A Peace for Pyrrhomaniacs
Ivantiy Novak on the potential for war negotiations to end in a Pyrrhic victory
On 2 September 1812, by the Julian calendar, six days after the Battle of Borodino — where he lost around 28,000 souls — Napoleon Bonaparte rode into Moscow followed by his victorious Grande Armée. A Grand Armée that wasn’t, then, exhausted, having entered Russia numbering over 600,000. Yet on 6 October, they left. The French made their exit down Smolensk road, onward toward Europe. Why? Why was the Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov right to have dragged out the counter? Because, as Tolstoy argues in his War and Peace, Kutuzov understood what all the others didn’t:
“The French horde, as if some enraged beast that had been dealt a mortal blow during its charge, felt that death was now close by; but couldn’t stop…with the force of its momentum, the French army managed to roll up to Moscow, but once there, without any effort from the Russian army, it would die, bleeding out of its mortal wound, received at Borodino.”
King Pyrrhus of Epirus had long ago lent his name to what had happened with the words ‘another such a victory and we shall be utterly ruined.’ And now, with an entrenched counter-offensive in Ukraine, NBC News announcing covert conversations about peace have now been broached with the Ukrainian government “amid concerns among US and European officials that the war has reached a stalemate” on 3 November, The Telegraph echoing the same on 24 November and the US congress still struggling to agree whether to continue with the funding — when all the while a second winter of the harshest war in Europe since 1945 is about to begin — we are almost certain to be offered this as ear muffs: if we continue standing ‘so long as it takes’ behind Ukraine, we too will be ruined.