Thoughts and questions about Tolstoy’s War & Peace in Gaza and the war on terror

When Theatre for Everybody presented their workshop production of their stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace it was reviewed in Al Watan. The review opened thus:

Only on the Said Al Mashal stage in Gaza does the will to peace win over the insanity of war and its afflictions. But the reality that Palestine is living and many of the countries of our Arab nations is different to this. Completely different! Wars are eradicating people and peoples, and there is not a glimmer of hope of peace. READ MORE

I wonder, as the company prepares for the next stage in the development of their production, what peace means to people living in Gaza.  Fifteen performances will be given of the play in Khan Younis and Gaza City over the coming months and after each one there will be an open discussion of what this work means. What will people there say? I wish I could be there. Tolstoy wrote his novel in the 1860s about events at the beginning of that century that climaxed in the invasion of Russia by the French Army led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812. The novel finishes with a portrait of natural family life that resumes after the French occupation has been repulsed. What can it possibly mean to demand peace in Gaza today? And yet there are few places on earth at the current time where it is more sorely needed.  I remember my colleague and friend, Hossam Madhoun, co-director of Theatre for Everybody, remarking that one war every ten years may be almost acceptable but to have three in that space of time was unbearable.  You couldn’t possible recover from one before the next was upon you.

In Tolstoy’s War & Peace there are two wars and two peaces.  The first war is the campaign fought by the Napoleonic army against the Austrians and the Russians in Moravia in today’s Czech Republic.  This climaxed in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and was followed by the Treaty of Pressburg.  The French Victory was so decisive that the Austrian Empire capitulated and never recovered.  This was the recurrent pattern; there was a military build-up, manoeuvres, skirmishes, a decisive battle and a peace treaty.  This ordering of the business of war and peace in the European territories was linked to the consolidation of nation-states that had prevailed since the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War in 1648.

Anyway, it is at the Battle of Austerlitz that Tolstoy’s fictional character, Andrei Bolkonsky, is almost fatally wounded and for some period of time is missing in action.  It is during his absence that his wife dies in childbirth and he becomes a father.  His departure for the war, and his aspiration to play an heroic and historic role in it, is described by Tolstoy as being connected to his animosity towards his pregnant wife.  There is some drive in him towards war that is fuelled by an antipathy towards life.  His friend Pierre Bezukhov, after the defeat at Austerlitz, in which he played no part, is driven to drink in his frustration at Russian military officers’ celebration of victory (although the Russians lost alongside the Austrians) and finds himself fighting a duel to defend Andrei’s honour. Pierre’s pro-Revolutionary (and therefore pro-Napoleonic) views are well known The son of an aristocrat and a peasant, his basic predisposition is towards progress and peace.  This friendship of opposites between Andrei and Pierre is the major relationship and provides the key ongoing dialogue in the novel.

The second war in ‘War & Peace’ is of a different sort than the Moravian campaign.  It concerns the invasion and effective occupation of Russia.  The intention of the French Army was to deliver a decisive defeat on the Russians and negotiate an advantageous peace settlement.  Tolstoy describes this second war as being completely different and new.  The Russians will not make peace while the French are on Russian soil. As the Russian commander, Kutuzov, is famously said to have cried: ‘Let them eat horse meat!’.  After the French invasion there is a dreadful and bloody encounter between the French and the Russian armies at Borodino where Andrei is wounded, this time fatally though he only dies some months after the battle.  Meanwhile Pierre becomes a witness to the battle and the war. Napoleon, his erstwhile hero, has now become, for him, a satanic figure. In his determination to encounter his nemesis and assassinate Napoleon, he disguises himself as a peasant, promotes and finances armed partisan resistance, remains in Moscow, narrowly escapes execution and is eventually freed by ‘partisan’ forces.

In this war of the second half of ‘War & Peace’ the Russians refused peace negotiations and made strategic retreats, leaving an almost deserted and burnt out Moscow to the occupying French forces.   As the Russian winter set in and the resources of the Russian land were depleted by plunder, Moscow turned from a treasure trove into a trap.  The French army, demoralised and softened by its occupation of Moscow, started its retreat back through Russia towards France without having gained a settlement. It was decimated by the attacks of relatively small groups of ‘partisan’ guerrilla fighters. Tolstoy remarks that it is as if the French were engaging in a duel in accordance with the rules of fencing and the opponent, the Russian people, threw away its sword and snatched up a club. The French are bludgeoned to death.

The Napoleonic project started with two extraordinary features.  Firstly, it was moved by an ideological aspiration to spread the republican values of the French Revolution.  Secondly, it created an army from the whole French population.  The ‘levee en masse’ of the French people was the closest thing at that time to a conscript army.  The movement of these masses of troops entailed the plundering of all proximate property and land. As the Napoleonic campaign progressed, the economic drivers became more dominant than the ideological revolutionary mission. Already in his invasion of Spain he had been met with bands of guerrilla fighters derived from civilian resistance to occupation.  In the campaign in Prussia his defeat, at the battle of Jena, of the Prussian army – an army whose structures of command reflected the aristocratic values of the ancien regime and was no match for the more democratically organised French – was a major shock.  What Europe was confronting was total war, military combat that involved whole populations. I suspect that this new form of warfare derived from the military methodology of European imperialist expansion but it was brought back home in the Napoleonic campaigns of 1792-1815. Carl von Clausewitz who fought at the Battle of Jena wrote his classic work, On War, as a consequence of the recognitions that he made about the changed character of war.  This work has been the most universally influential book about war in the modern period and its most celebrated quotation: “War Is Merely the Continuation of Policy (or Politics) by Other Means” indicates that the centre of the work is a profound examination and re-thinking of the relationship between military and social organisation.  There is every reason to believe that Clausewitz was advising the Russian commander, Kutuzov, during the Russian campaign.  The intensely pragmatic understanding of the interaction between the terrain, the military commander, the government and the people was first brought to bear in the Russian campaign against the French.

If Theatre for Everybody’s stage adaptation goes far enough to include this part of the story, how will this be received by audiences there?  Will it give any renewed sense of what peace might involve?  Do  different kinds of war relate to different kinds of peace? The ‘peace’ process that is constantly brought into play by the Israelis, the ‘international community’ and the Palestinian Authority has only appeared to be a means of waging war by other means. The theft of land, the humiliation and harassment of the Palestinian population continue.   This is in addition to the dreadful privations due to the siege or blockade of Gaza, a prolonged and sustained violence that deprives people of the means of life and deteriorates the immediate environment in which they have to live, in addition to the displacement, the destruction of natural resources and environmental amenities, the deep ongoing problems arising from the use of armaments such as white phosphorous – Gaza is not just a war zone but an experimental laboratory for the Israeli arms industry – as well as the psychological and spiritual stress there is the ongoing destruction of inner capacities produced by continual exposure to fear and terror. I know from my friends there that fear eats into the soul.  It is fear not just of one’s own physical destruction.  The most alarming factor is the dreadful sense of powerlessness to protect those that would, in all circumstances, be most in need of your protection, your children. Then at the end of an intense period of violence, Hamas, the governing group in Gaza insists on victory celebrations.

At the end of ‘War & Peace’ Tolstoy accompanies his description of the peace after the French occupation with thoughts about the deeply destructive impact of militarism.  He makes a general analysis of ‘the army’. This form of human organisation can have more or less impact and influence on overall social organisation.  In a war it comes to dominate; in peace it is diminished.  His description is strongly linked to his view of human beings in general, a view that he elaborates at various points in the book and in other work. He describes the human as divided between individual being and collective being. These modes of being impact variously on human social organisation.  The individual is capable of generating movements of self development and behaviour based on intuitive recognitions of truth and these movements will become subject to human will. As an individual, the human being will live out a sense of self determination even though their actual control of their circumstances is illusory.  In their collective life human beings are carried along by mimetic interactions where reciprocal expectations of conformity drive them in ways over which they appear to have no control. This is most clearly and fully expressed at the beginning of Book Three of War & Peace. He attributes freedom to the individual aspect and destiny, or necessity, to the other, collective, aspect.  He expresses this as different perceptions of time: the personal time of the individual – the series of moments that make up a person’s life – and the collective predetermined time, that appears like a predetermined landscape and is associated with complex interactive ‘swarm’ behaviour.  The army, for Tolstoy, is an institutionalisation of this contradiction in the human being.  He gives the image of the army as a cone, a hierarchy of command and obedience, where the basis on which someone is able to give orders is the distance that they have from the actual activities over which they give them.  This separation of power – a specific case of the division of mental and manual labour – gives rise to power ascending to the pinnacle of the cone where a man (usually) sits. He, at one point, appears to be a genius though at another – and perhaps from a different perspective- appears to be a satanic figure.  For Tolstoy the army is an abnegation of human responsibility and, as this form of organisation becomes more prevalent, the less control – freedom – people have over their lives and actions.

The people of Gaza live in a permanent state of unfreedom because they are subject to intensive militarisation both from the state of Israel and from the organisations of resistance that have been generated in opposition to Israeli military actions. There is a commonplace about Israel that, rather than it being a state with an army, is an army with a state. This fusion of the army and the state, of war and politics, can be seen as the direct historic outcome of the ideas of Carl von Clausewitz. European nationalism has managed to export itself in its most extreme form and inserted itself into the Middle East. In addition this war creates ‘violent imitation’ and this process ‘makes adversaries more and more alike’.  This means that forms of resistance mimic that which is being resisted. This last quotation is taken from work by Rene Girard and Benoit Chantre (p.10 Battling to the End, Michigan State University Press 2010) in which they explore the ideas of Clausewitz in relation to Girard’s own ideas about mimetic violence.

Surely, there is no other society on earth that knows as much about war – and knows as little peace – as those who live in the farms, villages, towns and cities of the Gaza Strip. Girard says in the book already quoted that ‘To understand war completely is to no longer be able to be a warrior’.  Does War & Peace move in the direction of an understanding of war that is helpful to people in Gaza?

War & Peace is the most thorough imaginative investigation of war in general and in particular. From a psychological or spiritual point of view, this is embodied in the relationship between the two main characters, Andrei and Pierre and their relationship to Natasha, the fiancee of one and the eventual wife of the other. From an historical point of view it is articulated in the relationship between the war in the first half and the ‘new kind’ of war in the second half of the book. What is the logic of this historical progression?

Writing about this in London I risk having a very partial view of these processes.  After all, the Napoleonic Wars were, despite appearances to the contrary, fought between the French and British.  The British were constantly involved in a process of diplomatic manipulation, setting one side off against another but hardly made a military appearance, apart from the war in Spain, before the very end, at the Battle of Waterloo, when Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815.  The strategy of conducting war through alliances or proxies is familiar.  It was the ability of the English banking system to extend loans with unusual flexibility in contrast to the more rigid French system that was constantly making a difference in the conduct of the different campaigns.  The economics of war, mentioned in relationship to the Napoleonic balance sheet of plunder earlier, is also evidenced in the connection between the Israelis military power and its ability to steal Palestinian land and property, theft with which its army is directly concerned.  It cannot escape anybody’s attention that British wealth, the infrastructural advantageous position of Britain which is now almost completely depleted apart from residual financial pre-eminence, is entirely due to military and naval power.  The wars that took place in the world between the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the start of the First World War in 1914 were predominantly conducted by European powers, plus the United States, against indigenous people whose resistance and endurance has, more or less, been erased from the historical record. These wars had prominent genocidal features. However, the history of the development of war is centred in Europe.  Since 1945 the Western European powers and the United States has managed to ‘export’ war whilst remaining the major profiting producers of armaments. This gives the bizarre and false appearance of contemporary Europe being a centre of peace. It is as if the whole of the Western world is mimicking the role played by Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, conducting war in other countries, by proxy, and bankrolling them with armaments.  Although Britain has profited from war more than any other country in human history, although this role is currently being contested by the US, it has never, since 1066, suffered an invasion. I am not counting the arrival of William and Mary with an accompanying army in 1688 nor the Jacobite armed invasion, launched from Scotland and supported by the French, in 1745.  It’s true that Napoleon, for a while in the 1790’s, amassed an army on the French side of the Channel and threatened invasion before preferring to turn his attention eastwards. Almost the same pattern occurred with the threat from the German National Socialist regime under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.  He and his army met a nemesis, similar to that of Napoleon and his army, with his attempt to invade and occupy Russia/Soviet Union in 1941. The pattern of the European Wars of the first half of the 20th Century was set in the Napoleonic Wars.  In 1945 with the advent of the Cold War the Western powers went back to conducting colonial wars.  However, the Cold War and the subsequent War on Terror, that in some ways subsumed it, changed the character of war in a way that is similar to that described by Tolstoy in the difference between the Moravian campaign of 1805 and the invasion of Russia of 1812.

The ‘Cold War’ was a result of the remarkable success of the Soviet Union in the encounter with Germany in 1941-45 plus the extraordinary advance in the destructive capabilities of human weaponry with the development of nuclear explosives.  The ‘war on terror’ is a result of a strategy initiated by Israel in its influence over United States policy through the neo-conservative group after the ‘fall’ of the Soviet Union in 1989. Of course this coincided with the end of the war against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan and the return, to their countries of origin, of hundreds of trained fighters who had been exposed to the practice and ideas of military political islam. In the background to this was the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the formation of the Islamic Republic and this, in turn, was influenced by the formation of Pakistan as a consequence of the British-led partition of India. It is instructive to see how these nation-state forms repeat and echo each other.  Particularly important in this respect is to understand the congruence between the Zionist state project and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) project.

A fundamental impact of the Napoleonic ‘levée en masse’, the redirecting of the revolutionary energies of the French people into nation-building and military adventurism was a reorganisation of the relationship between soldiers and civilians.  War and military organisation has played an integral and essential role in the making of nation-states.  War is always projected as having definable strategic aims and often the whole effort appears to be thoroughly imbued with efficiency and purpose. When we turn our attention to what Tolstoy had to say about the way militarisation (preparing for war) is compatible with already existing inclinations in people to form themselves into purposeful groups and act in unison, we can see that war does not just face out towards the realisable objectives that it avows, whether these are defensive or offensive, but faces inwards and engages with the need for people to organise themselves collectively.  The standard way a ruling group establishes its hegemony over decisive sections of the population is to generate military activity. In the case of Britain (or the nation-state that was become Britain after the 1707 union with Scotland) the immediate action of the new regime formed in 1688 was to create the coalition army with the Dutch to go to war against France. This was driven by the need to consolidate Protestantism as a key ideological unifier as much as imperial contest. The fact that Britain was and remains a kind of theocracy in which religion was used as test of loyalty and where the monarch was, and is, both the head of the Church and the military Commander-in-Chief, reminds us of a deep synergy between Britain and Israel. Here it is significant that ‘chosenism’, the illusion that adherents are God’s chosen people, a kind of extremist racist monotheism, is a central element the religious ideologies that hold, or have held, these state-building projects together. The key institution of the proto-British regime, the Bank of England, was created in 1694 for the purpose of enabling a public debt to be raised to finance the war against the French. In more recent times Blair’s Iraqi war adventure was device both to advance the transatlantic alliance as well as a means of gaining submission of the ‘home’ population. War is the key device in the articulation of ‘home’ policy and ‘foreign’ policy. It is interesting to speculate on the significance of the British governmental reorganisation in the 1790s that established the Home Office and the Foreign Office to replace the Northern Department, responsible for relations with the Protestant states of Northern Europe and the Southern Department, responsible for relations with Catholic and Muslim states.  This articulation of the internal and the external continues.  For example, immediately after the referendum on membership of the European Union, the UK government led by Theresa May caused there to be a debate in the parliament about the development of the Trident system of submarine-based nuclear weapons.  In the course of this debate on July 18th 2016 May was asked if she would be willing to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children if she was required to do so and she answered: yes and was proud of her lack of any equivocation. This is an organisational statement that consolidates a consensus, creating cohesion within the nation-state, and links this with an affirmation of loyalty to the foreign relations partnership with the US. Rather than this being seen for what it is, pathological criminality, it was vaunted as a sign of strength. 

War is a form of social organisation that poses objectives that are functions of the cohesion of the society undergoing the process of militarisation and war-making. By looking at war as a social practice, taking account of all the activities, processes and materialities that make it actual, and not restricting the view of it to the unleashing of weaponised hostilities, we can see more easily what its purposes and motivations are.  This is particularly important in more nuanced examples of warfare like the ‘Cold War’ or the ‘War on Terror’ where impacts are less focused on directly destructive activity but where these impacts are held in suspension.  In Daniel Feierstein’s studies of genocide, he adopts this approach and in doing so he gives attention to the activity of mass killing by looking at the other practices that make this killing possible.  He draws attention to the impacts of these practices on the perpetrating group and makes it clear that the motive of the movement towards genocide is the need for cohesion in this group.  He bases his analysis of genocide on Raphael Lemkin‘s (the inventor of the word) definition: the imposition of the ‘national pattern’ of one group on another group. This means also that the genocidal process itself defines and clarifies this ‘national pattern’.  Each activity or action in the genocidal process is related directly and specifically to the requirement for unity within the perpetrating group.

Rene Girard describes in Violence and the Sacred the direct connection between organised violence and the sacred.  Sacrifice is how the sacred is constructed by violence. In describing the structure of the army Tolstoy points out that it is never the size or mass of the army that determines its success.  It is not the sheer quantitative strength. He says there is a factor  that is decisive. He is constantly asking what is the force that moves large human groups, that drives history.

War cannot happen without violence.  But, for example, the Cold War has shown us that this violence can be virtual.  It doesn’t have to be unleashed to be effective. This is similar to the ‘war of observation’ described by Clausewitz and the ‘war of positions’ described by Antonio Gramsci. I’m not saying there was no violence committed in the conduct of the Cold War but the violence that was threatened was different from the violence that was carried out.  This is the outcome of the technology of modern weapons.  It is also to do with the prominence of ideology (in other words, what is sacred) in contemporary organised violence.

If the mass conscription of the Napoleonic army meant a fundamental change in the relationship between the soldier and the civilian, if what was involved was a militarisation of the whole population, and if the logic of this development reached its climax in the 1939-45 World War, then how has this logic been carried through into the Cold War and the War on Terror?

If the Cold War was conducted in order to affirm the cohesion of the capitalist system and present communism and socialism as an alien ‘other’, the war on terror is conducted in order to guard ‘our way of life’ against militant islam.  For the West this ‘war’ has become the most important way in which consent to the power of the ruling elites is gained and affirmed, ‘our way of life’ is defined and held together by it. It is a major pillar of our modernity. It is overlaid and enforced by the remnants of the Cold War.  Although the preparation for its introduction was carried out in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet system, it was launched in the period after 11 September 2001.  At this point the leader of the most powerful nation in the world could, with a degree of credibility, assert that ‘you were either with us or against us’. This was a global call, a call to the world’s population to take sides. From a political point of view this drew a new line defining loyalty, allegiance and identity.  And this line was drawn in the most private spaces of all participating individuals and it had potential impacts on every single living moment and in every action of the populations of the world.  The success of this strategy is in no way a foregone conclusion.  However so many events have played into the narrative that it describes. The Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis, for example, have been quickly used to re-enforce its basic message.

The most important dynamic in a ‘war’ strategy and the measure of cohesion towards which it is directed is the unity between ‘home’ policy and ‘foreign’ policy.  It should be immediately clear how well designed the ‘war on terror’ is for this purpose.  It consolidates international alliances and enables international ‘police’ actions where technologies and information can be shared.  It is also a way of both fuelling and obscuring racism.  Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have pointed out that war in our contemporary world takes the form of a global civil war, a war of the rich against the poor.  The issues of organised violence, racism, inequality and injustice are now so clearly linked that the ruling elites’ storytellers must make extra efforts to prove that the issue is one of ideology.  It is the implicit obscuring of distinctions between active militant operatives, muslims, refugees, migrants, suspicious-looking people, the poor that is a crucial part of the terror being generated by this ‘war’ strategy. Also, significant is the move away from ‘army’ organisation and popular conscription and towards mercenary ‘professionalisation’.  Enlistment in the ‘war on terror’ has consisted of calls to engage in shopping and retail activity in defence of ‘the way of life’.  People are commended for bravery and are honoured for carrying on as normal.

What are the problems of resistance in these circumstances?  Negri and Hardt advocate ‘war against war’.  We know that the radical and personal politics espoused by Tolstoy had a formative impact on Gandhi’s formulation of liberation strategies based on ‘satyagraha‘ and civil disobedience.  The Palestinian people have themselves come up with historically-informed and innovative movements like the tactics of community resistance employed in the Intifada of 1987-1993 and the current Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Will these considerations come into play if the people in Gaza, after watching Theatre for Everybody’s production, discuss the prospects for peace?  It is difficult to imagine.  Is what is happening in Gaza an aspect of the ‘war on terror’?  How does this global strategy relate to what is happening there?  The armed state that is perpetrating the organised violence is dependent for its existence on the actions that it carries out in Gaza.  It is a part of an array of strategies that isolate and harass separated populations of Palestinians in different ways.  As the development of war has progressively obscured the relationship between soldiers and civilians the mechanism of ‘collective punishment’ has become more and more prominent.  As soon as the military conceals itself within the resistant population this tool becomes relevant and effective.  The emergence of partisan guerrilla warfare simultaneous with mass conscription advanced this means of combat. Collective punishment assumed a notoriously crucial role in the German army’s suppression of resistance in the territories occupied during the Second World War and it was used with acuity in gaining the submission of the Jewish communities during this period.

Daniel Feierstein has published a remarkable analysis of the application of collective punishment by the German occupation forces on the Jewish ghetto in Vilna (Vilnius) Lithuania.  It relates to the dilemma faced by Itzik Wittenberg, the commander of the ghetto’s partisan armed group (FPO) who capitulated to pressure due to the threat of collective punishment and gave himself up to the Gestapo.  Feierstein’s analysis points to the problematic isolation of the armed group, the FPO, from the population of the ghetto and the collaborationist role of the Judenrat, Jewish Police Force.  These decisive elements in the situation preceded the disintegration of the resistance movement and the annihilation of the ghetto’s inhabitants.  Many parallels can be drawn with the Israeli ‘collective punishment’ strategy in the isolation of, and siege war against, the population of Gaza.  This is especially relevant in the context of the actions taken by the Palestinian Authority in enforcing the Israelis blockade.  Of course the difference is that the armed group, Hamas, is also the effective political governing power in Gaza and the collaborationist PA is operating mainly outside the ‘ghetto’.

Is the collective punishment strategy generally pertinent to the ‘war on terror’? The Israelis can create a narrative whereby all the population of Gaza, in their tacit support of Hamas, are terrorists.  Even talking to people who are relatively well-informed it is surprising how this story is internalised as a kind of assumption. The argument would be that the people’s support, and therefore their responsibility, is proven by the absence of any popular uprising against them, the ‘terrorists’. This ‘guilt by association’ is a familiar.  For example, when murders are committed by people from the muslim community and an association between them and a militant islamist group is established the whole muslim community is silently (or not so silently) accused.

In the event of increased attacks on Gaza the structure of collective punishment disarms solidarity except from sectors that are already engaged.  Appeals to the international community are weakened by the already well-worked complicity forged through ‘anti-terrorist’ co-operation between its key nation-state members, of which, of course, Israel is one.

The collective punishment of the Gaza population can be understood as a part of, what I have described as, a war with strong genocidal features that the Israelis, driven by the need to hold the Zionist project together, are waging against the whole Palestinian population.  The Israeli ‘national pattern’ is clarified as it is imposed on the Palestinians.  Of course it is worth asking what are the roots of this ‘national pattern’ and what genocidal processes may be traced in it. Gaza gets the sharp end of this array of devices applied to different deliberately isolated communities, isolation which has been programmatically agreed by the PA. The war on Gaza is mainly carried out through blockade.  This has been well documented elsewhere.  The target of the attack is every aspect of human life. The intensity of the attack is disavowed creating a situation that is then spun as a humanitarian crisis.  It is a crisis that has been deliberately created as a prolonged act of war.

What can possibly constitute a strategy for peace or even a ‘war against war’ in these circumstances?  Can any human population withstand this level, and duration, of attack?  Are not divisions bound to occur in the solidarities that hold social life together in Gaza?

The stage adaptation of War & Peace made under the direction of Erwin Piscator and performed at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin in 1955 that has influenced Theatre for Everybody’s own adaptation is very much a work shaped by the ‘Cold War’. It is a dramatic call for peace. It finishes with the death of Andrei from the wounds received at the Battle of Borodino and omits Tolstoy’s description of the ‘natural’ family-life ‘peace’ achieved in the marriage of Pierre and Natasha. However, it does suggest that the answer, to the difficult questions that it asks, lie at home: ‘Let us begin at home’ it advises.

The ending offered by Tolstoy of a return to natural domestic peace after the French occupation is based on his apprehension that war is an unnatural human activity.  In the age of the ‘war on terror’, especially in a war zone like Gaza, the war is carried right into the heart of the home.  The relationship between warrior and civilian is abolished and this brings the warfare closer to genocidal processes.  I know this from my friends there.  Their descriptions of the impact of war tends to centre on the transformation of family relations.  A recurrent theme, as already mentioned, is the feeling of powerlessness to protect their children.  This is a very deep sense of vulnerability.  The sense that the home and the powerful place of women have there is the foundation of peace no longer applies.  War has penetrated the most intimate human spaces.

I have no answers.  I believe the perspectives opened up by Tolstoy is based on the idealisation of women.  Natasha, the third key character with whom both Andrei and Pierre fall in love, is a figure of beauty, vitality and peace.  This objectification affirms a patriarchal view of human beings. I can see this but I can find no active way of making this idea helpfully active. She is the prize and the object of the activities of the men, the potential mother, an emblem of love.  This takes us to the roots of how war is constructed in our Western culture.  Rene Girard’s ideas would have believe that the impulse towards war lies in mimetic rivalry and envy. The issue of gender and sexuality is probably the most significant issue in the pursuit of active peace.

The Piscator adaptation ends by placing responsibility for human life not on fate or destiny but on human action.  Our fate is not given, it is made by us.  I recall the great theatre practitioner Augusto Boal sending us a message of support for our War Stories project: ‘Peace yes, but passivity no!’ The human action that is suggested is not that which lies solely inside us but rather between us.  Is it possible to create a space where human beings can feel, think and reflect on their humanity?  Our project seeks to extend that space to include people in London and Gaza.  Our circumstances, here and there, are so different it is as if we are looking down different ends of the same telescope.  I can think of no better place for responsibility and deep life to be resumed but in the shared space that holds together inhabitants of ‘war-producing’ countries and ‘war-receiving’ countries in a common space of creativity and reflection.  The activation of this space between us is the life-blood of the international community, the people of the world.