War & Justice

The White émigré military analyst Anton Kersnovsky (1907-1944) outlines cases of just war as well as the ultimate goal of using force. While he recognizes war as an instrument of policy, Kersnovsky also conveys a profoundly Orthodox Christian worldview in his rejection of modern Clausewitzian expediency and its terrible 20th-century offspring. Militating against materialism, Kersnovsky proclaims victory to restore harmony as the ideal of armed struggle. Translated by Mark Hackard.

With the state and the nation made divine, the one criterion for judging the degree of equity of a given conflict is the degree of its benefit for the state and nation. If he who has unsheathed the sword considers war the only means toward attaining recognition of his legitimate rights, then it is impossible to force him in any way to doubt the justice of his claims. The August 1914 Manifesto of German Intellectuals is a document most characteristically human in this respect.

Having applied criteria of a higher order – a criterion of spiritual value – we may divide all wars conducted by man into three categories.

The first concerns wars conducted in defense of higher spiritual values, wars that are unconditionally just. All of our wars with Turkey and Poland in defense of our oppressed co-religionists and co-ethnics, like the Civil War of 1917-22 from the White side, relate to this category.

The second and most widespread category is composed of wars waged in the name of state and national interests. No common rules or common measures exist for this category. To each separate case we must apply a special standard, and in every case evaluation can only be purely subjective.

The third form of war does not answer to the interests or demands of the state and nation, and at the same time, it does not answer to the requirements of higher justice. Wars of this category in their greater part concern a type of selfless adventure, or better said, a meaningless adventure. Such, for example, was Russia’s participation in the Coalition Wars of 1799 and 1805-07, the campaign against Hungary in 1849 and the French expedition to Mexico under Napoleon III.

Wars of the first and third categories, absolutely just and absolutely unjust, are a comparatively insignificant minority. Most powder is burned and blood spilled in wars of the second category, wars possessing a sovereign and national character.

A common rule, as we just noted, for this type of war does not exist. Before analyzing every separate case, it stands to apply a synthesis: in general, group all wars between given states together and trace their mutual relationships over the distance of centuries. Going in such a manner against the current of history, we will reach the first cause of discord and look upon its roots. And then we shall identify who “took up the sword,” consequently, who violated the initial harmony between given states and given peoples.

Eschewing any chauvinism – a feeling that anyone who loves his Motherland should avoid as much as possible in order to avoid bringing misfortune upon her – we will analyze as an example the equity of overall Russo-Polish relations. At the dawn of these two Slavic peoples’ history, their relations were neighborly. The first cause of discord occurred in the 13th century, when Polish kings, using the Mongol conquest, laid their hands upon Chernovaya Rus and then (Lithuania) upon White Rus. A Russian Orthodox element, the long-suffering dissidents, were introduced into the Polish state in the position of a “territory” without any rights. In the centuries-old Russo-Polish dispute, the Poles began the conflict. The Union of Lublin, Sigismund III’s adventure, the temporary seizure of Moscow by the Poles – all of these are further stages of advancing Polish oppression.

Following that, Russian sovereignty strengthens as the Polish veers toward decline. And the first partition of Poland – in essence not a partition (Polish sovereignty was preserved), but simply de-annexation – was one of the most equitable acts of world history. The sins of four centuries were put to an end, and a limit was set to four hundred years of persecution.

Justice was in such a manner restored. However, the pendulum swung in the other direction. The agony of Polish sovereignty at the end of the 18th century created irresistible aspirations to exploit what was ripe for the taking – just as the paralysis of Russian sovereignty in the 13th and 14th centuries roused similar notions among Polish kings and Lithuanian princes. The result was the final partition of Poland – the execution of an entire people – and the forced introduction of a hostile Polish element into the Russian state organism. The consequences were not long in showing themselves: Polish revolts against the Russian armies that had seized Warsaw were as well-founded and just as Russian revolts against the Polish armies that had seized the Kremlin. Skrzinecki’s light cavalry and Serakovsky’s line infantry found themselves in completely the same position as Pozharsky’s militiamen and Khmelnitsky’s Cossacks.

And then we observe the decline of Russian sovereignty and the rebirth of the Polish, and again the unhealthy drive to seize what is ripe for the taking. As a result we have the Peace of Riga and the re-annexation of the dissidents…

We see in such a way that in the centuries-long Russo-Polish feud, the initial, so to say, organic injustice was committed by the Poles, which far from serves as evidence of the irreproachability of all further acts from the Russian side. The Warsaw Gubernia within the structure of the Russian Empire was just as much an injustice as the Volyn provinces within the structure of the Rzeczpospolita. There was a moment – two decades (1772-1794) – of restored harmony, but no one was able nor wanted to remain therein. Justice always crosses over from one camp to the other, with an obvious preponderance to Russia (the “original sin” was committed by the Poles).

We can accomplish the same by studying other “concrete cases,” for example, the clash of the Russian tribe with the Germanic. Fault here derives from the savage Sword Brothers who with fire and sword exterminated Slavic tribes in the name of the triumph of militant Germanism and gained (despite the Battle of the Neva and the Battle of the Ice) Novgorod’s northern districts. From the Battle on the Ice to Brest-Litovsk, by way of the Livonian Wars, Poltava, Gangut, Bzura and Galicia, justice was always on the Russian side (with the exception of the episode of the Seven Years’ War).

In studying the Franco-German feud, we can consider the point of departure 1806 – Jena and Auerstadt, after which followed the Peace of Tilsit, the prototype of the Versailles dictates. The three-century struggle between the Bourbons and the Habsburgs hardly had a national, or even more so, racial character. The fault in this dispute belongs to Prussia, though Napoelon’s extravagance played a very great role here, and especially the savages’ Utopia of 1789. The latter advance the “national principle” (first as opposition to tyrants, then as sufficient in itself). And nowhere did their seed fall on as fertile soil as in Germany. Thanks to these theories, the Germans of twenty-six different states for the first time came to recognize themselves as belonging to a united whole. And already in 1813, Fichte could deliver an “Address to the German Nation,” which he could not have done fifteen years before due to the absence of this very German nation. The founding of the German nation took place in the period from 1806 to 1813. In the first third of the 19th century, her doctrine was founded (by Fichte, Hegel, etc.) and perfected a whole century, leading to the wars of 1870 and 1914, wars in which justice was undoubtedly on France’s side. (Bismarck’s forging of the Ems Dispatch in 1870 and the lie about the “bombing of Nuremberg” by French airmen in 1914.)

Limiting ourselves to these examples, we will proceed to an examination of the ends of war.

The greatest barbarian of the 19th century – Clausewitz – espoused the theory of “absolute war,” a war of destruction. His theory was brought to life by the most distinguished of his students, Lenin, and therefore we shall call this entire doctrine “Clausewitzian-Leninist.” It amounts to the extermination and destruction of the opponent – not only the defeat of his armed force, but the complete enslavement and destruction of the opponent as a nation for Clausewitz, and as a class for Lenin.

This misanthropic theory was carried out by the Germans, in truth rather warily, in the Great War (atrocities in occupied regions, a regime of hostages and terror, asphyxiating agents, unlimited undersea warfare, the use of internal enemies to undermine a hostile country) and on an even wider scale by the Bolsheviks.

We must wholly reject Clausewitz’s false doctrine, as well as the Leninism that flows from it. These false teachings correspond neither to Christian morality, the Russian historical tradition and Russian warrior ethics, nor to simple common sense.

War is waged not to kill, but to conquer. The immediate end of war is victory, while the final end is peace, the restoration of harmony, which is the natural condition of human society.

Everything else is only excess, and excess is ruinous. Dictating the peace to a defeated enemy, it follows we be guided by a strict moderation and not bring him to desperation with unnecessary demands, which only beget hatred – and sooner or later, new wars. One must force the adversary to respect himself; for this we should not be given over to chauvinism. The national, and simply human, dignity of the vanquished should be respected.

There is no higher goal for politics than “peace on earth and goodwill to men.” And neither the chained helot peoples of Clausewitz and his followers nor Lenin’s transformation of the universe into a cemetery are compatible with the ideal to which politics should aspire.