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Alexander Vasilich Samsonov

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Alexander Vasilich Samsonov (vah-SEE-lihch sahm-SOH-nov), a fifty-five-year-old general in the cavalry. After a number of years of steady, but generally uneventful, service with the cossack regiments, he is called, only three weeks before the outbreak of war, to command the Russian Second Army on the Polish-German front. This responsibility makes him uneasy, because he has not seen serious operational duty for at least seven years. Samsonov attempts to fulfill his tasks with military professionalism, choosing subordinates on the basis of military records, not connections. He soon realizes that powers higher up are not aware of the situation near the front. His dealings with supreme commander Zhilinsky are plagued by erroneous or contradictory orders and a personal relationship that is not between military colleagues but between a “bullying cattle drover” and a powerless but ultimately responsible subordinate. Samsonov is pursued continuously by a fear of failing to act when necessities, not orders, demand. His frustration mounts as repeated miscalculations by the Russian High Command lead to the loss of thousands of Second Army soldiers. Unable to bear the weight of responsibility for disastrous military moves he has been obliged to implement, Samsonov commits suicide, giving the High Command an excuse to condemn him for “excessively independent” operations, running counter to orders.

Georgii Mikhalych Vorotyntsev

Georgii Mikhalych Vorotyntsev (geh-OHR-gee mih-KHAH-lihch voh-roh-TIHN-tsehv), a general staff colonel who, following duty in the Russo-Japanese war, had seemed content with gradual professional advancement and the security of marriage. Now, embroiled in the events of August, 1914, he is particularly conscious of the responsibility of commanding miserable peasants. He imagines that their reward, if they survive war, is simply staying alive. Vorotyntsev is perplexed over his position in life, not knowing what reward might be his if he survives the coming events. Throughout his life, Vorotyntsev has believed that people should do their best to assist their country. That belief turns to despair time and again as he witnesses the harmful effects of incompetence, especially in positions of authority. In a number of high-pressure situations during the August, 1914, campaign, Vorotyntsev shows resiliency and an ability to call on reserves of physical and psychological strength to salvage whatever is possible in the face of extremely adverse conditions.

Arsenii (Senka) Blagodaryov

Arsenii (Senka) Blagodaryov (ahr-SEH-nee blah-goh-DAHR-yov), a strong, rough-hewn, twenty-five-year-old peasant soldier. Although Senka is somewhat clumsy because of his size, he possesses a sharp intellect. He is appointed as Colonel Vorotyntsev’s orderly. In this post, he shows a remarkable ability to see the consequences of others’ decisions in advance. This ability, coupled with his willingness to accept dangerous assignments, earns him compliments from his commanding officer. Seen from Senka’s somewhat naïve perspective, the task of fighting is a grim but necessary reality that he hopes can be concluded at least by October 1, the traditional date of village feasts. His dedication to Vorotyntsev’s and the army’s service is unconnected with any higher principles of glory or patriotism.

Sasha Lenartovich

Sasha Lenartovich (leh-NAHR -toh-vihch), a twenty-four-year-old platoon commander who believes that Russia and the world will someday be transformed as a result of a great event. Earlier, he viewed the abortive 1905 revolution in Russia as a call to his student generation to join the oppressed classes’ struggle to break the chains of czarist tyranny. Thus, when he is drafted in August, 1914, Sasha is driven by an overwhelming despair that...

(The entire section contains 1606 words.)

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