Europe@War

Napoleon invented the concept of world war.

On reflection, I’m positive that sentence is true. If it is, then the Napoleonic wars of the early eighteen hundreds were a revolution—even in a Europe thoroughly accustomed to war.

Caesar was the first to secure European hegemony, following conquest with administration and widespread edification—including monumental temples, public offices, and highways. Furthermore, he enforced Roman law, the trappings of which still mark the legal systems of Southern Europe, South America, and much of Africa.

But the Romans fought their campaigns piecemeal, taking on the French, English, Huns, and many others in separate engagements. Caesar does have the distinction, together with the Vikings and the Normans, of invading Britain, something that has never been achieved since.

Napoleon, on the other hand, mainly through lack of choice, engaged all kinds of alliances, mixing Prussians, English, Italians, Russians, Czechs, Hungarians, and of course Austrians.

Austria was a particularly strong opponent, but the nation back then was huge, extending into Bavaria and eastward to Hungary—the Habsburg Monarchy had begun in the early XVIth century and its head was often also the Holy Roman Emperor.

It’s obvious that Napoleon was not given much choice in selecting his opponents, but it’s also clear that he was unique as military tactician and strategist. The core of his story is war—an unending series of battles during which he systematically routed his enemies, often with deceit and ruse, always with courage, and in many examples with luck.

His skill at positioning troops, reading the mind of his enemies while disguising his true intentions, and the incredible speed with which he reacted to circumstances, are at the heart of his success.

The story of Napoleon is that of a man revered by his soldiers, a general who became an emperor, a man cuckolded by his wife but who only divorced her thirteen years later, leaving a trail of twenty mistresses in his wake.

Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz, 1805. The great general was then thirty-six years old.

The maxims of war that Napoleon wrote are as relevant today as when they were first penned. Advice on war has in the past decades been seen as a proxy for business, as evidenced by the popularity of Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ among the Wall Street fraternity, and although Napoleon’s military maxims are far less known, there are a few that are useful in a business context.

A well-established maxim of war is not to do anything which your enemy wishes and for the single reason that he does so wish.

Others are rather different, but no less of a lesson.

The first quality of a soldier is constancy in enduring fatigue and hardship. Courage is only the second. Poverty, privation and want are the school of the good soldier.

Napoleon’s practical lessons in battlefield tactics, and in military strategy, are widely taught at academies throughout the world.

Despite the fact that war has changed dramatically in the past two centuries, particularly when it comes to the concepts of line and front, as well as in asymmetric warfare, the great man could almost certainly outfight any modern-day general.

I fully expect that a commander who could do so much with so little, back in the days of flintlocks and ball muskets, would consider many of the modern-day engagement rules in a radically different light, and shift the paradigm dramatically.

Read over and over again the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Turenne, Eugene and Frederic. Make them your models. This is the only way to become a great general and to master the secrets of the art of war. With your own genius enlightened by this study, you will reject all maxims opposed to those of these great commanders.

Frederick the Great was one of Napoleon’s heroes—after the capture of Berlin, Napoleon visited the tomb of the Prussian military genius. Turning to his entourage, he said.

Hats off, gentlemen, if he were still alive, we should not be here.

The story of Napoleon is the story of European war, of nations hurling themselves at each other, of many thousands of casualties, of untold pain and suffering. It shows how much France punished Prussia, Austria, and Italy, and how in turn it was punished back.

It highlights why such strife subsequently led to more European wars, of a scale that turned them into world wars. As we watch Brexit, Salvini, and so many other disasters happening in Europe, (mis)guided by the morons who ignore history, the silver-tongued Bannons of this world, let us not be fooled. Again.

I’ll leave the battle of Waterloo for another source, partly because of its speculation of what might have happened had the battle not been fought.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that at the age of sixty, a man was only at two-thirds of his life.

He died on the island of Saint Helena, aged fifty-one, on May 5th 1821.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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