Say what you will about this conflict, it makes for riveting television. I spent pretty much all of the first day of the war glued to the tube. I suspect I'm hardly alone. But the imperatives of television and war are hardly the same. Television news needs a predictable schedule of new events and digestible stories to thrive. War may sometimes be fast-paced, but it hardly depends on new developments at the top of the hour the way cable news does.
The impatience of the news media -and the viewers -for the "shock and awe" part of the military campaign is a palpable example of how news consumers and producers want events to unfold on their timetables.
Since the war is changing so fast -and the arguments for or against it seem irrelevant now -perhaps we should turn away from the television and toward a book, and a big one at that, for some guidance.
One of my favorite novels is Tolstoy's "War and Peace." And one of my favorite characters is General Kutuzov. Charged with defeating Napoleon and expelling the French from Russian soil, Kutuzov has a perspective completely at odds with all of the advisers, courtiers, intellectuals, journalists, nobles and even the czar. He sees his battles as victories when all others, including his own generals, see abject failures. He ridicules advisers who would have him rush into battle when doing nothing was the better course of action.
"The strongest of all warriors," Kutuzov declares, "are these two: Time and Patience."
Dismissing a rival general's accomplishments, Kutuzov rails: "Kamenski would have been
lost if he had not died. He stormed fortresses with thirty thousand men. It is not difficult to capture a fortress but it is difficult to win a campaign. For that, not storming and attacking but patience and time are wanted."
Kutuzov's strategy was based on the expectation that Napoleon's army would overextend itself, venturing too deep and too late into the oncoming winter. "Everything comes in time to him who knows how to wait," he explains to Prince Andrew. Russians would gain potency and advantages, while Napoleon's strength bled out in the Russian snow. When Prince Andrew's impatience gets the better of him, he demands of his general, "Well, what do you want us to do?"
"I'll tell you what to do, and what I do," Kutuzov responds. "Dans le doute, mon cher, abstiens-toi."
Translation: When in doubt, my dear fellow, do nothing.