Saturday, May 26, 2007

Leo Tolstoy to Czar Nicholas I as [ ? ] to Bush

Non interludus

In his short novel Hadji Murat (written between 1896 and 1904), Leo Tolstoy portrayed not only the Chechen hero of the title, but also his nemesis the Czar:
"Well, what else?" [Nikolai] said [to his minister of war].
      "A courier from the Caucasus," said Chernyshov, and began to report what Vorontsov had written about Hadji Murat surrendering.
      "You don't say!" said Nikolai. "A good start."
      "Evidently the plan devised by Your Majesty is beginning to bear fruit," said Chernyshov.
      This praise of his strategic capabilities was especially pleasing to Nikolai, for although he took pride in his strategic capabilities, deep down in his heart he was conscious that he had none. And now he wanted to hear himself praised in greater detail.
      "How do you see it?"
      "The way I see it is that if we had long been following Your Majesty's plan, gradually, albeit slowly moving forward, cutting down the forests, destroying reserves, then the Caucasus would have been subdued long ago. I put Hadji Murat's surrender down to this alone. He realises that they can hold out no longer."
      "That's right," said Nikolai.
      Despite the fact that the plan for slow movement into enemy territory by means of the felling of forests and the destruction of provisions was the plan of Yermolov and Velyaminov, and the complete opposite of Nikolai's plan, whereby it was necessary to seize Shamil's residence at once and sack that nest of brigands, and whereby the Dargo expedition of 1845 had been undertaken, costing the lives of so many men—despite this, Nikolai ascribed the plan for slow movement, the systematic felling of forests, and the destruction of provisions to himself as well. It would have seemed that in order to believe that the plan for slow movement...was his plan, it was necessary to conceal the fact that he had absolutely insisted on the completely contradictory military undertaking of 1845. But he did not conceal this, and was proud both of that plan...and of the plan for slow movement forward, despite the fact that these two plans were clearly contradictory to one another. The constant clear, vile blatancy of the flattery of those around him had brought him to the point where he no longer saw his contradictions, no longer adapted his actions and words to reality, to logic, or even to simple good sense, but was absolutely certain that all his instructions, no matter how senseless, unjust, and mutually incompatible, became entirely sensible, just, and mutually compatible simply because it was he that gave them. [pp. 74-75]

– translated by Hugh Aplin

According to the translator's introduction, Tolstoy realized that "his depiction...of Nicholas I...made publication of Hadji Murat under the conditions of Russian censorship quite unthinkable." Though Philip Roth was able to publish his satire of Richard Nixon (Our Gang) during Nixon's term of office and any number of writers have already satirized Bush in print, I wonder who might be writing something about Bush (and about our political inertia) so troublingly unflattering that it can't be published yet, even in America.


  1. Where to start? A fool, posing on a little pony, in the rose garden for his momma to take a picture; while the generals wait in the war room.

  2. Your comment captures some of the flavor of a forthcoming satire of the Bush administration titled Wondershrub and Club.

    Perhaps I could tell you how to obtain a copy after copies become available.

  3. Wondershrub and Club. Sadly there is so much material for a book of fools.

  4. Ah..."sadly"? Sadly, bewilderingly, despairingly, despondently, infuriatingly, tragically....