The themes of August 1914 are human, military, and political. The human theme is the heroism of the ordinary Russian soldier. With awe Solzhenitsyn depicts the hardiness of infantrymen who marched untiringly hither and yon at the contradictory orders of confused generals. With compassion he recites the courage of peasants, clerks, and teachers who fought to the death despite the obvious incompetence of their officers. Loving comrades, family, religion, and country more than life, foot soldiers and cavalrymen thought nothing of their own safety and died bravely, in droves.
The military theme concerns the stupidity and venality of the Russian generals who wasted such magnificent troops. Caring more about a place on the promotion list than about tactics, scheming to keep others from receiving a share of the glory, General Staff officers forgot the responsibility of leadership. Because of antiquated strategy or petty squabbles, they wasted battalion after battalion.
The government's plan of war contributed to the battlefield disaster. Urged by Britain and France to invade Germany on a second front immediately after the declaration of war, Russia attacked without sufficient time for orderly mobilization. Envisioning a glorious re-enactment of the victories of 1812-1814 when Russian armies toppled Napoleon, the Czar's government imagined itself again the savior of Europe.
The final theme is that the chaos of the army reflects the chaos in the political order. The revolutionary movements from 1890 destroyed trust in the social fabric and often killed the more enlightened reformers rather than the staunchest autocrats. The most glaring example is the assassination of Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911 by a revolutionary who was unwittingly abetted by the Okhrana (secret police) which believed him to be a double agent. Stolypin advocated numerous political and economic reforms that would have strengthened Russia's ability to compete with the more advanced societies of Germany, France, and England.
Stolypin represented a force for change that Nicholas II himself did not. Well intentioned but unassertive, Nicholas consistently made the wrong choices in domestic policy and was outmaneuvered in foreign policy.
In summary, Solzhenitsyn depicts a Russia, lacking internal strength and professing impossible diplomatic ideals, that martyred itself in World War I to save ungrateful and uncomprehending Western European allies
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