Smolensk, Russia – Letters from Russia, Part 9
November 28, 2006
August 12, 1812
Frightful days! We pursued the Russians as far as Smolensk where I witnessed a horrific sight, one hitherto unimaginable to my eyes or mind.
The sudden burst of activity coming closer, more focused, & our expressions turning maniacal with fear, resolve, and dare said – bloodlust. Oh the killing! While I expected (and thought I had steeled myself for), the battles, and the last week since crossing the River, I’ve seen several incidents, I under estimated we human’s ability for waste and intolerable agony. The brutality stunned me raw and left an empty sickness, both physically and mentally. My basic human sensibilities are overwhelmed by how humans can ever consider, no matter the feud, to resolve to kill enough others to force submission and an acceptance of terms – a lifetime of dominance, no matter the form?
While the valley was wide, in the early morning when the troops thundered down and artillery resonated from hilltops and redoubts, the wide valley filled with bodies like milk poured from a pitcher. The dying! The dying is not gallant, nor precise. Bodies slashed, skewered and pummeled into capitulation, laid to suffer in muddy earth, hoping for horse hooves or errant cannonballs to end their writhing.
In the end the stills & quiet penetrated only by groans of these suffered through the day, the serious murmur of medics sorting bodies into ones that are left to die, and those carried by litter to live a little longer. No injury is small or slight. For most there is no surgery, those that are operated are fortunate to survive the cleavers and blinding pain of repair.
The dead lay everywhere like a mess to clean tomorrow, organs chopped like horsemeat, flesh oozing into revulsion. Lives flooding into nonexistence with a flash of metal. Each one, a life completed before a happy end. I should not presume other’s sense of happiness but I contend that duty or honor is not a fair exchange for a life lost on a battlefield. No prestige is high enough a price. I resolve to be care with my every step and return to you whole in body and mind.
Yours completely, Henri