Lev Tolstoy – War and Peace; volume IV

Caught in the chaos of a deserted and burning Moscow, Pierre is accused of arson and put on trial, in a scene echoed in one of Stanley Kubrick’s finest films, Paths of Glory:

These questions, leaving aside the essence of life’s business and excluding any possibility of discovering that essence, like all questions asked at trials, were aimed only at furnishing that channel down which the judges wished the answers of the accused to flow, leading him to the desired goal, that is, incrimination.  As soon as he began to say something that did not conform to the purpose of incrimination, the channel was removed, and the water could flow wherever it liked.  Besides that, Pierre experienced the same thing that an accused man experiences in any court: perplexity as to why all the questions were being asked of him.  He had only the feeling that this trick of furnishing him with a channel was being used only out of indulgence or courtesy, as it were.  He knew that he was in the power of these people, that it was only power that had brought him there, that only power gave them the right to demand answers to their questions, and that the only purpose of this gathering was to incriminate him.  And therefore, since there was power and the wish to incriminate, there was no need for the trickery of questions and a trial.  It was obvious that all answers would lead to finding him guilty.    (960-961)

Pierre’s predicament during his trial is that the purpose of the French trial is not to discover the truth of what happened, but rather to prove his guilt.  The comparison that Tolstoy makes is to directing water flowing down through channels; if it doesn’t go the way the prosecutors and judges want it to, it’s allowed to spill over and is ignored. Continue reading

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