“We maintain … that war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means ….We deliberately use the phrase ‘with the addition of other means’ because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs.”
Carl von Clausewitz—On War
Von Clausewitz sounds almost reasonable. A man with a pipe in a lounge chair saying something sensible about politics transforming suddenly into war. Just as normal as the molecules of heated water suddenly boiling and turning into gas vapour.
Only war isn’t reasonable because war has never truly ever been reasonable. It is a kind of madness—at best an organised form of human madness.
Let me be blunt: War is the most frightening grotesque idea humans have ever conceived. Ask those who are unwilling participants first-up—not the generals and staff officers some distance away from the nitty gritty frontline.
There are of course ways and methods of rationalising reasons for war and there is at least one good defence. Self-defence. People, nations have a right even a duty to defend themselves. Though then the reasons collide and soon everyone is staggering around in a fog of war. Discretion is the better part of valour, only not always.
My earliest memory of human madness came from my mother—who in recounting to me a story her father had told her occupied my mind for many sleepless moments at night.
My grandfather’s arm was permanently disabled by a dum-dum bullet fired by a sniper in World War 1. He returned home to become the manager of a returned serviceman’s club. In his spare time he visited men who were inmates at the city’s main mental hospital (stricken, wounded returned servicemen I believe, but I can’t be sure). The wounded helping the wounded at the scary place, the place on the hill, we kids whispered—tales of the scary-place told and retold in the street.
A man there said to my grandfather. ‘I am as sane as you. I don’t know why I am here.’ (I am guessing now but my grandfather’s fault here is that he was humouring the poor man— just wishing the man well was perhaps mistakable for a form of condescension.) Glad he could help-out at least a little, my grandfather turned to leave—and for his well-meant efforts and concern for the man’s welfare he was pushed down some asylum stairs.
How does anyone defend him or herself when a moment of madness appears in one form or another? How do we analyse madness? Madness as a word is part folklore, part frightening comic tale children yell at each other in backyards. Madness has several meanings and definitions in medicine. So it’s probably wrong to call Napoléon’s invasion of Russia an act of madness—without qualification—without consulting an expert. I give ground on that. Many no doubt think that Napoléon’s attack on Russia in 1812 was only a miscalculation. Just that. Napoléon Bonaparte drags 690,000 north across Europe to invade another sovereign country and he made a military miscalculation.
Napoléon said he was on a noble military-mission to free serfs and turn barbaric Russia into a modern nation state (get Russia back inside his continental system more like it). None of which he did, I add. He thought he was there to free Russians serfs—apparently—until he gave up his moral mission, and was driven out of Russia. So, give him half a mark out of ten for good intentions. Still I’ll bet the smart money is on: Napoléon was out of his head.
At best he needed his head read, but no-one thought to do it back then. Napoléon marched 690,000 north into Russia and exited five or so months later with less than 20,000 half-dead combatants and no-one thought to say: Nappy, you need to see a psychiatrist.
Napoléon went on to lose the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, losing another army. And let’s not go into the madness of how that all ended, a corporal panicking and blowing up a bridge, trapping thousands of French soldiers. Equally let’s not return to the mess that was Waterloo. They were all the actions of a sane man making difficult military calculations.
The Russians defended themselves effectively against Napoléon. Russia’s strategy of retreat worked exceptionally well, even if everyone in the Russian command didn’t think so at the time.
“Tell me for God’s sake,” Prince Bagration said, “what will our Russia—our mother—say seeing that we are so frightened … that we are giving up such a good and zealous Fatherland to such rabble and instilling hatred and disgrace in every subject? Why are we so cowardly, and who are we afraid of? It is not my fault that the minister is irresolute, cowardly, muddle-headed, temporizing, and has every bad quality. The whole army is completely in tears and scolds him to death …”
Discretion is the better part of valour. Barclay de Tolly’s strategies as the Russian army chief lacked valour—at least in the mind of General Bagration.
Important aside: The problem here is I am discussing the merits and demerits of Napoléon’s Russia campaign as if it is proper to elevate his mission—which I freely admit I think was a mad as anything I have ever read about—to, in effect, take Napoléon’s madness and turn it into a subject worthy of sane inquiry. When, to me, it is and was no better than a pointless sudden explosive street fight, all started for no reason. Still, to show I am reasonable, that I’m willing to consider the other side—I’ll state this: some think the art of militarism is born from the inner necessity of a soldier in an enigmatic mystical way through which it acquires an autonomous life which becomes an independent entity animated by a spiritual breath. Okay I said it. Guess what, I think it’s MADNESS.
What was Napoléon’s motive for the invasion? He didn’t really know—wasn’t sure what he could achieve—except start a fight as soon as he got inside Russia. Yes, he wanted to show Tsar Alexander who was boss of Europe. Alexander had broken the terms of the unfairly drawn-up Tilsit Treaty and Napoléon was angry about that.
Napoléon was only 43 during the Russian campaign of 1812, so dementia is not quite yet a useful excuse. His performance was less-effective than others of his age. Some very pressing physical ailments, as I argue in the last instalment hampered him—Napoléon had PTSD.
Yet, I think it perhaps more about the ‘mentalness’ of his intentions, not just his physical condition. His objectives were mental.
By the time he left Smolensk, chasing the Russians—heading for Moscow—his forces were already reduced by skirmishes, battles, desertion, starvation, thirst, disease, to 160,000, give or take a few ten thousand men and horses and wagons.
Marching/riding after the Russians, Napoléon also found himself facing a new chief of the Russian army. Barclay had been removed by Alexander.
Recently back from a campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the south, Prince Mikhail Kutuzov rode to meet the Russian army on 29 August. Kutuzov, considered a Russian’s Russian, with battle credentials, a survivor or two head wounds, satisfied the Russian officers who couldn’t take another retreat-filled day under Barclay. Napoléon was happy with Kutuzov’s appearance. He had beaten him at Austerlitz.
At the age of 67 Kutuzov was at the end of his career. Fitness for duty concerning physical and mental condition was evening-up the command strengths between the two sides.
Moscow gave Napoléon sleepless nights and countless nightmares. Moscou, la capitale asiatique de ce grand empire, la ville sacrée des peuples d’Alexandre, Moscou avec ses innombrables églises en forme de pagodes chinoises!
Like no other challenge in his life Napoléon wanted to enter Moscow as its conqueror. But did his Grande Armée have enough fight left? Could Napoléon ride triumphantly through Moscow’s gates and control Russia’s empire? Would Alexander give up his crown to Napoléon Bonaparte? Would Russians accept Napoléon as their ruler? Could he open up the gateway to Asia? Was he as great as Alexander of Macedonia?
At the end of the road Napoléon was on, lay the City of Truth. On he went, chasing a fate-defining military-engagement.
Two hundred and eight years ago today – on 26 October 1812 – Napoléon fell-into what is probably the worst decision he dreamed-up in his ill-fated Russian invasion (and for that honour there were many competing candidates in his grotesquely failing campaign.)
Fearing for his life, after a sudden skirmish with a band of Cossacks the day before, the once admired man of military action, the martial move-maker par excellence, under a cloak of pragmatism made what can only be described as a decision bordering on cowardice.
Ordering his retreating troops to about face and march north and west along the Old Smolensk road, Napoléon broke with his own much-vaunted tradition of fortune favours the brave in war, condemning most (almost-all) of his remaining men to die cruel deaths in the bitterest cold of a freezing Russian Steppe during several weeks of madness, in probably the most calamitous retreat ever-recorded in history.
Stay tuned for more Napoléonic numb-skullery
“When they bleached your hair, they must have bleached your brain too.”
“Does it makes sense that a multi-million dollar income should go untaxed year after year?”
“The Committee’s not an independent operation. Everything is cleared with the White House.”
“Let us fight to free the world to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all people’s happiness.”
Donnito Trumpolini doing the Tulsa trudge, casting a special air of Covid gloom as he staggers across the White House lawn, the film title stamping him:
Robert Bilott’s ‘auto-documentary’ book, Exposure, on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, is a sobering look at the immorality of corporate America in recent times.
This searing study of how greed drives so much economic activity in America, Robert Bilott’s story was first revealed to me when I recently saw the film Dark Waters – a Todd Hayes (directed) and Mark Ruffalo (produced and acted) film, well worthy of several nominations in this year Hollywood awards round. It received none. I think we get the picture why.
Bilott tells us the whole story. It begins his ‘unusual’ jumping the fence from his law firm’s usual corporate defence work to take on a plaintiff’s case, for an angry lone quite desperate West Virginia farmer, Earl Tennant, who \showed up at his office carrying a mountain of evidence.
What Rob Bilott discovered demonstrates how Du Pont had been for years dumping poisonous waste from its Washington Works plant at Parkersburg, West Virginia, into landfills which leached into rivers, streams and ponds, killing cattle and compromising the health of many inhabitants in a wide area.
This story of corporate harm shows the casual, arrogant and ugly ease with which a powerful corporation can engage in immoral practices, in the name of business as usual. Initially rebuffed by Du Pont, Bilott convinced the courts to order the company to agree to settle, following an independent scientific investigation into the harm done by a chemical PFOA, used for many products, famously in Teflon, gathering huge worldwide profit source and spinner for Du Pont.
It took years for results from an exhaustive scientific study of the blood samples of nearly 70,000 people in the immediate and surrounding areas, to come back with findings of clear probable cause links to several major life threatening and life-altering diseases and conditions. Du Pont ruined natural water and piped-water supplies meaning that many were already suffering, some dying, from directly associated diseases and conditions.
A jury finally finds for a class civil action against the company – who put up a fierce and at times devious public relations & legal defence – the plaintiffs awarded a 670 million dollar settlement against a corporate giant. Du Pont appealed and appealed then in the face of the unshifting evidence folded and accepted the decision.
This ‘environmental crime’ was aided and abetted by the EPA who worked in tandem with Du Pont to obfuscate key facts of a chemical dumping program from the public, Du Pont carrying on its harmful activities for years in plain sight, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small trusting community. As the town’s main employer, Du Pont had the cold, while knowing PFOA was an extremely dangerous substance for all life forms.
In summary, this is a fine book and a necessary read for people who want clean land, air and water and a reasonable chance at living life without corporations poisoning them or providing them with cancer. Also it is for anyone who believes that honest and accountable corporate activities are needed in a properly managed legal environment, held to decnet norms created in a democratically governed society in the 21st century.
Without Earl Tennant bringing this to Robert Bilott’s attention and Bilott deciding to take the career risk of bringing this civil action on behalf of Earl and many others, for so many stress-filled years of his life, we may never have even heard about Du Pont’s malfeasance.
In a run up to the class-action trial, Du Pont spun off its Washington Works plant into a new company, Chemours, in a technique many companies use to limit financial damage by placing the offending product range under another firm, that can easily be tipped in bankruptcy thus preventing a payout. After years of seeing how Du Pont operated Robert Bilott was ready for the tactic.
Reading Robert Bilott’s ‘Exposure’ on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the book in giving a great deal of legal and personal background to the story in the film Dark Waters (see below), answered a question that came to me while seeing the film: why wasn’t Bilott removed from his Ohio corporate law firm particularly as corporate defence was its main bread and butter?
I wondered how Du Pont’s power didn’t trump Bilott’s personal and moral interest in the plight of one farmer, Wilbur Earl Tennant, by simply pulling strings to give the crusading lawyer an offer he couldn’t refuse. Get out of town boyo, now. They tried. More power to Rob for his courage and dedication, and to Earl of course who started the whole process.
Rob Bilott in jumping the fence to take the plaintiff’s side against Du Pont uncovers an ugly story of corporate harm done to the community of Parkersburg and surrounding populations. The casual and arrogant ease with which this immensely powerful and rich corporation lied and cheated and eventually killed people in the pursuit of profit is as stunning as it was breathtaking (pun intended).
Working in tandem with weak and complicit authorities to hide the facts of a chemical dumping program, Du Pont knowingly carried on its ‘corporate crime’ for years and years, poisoning water supplies, the air and earth, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided by economic default, placing a virtual muzzle on anyone who dared question its activities. And I am still only half way through…more later, COVID-19 lockdown giving me valuable reading time.