Peter Avdeev, the peasant soldier in Tolstoy�s novella, Hadji Murad, is shot in a small clash with a bunch of Chechens. He is taken to an infirmary, a doctor probes his wound for the bullet and fails to extract it (although he does, insanely, plaster the wound), and Avdeev lies there with an astonished look on his face, so that he doesn�t recognize his comrades when they come to visit him. Then he does. Then the commander comes in, Avdeev asks for a candle, has trouble gripping it with his stiffening fingers, and dies. As the finishing touch on this little miniature of the casual cruelty of irregular war, Tolstoy writes that the death was announced like this:
"23rd Nov. -- Two companies of the Kurin regiment advanced from the fort on a wood-felling expedition. At mid-day a considerable number of mountaineers suddenly attacked the wood- fellers. The sharpshooters began to retreat, but the 2nd Company charged with the bayonet and overthrew the mountaineers. In this affair two privates were slightly wounded and one killed. The mountaineers lost about a hundred men killed and wounded."
Of course, Avdeev doesn�t even rank the mention of his name, the attack of the mountaineers was, in truth, the firing of one bullet at the wood fellers, the charge never happened, and the mountaineers comprised a force of maybe twenty, of which none were hit � or none that Tolstoy records.
The military hasn�t changed, has it?
We are returning from Portland. We saved our sanity in Portland by ignoring the news, and the Internet, and concentrating on how to describe the characters in the novel we are writing. The news boomed idiotically in the background, with various of the important bigwigs who got us into Iraq warning that we have to stay in there, as though it was self-evidently in our interest to be involved in the same kind of warfare that Israel has been involved in for the last twenty years, or that ripped Lebanon apart. Etc. The amazing blindness to anything remotely resembling American interest is, perhaps, the thing that distinguishes Bush�s Potshot War from wars in the past. It isn�t that America is becoming an imperial power � it is that Bush�s men assumed that becoming an imperial power meant writing an article in Foreign Affairs saying that we are one, god dammit.