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Topic: The Necessity of Napoleon’s Defeat & the Russia Campaign  (Read 2107 times)
Seneca
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« on: October 16, 2006, 09:52:26 PM »

For the Western-European Civilization the era of gigantic conflicts undoubtedly had begun with Napoleon (the wars he inspired and commanded). A humanity of particular historic stamp changes from an outlook upon life derived from a chivalric age dominated by the countryside (in every one of its states) to a quantifiable outlook upon life taking increasing root in the main cities of those states.

The 17th century, with its ubiquitous “Fronde” which gripped every important feudal state of that period (centered around the Thirty Years War) was an important interlude leading into the 18th century rationalistic Age of Enlightenment at the end of the Baroque (and Rococo), which inaugurated the age of high Civilization, the ripe Culture’s deathbed prepared.

The victory of Puritanism in England (resulting in its English-specific working compromise-arrangement between the Parliament and its organs and the pageantry of power represented by the restored but vacuous kingship) ensured that the form of the Western high civilization will be made in imitation of England – and the subsequent course of events bore this out. When at Valmy the pan-European alliance of royalist powers, led by Duke of Brunswick, retreated before Paris, thereby handing a lifeline to the revolutionary forces of the new French republic, the way was open for a French-speaking, but English in the outlook-upon-future, mode of civilized world-outlook to take over the rest of Europe in the form of Napoleon (regardless of whether he was for or against England) – for his outlook was based on calculations typically great-power English and soon-to-be American in outlook. Whether the new empire would be English-speaking or French-speaking mattered little to the inexorable march of evolutionary Historic Time. All of Napoleon’s victories and defeats in one way or another were bringing the methods of the new age of high civilization, its super-personal form, wide-ranging finances, brutal, massive conscript armies, natural and state resources exploited mercilessly, literally everything reachable (whether national or acquired) sacrificed for ideas and power-plays – in fact – those methods which the English were already on their way to mastering (possibly also why the decision of 1763 was already in favor of England and not of France).

Nothing attests better to this stark epoch-breaking fact of History than the developments in Military History (Warfare). Whereas the old epoch’s battles and confrontations were of the Trianon-style duel, i.e. encounters in knightly form with fixed rules to determine when a man might declare his limit reached, what magnitude of force is employable and what terms of victory chivalry permitted the victor to impose – the new epoch’s battles become furious ring-contest fist-fights fought to the point of bodily collapse of one to be exploited without restraint by the victor (the movie GLADIATOR aptly expresses the extremes of this fearful stage in the context of the Classical realm’s history). Thus, the secret to the unprecedented success of the Napoleonic armies is to be found herein – as they speedily adopted the nascent methods of a new age but in confrontations with armies and men of another (previous) age (royalist powers of the continent). Most likely, the secret of Napoleon’s genius lies in his introduction of these methods into Europe. For, instead of artificial maneuvers with small bodies of men, he adopted the mass-onset-of-battle tactics totally impervious to any losses of men or materiel. This was of course backed up by the new (and hitherto unprecedented) practice of mustering the whole muscle-force of the nation for the war-making purposes (a monstrous and alien idea to the age of King Frederick II the Great).

Thence also – the technology of war followed the changes on the political level – so much so that by the time of Napoleon – it suddenly makes a great leap forward to press all the mechanical knowledge of the time into service for military purposes (a distant echo of the “Total War” concept of Goebbels and the climactic, horrendous-scale national resource mobilizations of World War Two). In the process of mobilization and application of technology in war – the personal heroism of the men of good breeding and high culture of chivalry were rendered hopelessly and pitifully useless (to a great extent, even though Caulaincourt would beg to differ using the example of his dying brother at Borodino). Even the intellectual power of the men of state was to be trampled on in the service of massive new political aims (a possible reason why the putsch of July 20th 1944 against Hitler failed or why “America 1st” isolationism stood no chance). Another corollary of the technology-in-warfare factor was the need for mobility, which every man of the city understands – but which every many of the countryside loaths. The new big city (megalopolitan) thought is forced to think in terms of speed (Caesar understood this quite well in his Gallic campaigns – and so his was the fastest army of the Classical history up to that time!) of total success at any cost. Napoleon was the master of this skill – and he used it brilliantly in Russia – as Caulaincourt so masterfully describes in his sad diary of the failed mission in Russia (its only possible outcome).

Napoleon was the first to horse-draw his artillery on such a scale for that mobility reason alone, and also, he broke up the mass army of the Revolution into a system of self-contained and highly mobile corps – which were the core of his Grand Armee – and commanded by his leading men also in Russia under the main body of his invasion army in his personal charge (250,000 strong), the others under the lesser talents of de Beauhernais (80,000) and brother Jerome (70,000). He also had 225,000 men in reserve. His left wing was led by MacDonald and his right by Schwarzenberg, on June 23rd 1812. Russia mustered about 400,000 peasant soldiers and Cossacks against him (divided in 3 main armies). This war on Russia, more than any other up to that point, brought Napoleon’s revolutionary idea of physical effectiveness to perfection in the form of “case-shot attack” (i.e. rapid fire and drum fire, used later to deadly effect in the great American Civil War aka “canister-shot”). This was also a tactic that over 100 years later the Nazi troops employed in their Blitzkriegs to break-up entrenched positions in Russia (albeit far more effectively and more mechanically). They called it “trommel-feuer”. At Borodino – the brave, heavy and stubborn Russian center was annihilated using the case-shot attacks.
In fighting Britain, Napoleon began to imitate and to dream of things that Britain considered exclusively her own domain of behavior and action. The imperial expansion principle, whereby natural resources ready for exploitation are always in the field of play – was there for Britain already (born with Sir Oliver Cromwell’s rule) – and Napoleon made a late attempt at stealing this away from it. Napoleon ensured that the British spirit would conquer the European continent far more quickly – such was the power of historic destiny that even with, but especially without, his victory over Britain – the continent would start thinking British. It is no accident that this continent soon adopted Marxism, a purely British phenomenon that nonetheless quite ignorantly (and dangerously) assumed those conditions and relations within Britain to be universally valid for all nations, as one of its staple ideologies in the century following the battle of Borodino.
I believe that Napoleon was partly made by the times he was so keenly a part of – and the ready-made facts and ideas seeped from Britain into Paris by Bayle, Voltaire and Rousseau. It was that England to which rightly belong the root-terms like “parliamentarism”, “business ethics” and “journalism” that made the French Revolution possible (although not its initial mob-driven, bloody upsurge) and over which and (in reality) in the name of which the early Napoleonic battles were fought. Napoleon’s initial aim had to have been – a replacement of the British Empire by a French one – why else would he have challenged Britain at Trafalgar, carefully prepared to challenge Britain in India (using Iran, aiding Maratha and possibly even using Russia) and on Mississippi and in Egypt and at Acre in the nearer East? It was only belatedly, after all the extra-European calculations have fallen through that Napoleon made a desperate attempt at creating a continental Empire with Germany and Spain at its center causing him to get crushed by Historic necessity.

I believe that this last combination against England was the fatal one; the one in which he allied himself with those forces which alone still resisted the introduction of the new practical spirit of England into Europe, and in so doing he came to oppose the spirit of the times, on the crest of which he was riding so high up to that point. Thus, Napoleon made himself historically redundant and his defeat thus became, in one way or another, unavoidable.
As a last legacy, he also made Russia forever more the decisive player in Europe’a affairs (even though, at the beginning of the campaign, he said he wanted to prevent that from happening).

Perhaps, all these European counts, nobles and aristocrats that were surrounding him made him feel more empowered in his fight against England (in opposition to which he even went so far as to attack Russia!) I believe that one must remember, when surveying History, that victory is not the substance of the revolution nor is peace the ultimate goal of a revolution.

After Napoleon, even Prussia, the last of the holdouts of the previous Baroque/Rococo age was re-shaped conformant with the new English spirit of the age (Hardenberg’s and Scharnhorst’s reforms that broke away with the professional army system of the 18th century)

Caulaincourt’s account of the ill-fated invasion does not take away anything from the love, loyalty and respect for the Great Man (Napoleon). However, he exhibits all the manner of prudent and sage counsel that one would expect in a healthy leadership environment, and Napoleon certainly had one. However, his own desperate sense of urge forward drove his army to extinction because it prevented him from establishing a foothold in Russia from which to operate in the longer term.
It also overrode all concerns expressed around him (even his own!).
At Smolensk (8/10/1812) he failed to honor his own word to his trusted aide Caulaincourt and stop there to prepare a winter redoubt, instead falling for an age-old Scythian-Hunnish tactic always so successful on wide open plains of Asia – of luring the enemy in, only to, when exhausted and confused, encircle him and crush him.
In Napoleon’s case, it was easy to do so given
1)   how deeply keen on forcing a battle with the Russians Napoleon was,
2)   how deeply hated the Europeans were on the still sacred soil of Mother Russia (resulting in all these self-destructive acts of burning down towns and villages in advance of Napoleon) and
3)   how vast and how hostile is the geography and climate of Asiatic Russia.
I am sure that if the top Nazis were not such pathetic parvenus – they would have learnt well what truly awaits their troops in Russia in an invasion situation.
Just as Stalin appealed not to Communist ideals (in which neither he nor his people really believed) but to Russian patriotism and the Church (ordering even the warning church bells to toll across Russia to announce the German invasion) – so did Tsar Alexander appeal to the oppressed Russian Church and soil-bound peasant patriotism for support against Napoleon (the holy Byzantine-Orthodox icon of St. Sergius was taken by the Archbishop of Moscow and given to the Tsar to aid victory over the “heathen” French). Caulaincourt rightly sensed this act to represent a call to a primitive religious “Crusade” against “the devil” Napoleon.
Thereafter in Russia, many a backyard, many a storage bin, many a sidewalk became the scene of heinous killing, pummeling and butchering of isolated and straggled French and allied soldiers. With the Turkish war over, a million man Russian army was soon raised (by September) to face-off against half a million largely impoverished, lonely, hated and ill-provided European soldiers under Napoleon’s impetuous command.

As Caulaincourt beautifully put it already at Witepsk (late July, early-on in the campaign):

“Never was there a situation more deplorable, or a spectacle more heart-rending for those who could think, and who had not been dazzled by the false glamour of Glory and Ambition.”
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