orders meant to lose all that brilliant position which he now enjoyed, and which he had spent forty years acquiring. And therefore he humbly bowed his dark, graying head in a sign of submission and readiness to carry out the cruel, insane, and dishonest supreme will. 443-4

War presented itself to him only as a matter of subjecting himself to danger, to the possibility of death, and thereby earning awards, and the respect of his comrades here and of his friends in Russia. The other side of the war—the death, the wounds of soldiers, officers, mountaineers—strange as it is to say, did not present itself to his imagination. Unconsciously, to preserve his poetic notion of war, he never even looked at the killed and wounded. 449

It was not hatred, but a refusal to recognize these Russian dogs as human beings, and such loathing, disgust, and bewilderment before the absurd cruelty of these beings, that the wish to exterminate them, like the wish to exterminate rats, venomous spiders, and wolves, was as natural as the sense of self-preservation. 450

“The same could happen to anyone,” said Butler, not knowing what to say. “That’s war.” “War!” cried Marya Dmitrievna. “What war? You’re butchers, that’s all. A dead body should be put into the round, and they just jeer. Real butchers,” she repeated and then stepped off the porch and went into the house through the back door. 480

February 1, 2013

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