Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2010 March 19 • Friday

The offensives of 1915–17 and the strategic bombing of 1939–45 mattered less for their immediate military outcomes than for the lasting collective trauma they inflicted. The Napoleonic campaigns had a similar dimension. After Moscow was occupied, sacked and burned, survivors tried for the rest of the century to articulate the impressions seared into their memories. They recalled bitterly that their governor had lied to them, claiming falsely that their city was secure. As the enemy approached, some noblemen fled disguised as women so no one would make them stay and fight. The French defecated in Orthodox churches and used icons for target practice. Napoleon's Polish troops attacked Russian civilians. Civilians casually perpetrated dreadful violence against defenceless enemy soldiers. The firestorm that consumed the city created such heat that glass melted and flocks of pigeons fell from the sky. An old woman refused entreaties to leave her burning house: dressed as though for her own funeral, she lit the lamps in front of her icons and calmly declared that the smoke would surely suffocate her before the flames could burn her alive. After the French withdrew, hordes of peasants plundered what was left of Moscow. Later, the Russians collected the rotting remains of 11,955 humans and 12,360 horses; "for several weeks", an eyewitness recalled, "the police were burning them by the banks of the river and sweeping the ashes into the water".

—Alexander M. Martin, Times Literary Supplement (November 20, 2009)