Monday, 15 July 2013

'War and Peace' - Debate and Review


Why are we reviewing War and Peace again?

Last week Negau published a review of War and Peace, and here we are writing about it again, why? There are a couple of reasons why we thought a follow-up needed to be written:

-The review was our most popular article and we want to give our readers more of what they like. It's all about you guys here at Negau, so we'll keep writing about the articles you enjoy.

-There has also been a lot of debate about violence in society following the George Zimmerman trial, our coverage of which can be found here and here, with opinions from my blog partner Alina here. The rationality and morality of violence are considered throughout War and Peace. It seemed to us that if people want to know why lives are being taken in the present, they need look no farther than a book describing one of the most bloody periods of history.

Why is War and Peace still relevant today?

War and Peace is a historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars, for a full plot description see our previous article. The Napoleonic Wars saw countless people killing others and losing their own lives attempting to satisfy the ambitions of powerful individuals, or so the history texts tell us, but was this due to the whims of the social elite or the unavoidable instincts of the masses? Answers to questions such as these would help us to understand why members of one social/racial/political group kill people who they see as belonging to the 'other'.

What are Tolstoy's views on war in War and Peace?

Tolstoy does not present war in the same way as conventional histories or historical novels. His view of war and human violence is that it is the product of irresistible movements by the masses, one group of people moves in one direction and if another group opposes that movement violence results. Tolstoy uses the Napoleonic invasion of Russia as an example of this. The people of the West (Napoleon's armies) were driven eastwards by an unknown force acting upon their collective subconscious, and at first the people of the East (the Russian Tsar's armies) gave way before them. Later, however, the people of the West grew fatigued, lost the desire to move eastwards which had motivated them and the people of the East turned to oppose the West's advance. At this point bloody conflicts resulted and the tables were turned, with both the people of the East and West advancing towards Western Europe at a frantic pace.


George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, racial tension in the US

Tolstoy's views in War and Peace go some way towards explaining the violence taking place in the US this past year. The actions of George Zimmerman in 2012, when he fatally shot African American teenager Trayvon Martin, could be explained by this shared subconscious and mass-movements theory. The US is a country with a history mired by racial segregation and discrimination. There is still a large amount of underlying racial tension in US society to this day. Trayvon Martin was shot under unknown circumstances while walking through a gated community where he was staying. In recent years, due to reductions in racial segregation, young African Americans have begun to fill professional roles in the US economy. As a result of this, the numbers of African Americans living in communities such as the one in question have increased. Twenty, thirty or forty years ago such figures would have been almost non-existent. Therefore, one can say that there have been the beginnings of a mass-movement of African American people to what were previously segregated areas. George Zimmerman's subconscious opposition to this movement (it has been argued that he racially profiled Trayvon Martin) might have motivated the violence which took Trayvon's life.


The truth is that nobody will ever know what really happened on the night when Trayvon Martin was killed. Only one person survived the encounter and he has every reason to lie, while we have no way of knowing whether he is telling the truth. It is therefore important that we focus on understanding the underlying issues rather than the isolated incidents which they produce. War and Peace is a fantastic book for fans of history or literature, but also an important work to read in attempting to understand the world better.

Joe Malpas

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