We very early said to ourselves that we had lost the battle, and so we had

red abstract

God knows what would have happened

“A battle is won by him who has firmly made up his mind to win it. Why did we lose the battle at Austerlitz? Our losses were almost equal to those of the French, but we very early said to ourselves that we had lost the battle, and so we had. And we said so because we had no business fighting there: we wanted to get away from the field of battle as soon as possible. ‘We have lost, so we ought to run!’ and we ran. If we had not said so until evening, God knows what would have happened. To-morrow we will not say so. You say of our position that the left flank is weak, the right flank extended,” he continued, “but that is all nonsense, — there is nothing of the kind. What awaits us to-morrow? One hundred millions of the most varied eventualities that will be momentarily decided by their running away, or by the flight of our own men, by killing this one, or that one; but what is being done now is mere child’s play. The trouble is that not only those with whom you have examined the position, but others too, are not doing anything to further the matter, but only retard it. They are occupied only with their own petty interests.”

by Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910)
from War and Peace (1869)
chapter XXV
image – Raffaele1950

Realism or Pessimism?

This is sometimes paraphrased as “we lost because we told ourselves we lost.” Do you think they are the same?

In this case, maybe not. Could they have willed themselves out of losing the battle, if they were hopelessly mismatched? Would running away earlier have saved lives? Would staying longer have pushed them towards victory?

I agree that “a battle is won by him who has firmly made up his mind to win it.” Losing can be passive, but winning is always assertive. Even if success were to fall out of the sky and land at your feet, you’d have to let it in, in some way. You’d have to notice and pick it up.

The trouble is that not only those with whom you have examined the position, but others too, are not doing anything to further the matter, but only retard it. They are occupied only with their own petty interests.

Awareness of personal responsibility was big with Tolstoy.

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