Posted by: kuhiovogeler | May 10, 2010

Hawai‘i and the Battle of Borodino

On 7 September 1812, during Napoleon’s occupation of Russia, the Battle of Borodino occurred a week before French troops marched into Moscow. In this single day of combat approximately 75,000 people died: 30,000–40,000 French and 40,000–45,000 Russians. Yet, even with a French victory, Napoleon would later describe the Battle of Borodino thus: “The most terrible of all my battles was the one before Moscow. The French showed themselves to be worthy of victory, but the Russians showed themselves worthy of being invincible.”

Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace writes about the rationale behind General Kutuzov’s decision to engage the French army at Borodino:

Why was the battle of Borodino fought? There was not the slightest sense in it, either for the French or for the Russians. The immediate result of the battle was, and this was bound to be, for the Russians, that we were brought nearer to the destruction of Moscow (the very thing we dreaded above everything in the world); and for the French, that they were brought nearer to the destruction of their army (which they, too, dreaded above everything in the world). The result was perfectly obvious, and yet Napoleon had offered battle, and Katuzov accepted it.

Tolstoy further explains that,

In giving and accepting battle at Borodino, Kutuzov and Napoleon acted without design or rational plan. After the accomplished fact historians have brought forward cunningly devised evidences of the foresight and genius of the generals, who of all the involuntary instruments of the world’s history were the most slavish and least independent agents.

Tolstoy contends that that Battle of Borodino needed to happen because history, with the combined wills of the Russian army outside Moscow and the combined wills of the French army seeing Moscow in the distance, forced that battle to take place. Kutuzov and Napoleon were more agents of history rather than rational actors. Kutuzov and Napoleon had their reasons for battle, but these rationales fit within a larger context: the Russians had been pushed to the point where they needed to show their resolve, and the French had their goal, Moscow, within sight. For the Russians, they could not give up Moscow without a fight. For the French, they could not rest until they had reached Moscow.

In Hawai‘i today, the struggle to end the US occupation has been nonviolent, but it has not been passive. Hawai‘i’s struggle will always remain nonviolent. Yet, there will be that day when Hawaiian nationals show their resolve. Momentum is building as more people learn of Hawai‘i’s occupation. People want change, but when are they to act? There will come a day when Hawaiian nationals express the sentiment that, “We have been pushed, and pushed, and pushed, but no more!” That sentiment needs to be expressed sooner rather than later.

In 1963, during the nonviolent campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., purposely participated in a march because he wanted to get arrested. King’s intent was to do something that would energize the movement. After an evening of prayer, he believed that the arrest was the only action he alone could take, which might have wider impact. Dr. King was arrested for parading without a permit. After the arrest, while in solitary confinement, Dr. King wrote the famous essay, “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.” His plan worked.

There are moments in any struggle when fatigue sets in, when what is being done is not achieving the intended results, but to do what is needed requires faithful resolve. In any struggle there is a moment when the campaign sputters and threatens to maintain the status quo, at the expense of making the needed changes to achieve success. In this struggle to end the US occupation of Hawai‘i, there comes a time when the next step is uncertain because the path that has brought us to where we are will not take us to where we hope to be.

The truth is, we will not end the US occupation of Hawai‘i if we continue the activities that have maintained our resistance up to this point. If we do not demonstrate our resolve now, while people are seeking direction, we may miss the opportunity. Imagine if there was had been no Battle of Borodino before Moscow fell. What would historians have written about the Russian people?

After the Battle of Borodino, the Russians retreated and the French occupied Moscow. In time, due to Russia’s freezing winters and France’s inability to maintain supply lines, the French army would relinquish Moscow. The Battle of Borodino did not end the occupation: it told the French that the Russians would not allow the occupation of Moscow to occur without significant cost to France.

Will we allow this occupation of Hawai‘i to continue without a mass demonstration? When is that day when we express our resolve?

Soon. I hope, soon.



  1. The central task, as I see it, is to win over the majority of the non-ethnic-Hawaiian LOCAL population of all ethnicities. THEN resistance can happen. Hawaiians, rightfully, are the chiefs of this struggle, but we need numbers in support. Show how regaining sovereignty is in the best interests of the labor unions, the Portuguese truck driver, the Japanese small businessman, the Filipino maids, the Korean entrepreneur, the alienated haole intellectual, and the many other good people who may at best now be “cheerleaders” on the sidelines for justice, but don’t identify with the effort personally. Jon Olsen Maine

  2. Jon,
    Good point. Even more critically, I think the emergent Hawai’i independence movement must develop & project a new alternative vision of integrated economics, politics, environmental & cultural dimensions that will prove to be more sustainable, equitable & collaboratively work for the benefit of the vast majority of our island citizens. N’est-ce pas?
    Peace & Imua,
    Danny(midPac PCNik)

  3. question: how do we ignite a passionate fire under a populace that has been conditioned to sit “fat and happy”…and they do not percieve the threat to their freedom and dignity…? … whether they are native hawaiians or other residents.

  4. There are many nonviolent tools yet to be fully employed. Just look at the panic reaction we got many years ago with Bumpy ma by spending an hour or so passing out leaflets on Waikiki Beach educating tourists about the Apology. And the effective shut down of Kahului airport through a traffic jam. These are just a couple examples of many options of nonviolent resistance. But Jon is right, for these tools to work, they need the support of the larger population, a clear message and goal, otherwise they just alienate people and get us further from our goal. But when it comes to leverage points against the status quo, they certainly do exist.

  5. I love being part of this dialogue, though 5500 miles away. I appreciate the thoughtful responses. Friends, the empire is now brittle–hard but fragile, like a window pane. It is unsustainable. We know that in our very bones. Unsustainable means it cannot last. This is the time to put forward vision of a future Hawai’i without the jackboot of empire on our necks. Visualize the hotels OWNED by the renovated Kingdom of Hawai’i, just to cite one example. Instead of the profit going to Mainland USA, Japan, Korea, Canada, etc., it goes into the treasury of the Hawaiian government. Maybe enough to eliminate property tax for all and to reduce income tax for all who make less than $50,000 per year. Just random numbers here. I’m not accountant or economist, just a philosopher-activist. Visualise not the CRIMINAL justice system now in place that is so oppressive to the underclass, but a true justice system which instead aggressively ferrets out white-collar crime, exploitation, and which seeks to reverse the researched cases of fraud against the people of Hawai’i, most notably land transactions. This is the time to think big and deep. Onipa’a. Jon

  6. PS A further tought: A good many people in Hawai’i are certainlyaware of the essential unity of purpose of the Bush-Cheney regime and that of Obama, namely corporate globalization. Lots of people are not complacent. a good organizing strategy always is to fnid and cultivate those in allethnic communties who truly “get it” about imperial USA. bring them together and consoidate a common perspective, then ask them to reach their constituency who are willing and able to follow honest political leadership inpursuit of truth and justice, and finally, isolate the die-hard reactionaries to the point of irrelevance. Do not fear to use a powerful ally: Scathing ridicule: SAATIRISTS FO THE WORLD UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOST BUT YOUR CHENEYS! (

  7. The opponents use ethnicity as an issue when in fact it’s a national issue. Contrived arguments obfuscate what the real issues are when dealing with the Hawaii issue. This is where the confusion lies with most people on both sides. The fact also is that the mainstream society of the Hawaiian Kingdom is Polynesian Hawaiian and not the racist U.S. WASP mainstream society. There is a lot of ignorance about the Hawaiian Kingdom through U.S. character-assassination of the Haawaiian patriots. Hawaii was one of the wealthiest and most progressive country of its day and regardless of how one perceives the constitutional monarchy, the monarch was the boss and allowed some changes within the country and did use white foreigners to get the job done; especially being aware of the Western racist attitude, double-standards and the Manifest Destiny doctrines they live by to this day. Semantics and perceptions can be misleading when one subscribes to those doctrines and tactics. There are much to appreciate and admire about the Hawaiian Kingdom and its involvement with the rest of the world and within its own country as demonstrated in the past. To know us is to love us. We love our country as much as those who love theirs’.

    A Hawaiian patriot,


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