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.