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Much more war than peace
on May 8, 2012
In his introduction to this second volume of a 1000 page biography, the author points out that he sees Napoleon neither as half-god, nor as devil. N rose to power out of chaos. He did not cause the chaos. He did create some structure, some of it durable. Then he created more chaos. A positive legacy exists. It could be much more but for the man's flaws and failures. His megalomaniac self promotion to the status of a new Charlemagne was his undoing. That is, if we need a single or main cause. Overstretching, in a word.
This volume 2 picks up the tale after the great victory of Austerlitz, with Napoleon at the peak of his glory. From here he goes to a triumph over decadent Prussia (just half a century after Fritz the Great, whose successors had run down the army to hopeless incompetence), then a less glorious near-stalemate in Poland, confronting Russia. Polish dreams of unity and independence were not quite satisfied. The Tilsit Peace was the end result of this period. End results are usually temporary.
Napoleon thought he could force England on its knees, but it didn't go that way. The continental blockade hurt both sides, and maybe the French more. He committed a similarly grave misjudgment with regard to Spain: the Spanish people did not react kindly to the invasion by a French army and imposition of a French monarch as replacement of the old dynasty. Surprise. Guerilla was born out of this, the little war, which would so bother big war in future. Napoleon apparently never understood that.
Prussia reacted negatively to humiliation as well. German patriotism and then nationalism and later chauvinism grew out of the disastrous defeat at Jena. That lost battle can be seen as the long distance ignition for greater things to come, alas. Most certainly Bismarck's invasion of France in 1870 was an act of revenge.
All the time, the big trouble with Austria and the squabbling with the Vatican continue and provide background noise. Hopes for a true cooperation with Russia linger, falter, and fail. A blundering Russian campaign at the same time with a worsening calamity in Spain lay the groundwork for the end.
While Napoleon is surrounded by enemies, Asprey keeps saying about this and that and the other foreign politician that they were in England's pay. He never provides sources for this allegation. As a cynic, I don't doubt it, but I would have wished for substantiation, unless this is a generally accepted piece of fact in the historical profession.
Another (minor) irritation: a man called Christoph Martin Wieland was a major German classical writer, one of the fathers of the classical school. Napoleon gave CMW an audience at a conference in Erfurt. Asprey calls Wieland Weiland, not once or twice, but always, up to 5 or 6 times. Hear me grumbling.