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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Napoleon - Crazy or What?

I'm with my brother-in-aw, Jay Stone, a history teacher, and I asked him, last night, what's Napoleon doing? Why the hell is he invading Russia? The Russians of course see him as a monomaniacal aggressor, but there has to be more to it. Of course there is, and Jay gave me a quick seminar on the Napoleonic Wars. My take on this - at least 3 aspects to Napoleon and why he invaded Russia. First, yes, he was a monomaniac with delusions, nearly fulfilled, of ruling half the world, expanding the French empire, being recognized as the greatest general and ruler since Alexander. Second, the mission of bringing modern government and liberal ideas across Europe. Breaking down the authority of the churches and nobility, empowering the "middle classes," bringing freedom to the dispossessed (e.g., the Jews, the serfs in Russia), creating les cariers ouverts aux talents. You can see parallels to this rationale in modern times (e.g., Vietnam, Iraq). But it does account for his success in establishing governments in some of the countries he conquers and for the hostility on the part of the nobility and the church. Third, a posssibly bogus attempt to defend his borders against nations that (he believes) are supported by England. Again, maybe some validity here (England certainly would not have liked any movement that would disempower the nobility and the church). It's also an agrument that powerful countries often make to rationalize their own expansionism (e.g., Nazi Germany, the domino theory). Jay also showed me an amazing foldout diagram that tracked the size of Napoleon's army during the invasion and retreat - from 400k at the start to about 100k on reacing Moscow and down to only about 10k on the return to France! The dminishing of his army during the march east is not clear in War and Peace - they seem to be growing in power (at least that's how the Russians envison them). Jay points out that the invasion during the height of summer depleted the strength of the Army and left them short of supplies. Hard to believe that 400k could be supported over such a long supply line during any circumstances or conditions.

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