Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


These pages contain the complete manuscript of the new book Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny, written by John J. Xenakis. This text is fully copyrighted. You may copy or print out this material for your own use, but not for distribution to others.
Comments are invited. Send them to

Chapter 5 -- Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace

Years ago, when I first read Lev Tolstoy's War and Peace, Napoleon's invasion of Russia made no sense to me whatsoever. It was the most bizarre war description I had ever seen. The French under Napoleon invaded Russia, and headed for Moscow. Instead of defending Moscow, the Russians fled, made no attempt to defend the city, and just allowed the French to walk in and take it. Nothing about this seemed credible to me when I read it.

It's only now, after developing Generational Dynamics, that the war is explained, and explained fully: It was a crisis war for Napoleon's France, but a mid-cycle war for Russia.

If you didn't carefully read the material in chapter 4 (p. [localization2#126]) about Germany's weak prosecution of World War I, then go back and reread it now, and get a feeling for what happened.

Napoleon's invasion of Russia was the most bizarre war description I had ever seen

Now, read the excerpts in this chapter of Tolstoy's account of France's 1812 attack on Russia, and get a feeling for that war. Not only is Tolstoy's description fascinating, but it also provides tremendous additional insight and understanding into the theoretical aspects of Generational Dynamics, since it's a narrative description of the difference between a crisis war and a mid-cycle war.

Although the French fought energetically, the Russians did not. It was remarkable though that capturing Moscow proved to be Napoleon's undoing, however, since his army gorged itself on the city, and lost all discipline. Napoleon had to retreat, thus proving that it's possible for a low-energy strategy to beat a high-energy strategy.

The main purpose of this chapter is to further illustrate the generational methodology by analyzing this invasion through Lev Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace.

The quotation at the beginning of this chapter encapsulates one of the most important points of this book: That major events, like wars, are consequences of history, not consequences of actions by individual politicians. The Napoleonic wars that engulfed Europe at that time would have occurred with or without Napoleon.

Lev Tolstoy's 1868 epic historical novel War and Peace is considered by many to be the greatest novel of all time. There are hundreds of named characters, and Tolstoy shows their interrelations and how wartime affects and interferes with their lives. Characters who start out as carefree youth grow in responsibility and maturity as they suffer the horrors of war. In the end, love and marriage seem to represent man's redemption.

Table of Contents

Site Home

Book Home


Chapter 1 -- Basics and Some Myths about War

Chapter 2 -- American History

Chapter 3 -- The Principle of Localization I

Chapter 4 -- The Principle of Localization II

Chapter 5 -- Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace


Why did Napoleon invade Russia?


The Russian Background


Napoleon's advance to Moscow


Momentum Wars: The French reach Moscow


The Council of War


Moscow and the Destruction of Napoleon's Army


Napoleon and Hitler

Chapter 6 -- Another Great Depression?

Chapter 7 -- Great Awakenings in World History

Chapter 8 -- History of Western Europe

Chapter 9 -- Islam versus Orthodox Christianity

Chapter 10 -- History of Asia

Chapter 11 -- Trend Forecasting

Chapter 12 -- The Next Century

Chapter 13 -- America's Manifest Destiny and You

Appendix -- List of Crisis Periods


End Notes

Concept Index


Book Cover

By the time of France's 1812 invasion of Russia, Napoleon had already conquered most of Europe and made it part of France's empire, and now he wanted to annex Russia. Tolstoy tells how he succeeded in conquering Moscow, but his conquest led to the destruction of his own army, and eventually his defeat at Waterloo.

But that's not all. Tolstoy's philosophy of history and war and peace is scattered throughout the book. Furthermore, unlike many historians, Tolstoy understood mathematics and science, and used that understanding to show how great events in history by momentum rather than by politicians or generals, even a general as powerful as Napoleon.

Tolstoy's brilliant study of Napoleon's campaign gives us a sounding board to elucidate further aspects of the generational methodology for analyzing history.

In particular, where Tolstoy identifies the momentum that drove the campaign, he doesn't address the question of where the momentum comes from. We'll show that it comes from a war that was a crisis war for one side (Napoleon's) and a mid-cycle war for the other side.

In doing so, we'll address the issue of the difference between generationally driven events and chaotically driven events.

Why did Napoleon invade Russia?

The particular question of why Napoleon invaded Russia at all is subsumed under the more general question of why any nation has to invade any other nation. It's clear that Tolstoy is confused about both the particular and the general questions, and despairs at trying to find answers.

 Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

Tolstoy was born in 1825, and fought in the Crimean War in the 1850s, so he well knew the horrors of war. Look at how he describes Napoleon's buildup of forces on the Russian border, in anticipation of the war that began on June 12, 1812. This is clearly an anti-war statement:

Like many people, Tolstoy felt that war was senseless, and he could not understand why Napoleon would even want to invade.

Many people consider a war to be an almost accidental thing -- someone gets pissed off at someone and decides to start a war. The book you're reading refutes that idea, but Tolstoy seemed to believe it thoroughly.

In the following paragraph, Tolstoy makes the point that different parties see completely different causes for Napoleon's invasion. You don't have to understand the meaning of each of the causes mentioned by Tolstoy to get the thrust of his point. Read his description of the various causes of the war without worrying about the specific names and events, and just feel his frustration in describing the causes:

Was Napoleon's attack really "incomprehensible," as Tolstoy claims?

A war does not occur because of a few random provocations. Various attacks, assassinations, and so forth occur all the time. Usually these provocations are contained. But a "pressure cooker" atmosphere builds up over decades, and finally the pressure cooker explodes into war -- in roughly 80-year cycles.

Writing the epic historical novel War and Peace, you would think that it would have occurred to Tolstoy to relate Napoleon's campaigns to historical campaigns of the past, but he evidently didn't.

France and England had been at war almost continuously for centuries. Many of these were distant wars over colonies, especially in America and India, but the most recent crisis war was the War of Spanish Succession that took place in 1701-1714, as described in chapter 8 (p. [westeurope#144]). That war, which engulfed all of Europe, ended with a treaty that the statesmen of the time signed because they wanted to avoid for as long as possible another conflict such as the one that had just ended.

The borders established by that treaty held until the French Revolution began in 1789, and that previous war was re-fought with a vengeance when Napoleon came to power in 1799.

To the generals and old soldiers the chief reason for the war was the necessity of giving them employment

Now, understanding that background, let's go back to Tolstoy's list of causes given above, and see why the invasion of Russia had to occur:

Tolstoy treats all these and other causes as independent random occurrences, as he explains in the following paragraph:

It's remarkable that Tolstoy presents these events as if they are all independent occurrences, with no mutual causality except, we would assume, only in ways so obvious that they don't need to be acknowledged.

However, let's focus on one particular phrase in the above paragraph:

What does Tolstoy mean by this extraordinary statement? He seems to say that Napoleon wanted the war, and the people wanted the war. But why?

He explains this further in the next paragraph, which also refers to Tsar Alexander of Russia:

This is really a remarkable conclusion. He argues that these great events do not occur because Napoleon or Alexander made them happen; he says that they occur because millions of people want them to occur. But then he throws up his hands in despair, because he can't understand why those millions of people suddenly, with one voice, say that they want to have a war.

Well, maybe it isn't so remarkable. Tolstoy is just stating his version of today's observation: "Everything changed on 9/11." Just as American society changed almost as one on 9/11, Tolstoy is noticing that everything changed after the French Revolution.

What Tolstoy didn't understand was the connection to the War of Spanish Succession, and how a generational change had occurred in 1789, causing those millions of soldier to be willing to take up weapons and go to war.

The Russian Background

Russia was on a different timeline than France. Russia's last crisis war occurred with the massive internal Pugachev Rebellion and wars with the Ottoman Empire in the 1770s, under Tsar Catherine the Great.

So by 1812, Russians were tired of war, and were enjoying life. They were actually in an "awakening" period, during which arts and spiritual matters typically flourish. Ironically, the elite Russian classes, including the families described by Tolstoy, loved French culture, and the French language was widely spoken.

They watched Napoleon's march across Europe with alarm, but even as hundreds of thousands of Napoleon's troops massed on the Russian border, they did nothing about it. Here's how Alexander passed the time before the June 12 invasion:

The preceding paragraphs well illustrate the "no energy" concept of a mid-cycle war.

 Stages in Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812<a href=
Stages in Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812

How could Alexander, knowing that an army of hundreds of thousands of men was heading in his direction, not make preparations for war? The answer is that he lived through the previous crisis war, and he knew that whatever would happen would happen. He knew that some French soldiers would be killed, and some Russian soldiers would be killed. He probably felt that no amount of preparation would, in the end, make much difference. This is an attitude that one can come by only through experiencing a crisis war, and that's why a new crisis war doesn't occur until the generation that experienced the last crisis war leaves the scene.

As Tolstoy pointed out, this indecision was not just on Alexander's part. Alexander was reflecting the feeling of all his soldiers and advisers, most of whom had some personal memory of the last crisis wars. They knew that something was coming; they didn't know exactly what it was, but they knew they would have to endure it no matter what they did, and eventually it would be over.

When Napoleon's attack began, Alexander tried a fairly typical mid-cycle stratagem to compromise and contain the situation. He sent a courier to Napoleon with the following letter. As before, read this letter to get an emotional sense of it, without worrying about the specific names and incidents it refers to:

Sounds a little desperate, doesn't it? Actually, it conveys a great deal of sadness. Alexander wants no war. He's seen enough war in his lifetime.

Napoleon's advance to Moscow

Napoleon angrily rejected Alexander's plea, and blamed Alexander for starting the war. The reasons that Napoleon gave to blame Alexander are unimportant: if you're determined to go to war, then you can always find a reason to do so.

It was about 550 miles from the Russian border to Moscow. The French crossed the Russian border on June 12, and traveled rapidly towards Moscow, receiving no resistance for a long time.

It was not until mid-August that Alexander was able to pull his army together enough to make a stand at Smolensk. Even there, the Russians kept arguing with one another and retreating as the French advanced.

Tolstoy makes the battle at Smolensk almost to be an accident -- the French stumbled into a Russian division that hadn't retreated quickly enough. Read the following paragraphs, and notice that Tolstoy is now referring to the Russians as "we":

What is it that would make the inhabitants of a city burn down the city and flee? Tolstoy doesn't answer that question, but he says that that act brought about the destruction of the French army.

The shocking loss of Smolensk brought bitter recriminations within the Russian army, and for the first time the Russians gathered enough energy to make a stand. They defeated the French, who were getting complacent after their easy victory at Borodino.

Momentum Wars: The French reach Moscow

The battle at Borodino destroyed a huge part of the French army, and in retrospect, it's clear that the French should have realized at that point that the conquest of Russia was impossible, and that they should have retreated.

Russia might have gone on to finish off Napoleon's army at that point, as Tolstoy describes:

And so, the Russians had to retreat again, leaving the road from Borodino to Moscow free for the French to travel unchallenged.

Tolstoy is now at his best as he describes how the French invasion was now almost an elemental force of nature, incapable of stopping itself. In the following description, keep in mind that the French army contained conscripts from several European nations which Napoleon had previous conquered. Now, read Tolstoy's explanation of why the attack on Moscow was inevitable:

What is it that would make the inhabitants of a city burn down the city and flee?

In this remarkable description, Tolstoy describes how both the French and Russian armies were traveling along a preordained path that neither side was any longer able to stop.

It's this description of the French army as a "ball of invasion" with so much momentum that it can't stop itself that has led me to identify certain types of battles or mid-cycle wars as "momentum battles" or "momentum wars."

In mid-cycle, societies are averse to war, and usually only go to war because of an attack on them or on allies.

However, as described in chapter 2, certain wars, such as our own Korean and Vietnam wars, are pursued even after the crisis war has ended, and for the same reasons that the crisis war was fought in the first place.

In Napoleon's case, following Tolstoy's description, the French should have retreated after their defeat at Borodino, but didn't because of their momentum as a "ball of invasion."

Tolstoy builds on this idea in explaining what happened at the battle at Borodino. He ridicules historians who claim that Napoleon might have won that battle and changed the course of history if he hadn't had a cold that day. Tolstoy rejects any such concept, believing as I do that many of these battles and wars go on because of their own unstoppable momentum. Read Tolstoy's stark description of how the French army, driven by cries of "Long Live the Emperor [Napoleon]," move forward to their own destruction, much like the popular perception of lemmings following one another off a cliff:

Both the French and Russian armies were on a preordained path that neither side was able to stop

(Incidentally, St. Bartholomew's Massacre, mentioned in the previous paragraphs, is discussed in this book in chapter 8, page [westeurope#114].)

The Council of War

At what point was the destruction of the French army in Moscow preordained?

We might identify two other participants from Tolstoy's work: The Russian army that didn't want to fight the French army, but did; and the ordinary Russian citizens that didn't want to burn down their cities and desert them, but did. All of their actions were driven by the French invasion.

It's pretty clear, as Tolstoy explains in detail, that the Moscow destruction was preordained as early as the battle of Smolensk. Was it preordained as early as 1789, when the French Revolution led to a war engulfing all of Europe that could not have ended without a French invasion of Russia? That's an interesting question for historians.

But let's now move on to the Napoleon's invasion of Moscow.

After the Russians inflicted enormous damage on the French at Borodino, and still had to retreat, leaving the way open to Moscow, the Russians convened a Council of War:

After much discussion, including a proposal by Count Bennigsen, Kutuzov announces his decision to abandon Moscow:

Later, after everyone leaves him alone in the meeting room:

His question, "When, when did the abandonment of Moscow become inevitable?" is still relevant today. In the war to come, there is certain to be some retreat or some humiliating defeat, and we'll be asking ourselves, "When, when did that become inevitable?"

Moscow and the Destruction of Napoleon's Army

When the French entered Moscow, they found that the city had been deserted. Napoleon's officers immediately recognized the potential disaster, and tried to stop it:

The orders did no good:

 Moscow is burning
Moscow is burning

Why did Moscow burn? The French and the Russians blamed each other, but Tolstoy says it was unavoidable:

The Russians remained in Moscow for five weeks, and were destroyed as a fighting force:

During that five-week period, Napoleon twice sent messages to Russian command Kutuzov suggesting peace talks, and twice Kutuzov refused.

Kutuzov's strategy was simply to wait it out. Finally, the French tried to flee back in the direction they originally came from, but Kutuzov was prepared.

Why did Moscow burn? The French and the Russians blamed each other, but Tolstoy says it was unavoidable

He adopted a strategy of "guerrilla warfare," where small groups of Russian soldiers attacked larger French groups. Tolstoy explains how this works mathematically:

Tolstoy's "spirit of the army" bears a similarity to what I call "energy," and Tolstoy's point is that now the Russians had most of the energy, while the French had less.

The Russian guerrillas were merciless and destroyed the French army piece by piece. Before long, Napoleon abandoned the army and fled back to France to raise more troops. In 1815, Napoleon was defeated by the first Duke of Wellington, British General Arthur Wellesley, in the famous battle of Waterloo.

Napoleon and Hitler

I am not an expert on tragedy as an art form, but as a Greek, I know that a sense of tragedy is in my bones. Tragedy as an art form was invented in ancient Greece, and three of four great tragic artists of all time were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides of ancient Greece, with the fourth being Shakespeare.

Many people misunderstand the deepest meanings of tragedy. If a child is killed in a random traffic accident, then it's a terrible event but it's not a tragedy in the classical sense, because of that randomness.

The essence of classical tragedy is that the tragic event is not random. The tragic event is inevitable: it must occur, and the reason it must occur is because of the nature, the personality, the very character of the protagonists. A true tragedy cannot be prevented, even by those who foresee it, because the forces bringing about the tragedy are too powerful for anyone to stop.

Tolstoy's description of Napoleon's invasion on Russia is stunning for the way it describes how the invasion proceeded like a Greek tragedy, with inevitable consequences that were preordained by the character of the protagonists.

However, there's one piece from Tolstoy's tragedy that needs to be addressed: How did the protagonists develop the character that preordained the result? Tolstoy admits almost total despair in trying to answer that question when he writes, "To us it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other."

The missing piece is supplied by Generational Dynamics. The reason that these protagonists, millions of Christian men, killed and tortured each other to produce a preordained result is because the protagonists were in certain generations. The French protagonists were in the fourth generation following the War of Spanish Succession, and the Russian protagonists were in the second genera-tion following the Pugachev Rebellion in the reign of Catherine the Great.

There are just two more footnotes to the story.

The first footnote is to answer the question: How did Tolstoy have such a deep understanding of the emotions and feelings of the French and Russian soldiers? He wrote War and Peace in the 1860s, almost 50 years after the events he was describing. What was there in his personal experience that helped him to understand what happened?

The answer is that Tolstoy fought in another crisis war. He fought in the Russian army in Crimean War in the early 1850s (p. [easteurope#159]). He was part of a Russian "ball of invasion" that was humiliated in the Crimean War, just like the soldiers he described in the Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

The second footnote is a remarkable triple coincidence involving the events of 1812 occurring in two other wars, one earlier and one later.

In 1700, Russia under Peter the Great and Sweden fought the Great Northern War (page [easteurope#146]). Russia would have lost the war, but Sweden was distracted by its crisis war in Western Europe - the War of Spanish Succession (page [westeurope#144]). When Sweden came back to defeat the Russians, the Swedish army was swallowed up by Russia.

Incredibly, the same sort of thing happened in Russia's Great Patriotic War (World War II), when Hitler invaded Russia in 1942. World War II was crisis war for the Germans, but it was a mid-cycle war for the Russians -- World War I had been their crisis war. Just like Napoleon, Hitler was swallowed by Russia.

So there were three wars: the Great Northern War, the Napoleonic War, and the Great Patriotic War. In each case, the war was a mid-cycle war for Russia, but was a crisis war for the other belligerent -- Sweden, France, and Germany, respectively. And in each case, the army that invaded Russia was simply swallowed up by Russia.

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.