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Customer Review

on 7 June 2010
August 1914 is the portrait of a pivotal moment in Russian history, the defeat of the Russians at the battle of Tannenberg. However, it is also a tract expounding Solzhenitsyn's theme that our spiritual purpose is to take responsibility for what falls within our immediate sphere of influence. Amongst the many characters, Vorotyntsev, a staff officer who roves around the battle trying to shore up the collapsing Russian front, epitomises the responsible human being. So, what is Solzhenistsyn opposing by this depiction? He is saying that by 1914 the Russian generals had fallen under the influence of Tolstoy's fatalistic ideas, and therfore did not know how to take responsibility for what lay before them. This did not mean the generals were cowards or even stupid. They simply did not understand that they could turn the tide of battle by decisive, voluntary action. Thus, General Samsonov is a courageous, sincere and noble man. But his fatalism makes him incompetent. His courage though is registered by the fact that his men carry his body through the woods for scores of miles. It should be understood that although Tolstoy's fatalism gets the blame for 1914, nonethless, the real target for Solzhenitsyn's moral criticism is Marxism -- which is similarly fatalistic. Solzhenistsyn fought in the second world war when there were analogous problems in the Kremlin. Vorontyntsev is a man like Solzhenitsyn himself--an artillery officer who took responsibility for his part of the front--and yet suffered the consequences of other people's errors--in Solzhenitsyn's case from Stalin's paranoid policy of arresting anyone who questioned his judgement.
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4.5 out of 5 stars