Napoléon’s 1812 Mental Illness – 2

“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.

Barclay de Tolly

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.

Prince Mikhail Kutuzov

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.

Napoléon’s 1812 Mental Illness – 1

Let’s look at the Napoléonic meltdown, chart his decline into intermittent mental illness.

Napoléon marched a city of 690,000 into Russia, of which 420,000 were combatants, 286,000 under his direct control. Running counter to his already proven Napoléonic strategy in war – stay small and compact and flexible, in order to be able to go and strike anywhere anytime – Napoléon marched a huge invasion force of soldiers, supports, wives and others northward, with supply-support not needed times three, but times ten.

An army that gets too far in front of its supply support lines particularly in unknown enemy territory is in danger. The health and well-being of the marching troops very early became critical factors for Napoléon.

Travelling through a sweltering European summer of 1812 general hygiene soon became an issue for the troops. Those who were wined and dined and cheered on in places such as Germany became very quickly thirsty, hungry, lice-carrying troops in the Duchy of Warsaw, typhus appearing and spreading quickly among them.

By the time the invasion force crossed over the Nieman into Russia, Napoléon’s troops were already badly afflicted. Many of his men were dying or already dead. Was this fact communicated to Napoléon? Was desertion which was also a significant factor communicated to him? Was the man on the white horse receiving and digesting the bad news?

Even without typhus, thirst, hunger and general fatigue took a toll on his army. When Napoléon caught up with the Russians at Smolensk, what once was a huge numerical advantage for the French leader 4 to 1 at the outset of the campaign, was now half that.

At Smolensk the spiritual sister-city of Moscow for Russians, a city filled with religious icons and fiercely patriotic Russians, Napoléon saw an opportunity to set the tone of his invasion. He had been seeking an early victory – something the Russians kept trying to deny him.

Setting up for battle Napoléon seemed incapable of working out a winning strategy, so much so the Prussian military theorist, Carl Von Clausewitz, working for the Russians, later wrote that Napoléon failed tactically from that first encounter with the Russian army. Clausewitz was astounded that Napoléon mounted a full-frontal attack from the west, arguing he should have surrounded and secured the city before attempting any moves.

This failure of tactics seems to signal a decline in Napoléon’s military capacities, a trend which began manifesting itself more frequently after Smolensk.

In fighting man-to-man in the streets against very determined Russians, including members of the priesthood, Napoléon’s troops suffered major casualties, created in part because the Russian General Pyotr Bagration kept feeding in fresh Russian reinforcements through the city’s uncontrolled back door.

The battle for Smolensk amounted to a technical victory for the French, but in fact was Napoléon’s first failure in the Russian campaign.

Casualties although high on both sides, the Russians wisely continued retreating under the command of the German Scot Barclay de Tolly. Whether Barclay or his high-command decided the strategy, or fell into it, the defeat of Napoléon was underway.

Troop numbers were now critical for Napoléon, not only because of Smolensk. Even though he didn’t know what the cause was, Napoléon’s surgeon, and medic in charge of the army, was seeing more and more soldiers infected by a virulent disease, and witnessed many die. Napoléon’s aide-de camp, Marquis de Caulaincourt, also noted the dying. It is unimaginable that Napoléon would have been unaware of this. It is also clear that he didn’t surround Smolensk because he knew he didn’t have enough troops.

So why did Napoléon chase the Russians? He had told Metternich months earlier that he planned to build a base at Smolensk, supply it and have his troops rest through the winter, before attacking Russia properly in the following spring. Instead he changed his plans.

Leaving a troop contingent to make a base and hold the city, he and his men rode after the Russians, even though the French leader’s army was fatigued, disease-routed and supplies-stretched.

Napoléon always craved a morale-boosting battle early to rouse his army, more than he wanted a rested army. But when Maréchal Junot disobeyed his orders and failed to attack the retreating Russian’s rear, the French leader’s plans began falling apart. Still he rode on.

So what is the point of recounting all this? Napoléon’s judgment was failing him, along with his tactics. Was he no longer able to endure such an arduous campaign? Were his problems deeper than age? Was his mind actually in the process of disintegrating?

‘The Great Dictator’ dialog resonating in 2020

“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.”

“The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people… liberty will never perish.”

Film list of 63 of the best for me

These films are not the best perhaps, or even the best 63 films I have seen, though they would be very close to that.

I simply laid them down without prior thought of ordering or listing them in any kind or categorisation of this or that.

The only change was to add Gosford Park by Robert Altman, and to do that I dropped Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! which should not be left out, but I kept Monsoon Wedding which I adored when I first saw it and still do.

So the filmmakers and films are all great and in no way am I listing them in order of best – first to worst. There are no second-best or best here. They are simply all magnificent for all their own reasons and appeared as I remembered them and wrote them down.

Tell me what you think – offer suggestions – i.e. if you wish to.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestMilos Forman
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidGeorge Roy Hill
The Last Picture ShowPeter Bogdanovich
Apocalypse NowFrancis Ford Coppola
Rear WindowAlfred Hitchcock
King of ComedyMartin Scorsese
Raging BullMartin Scorsese
The Good the Bad and the UglySergio Leone
Little Miss SunshineValerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Pulp FictionQuentin Tarantino
Reservoir DogsQuentin Tarantino
CasablancaMichael Curtiz
Dog Day AfternoonSydney Lumet
The GodfatherFrancis Ford Coppola
UnforgivenClint Eastwood
2001 A Space OdysseyStanley Kubrick
AmadeusMilos Forman
Blade RunnerRidley Scott
The ThingJohn Carpenter
Ace in the HoleBilly Wilder
The VerdictSydney Lumet
NetworkSydney Lumet
SidewaysAlexander Payne
The French ConnectionWilliam Friedkin
The Godfather IIFrancis Ford Coppola
A Clockwork OrangeStanley Kubrick
Paths of GloryStanley Kubrick
Lawrence of ArabiaDavid Lean
Easy RiderDennis Hopper
ChinatownRoman Polanski
8 1/2Federico Fellini
La Dolce VitaFederico Fellini
The ConversationFrancis Ford Coppola
Out of AfricaSydney Pollack
Annie HallWoody Allen
Hannah and Her SistersWoody Allen
Deconstructing HarryWoody Allen
Broadway Danny RoseWoody Allen
AmarcordFederico Fellini
Day for Night (La Nuit américaine)Francois Truffaut
La règle du jeuJean Renoir
Crimes and MisdemeanoursWoody Allen
The French Connection IIWilliam Friedkin
Thelma and LouiseRidley Scott
GandhiRichard Attenborough
American GraffitiGeorge Lucas
Atlantic CityLouis Malle
Das BootWolfgang Petersen
Monsoon WeddingMira Nair
Gosford ParkRobert Altman
WitnessPeter Weir
PersonaIngmar Bergman
Wild StrawberriesIngmar Bergman
Cries and WhispersIngmar Bergman
Autumn SonataIngmar Bergman
The Truman ShowPeter Weir
Fanny and AlexanderIngmar Bergman
War and PeaceSergei Bondarchuk
YojimboAkira Kurosawa
RashomonAkira Kurosawa
Paris Texas‎Wim Wenders
Schindler’s ListSteven Spielberg
JawsSteven Spielberg

The novel is dead: Long live the novel

I think it was Will Self who in the past has made several claims the novel is dead – usually when he is publicizing his latest novel. He is not alone. Many have said something similar, often for a similar reason. It’s an old rort. The look at me novelist, engaging in a little self-flagellation over his chosen craft – the novel – following up with, and here, look at my latest – you got it – novel.

I believe in the slow novel. The slow-dying novel. Perhaps the problem is not that the novel is dead, rather we are being ‘entertained’ by as good as brain or industry or novel-dead novelists or ‘deader than deader’ bought novelists. It’s not entirely their fault – they have been led down through this novel is dead garden path so long they couldn’t help but drink at the poisoned novel is dead well – lured there by you got it – money for the next novel.

We still live in an age of publishing which is owned and controlled largely by giant mixed-media conglomerates using consolidation-techniques of the late 20th century dribbling over into now in publishing that seems to have a project to kill off diversity in publishing.

Using the constricted market, the consolidated conglomerate run industry has been made easier business – fewer less diverse products, selling way more copies of each un-diverse novel, creating their ‘stars’ who weave the same old same un-diverse old rope you find in any shopwindow of limited product-range where variety is only now a word on a magazine cover.

What would happen if new-well-developed craft appeared on the front bookshop-paid-for-by-conglomerates table. Would readers have a nervous breakdown?

Instead of fewer and fewer choices by fewer and fewer voices which logically will one day be one – one publisher with one author on one table with a zillion books – the same book sold over and over and over for centuries. Sound good? It does to me. All that free time not having to say: when am I going to read a book again? I read it! Ten years ago. What a relief!

My once doctoral research looked at the period when digitisation once offered a chance at democratisation over the oldie-big-corporation-run publishing industry.

The big players killed off one such possible – Gemstar. The owner – Yuen. Where is he now BTW? He didn’t look at the history of Allen Lane – psst drop the price – Yuen didn’t look or didn’t hear.

Maybe he was too busy being cosyied up to – and cosying up himself to them of course – hearing one or more of the big players say with a smile: come in on old boy. It’s seductive – money for the new business/novel. Have a chair in our club where the good old boys and girls enveloped Mr Gemstar with ideas of ebooks and ereaders as luxury-items. Leave it to us old boy to run the market and it will flock to you… old boy.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2002/oct/09/newscorporation.rupertmurdoch

p99 ‘Publishing: Principles and Practice’ Sage Publications UK 2011

What noise does a Penguin make? Let’s all sound like Penguins for a moment – in 1935. 6p of Penguins chanting in old money. Not six shillings for old hard covers. Allen Lane ‘the bugger that ruined the trade’ – who made the paperback boom – dropped the price dramatically. And did the paperback boom – like a thousand penguins in the snow and ice arriving at the ocean. The paperback which we all grew to love and carry around everywhere. We want hardcovers too of course – but could we as well have grown to love an ebook that stood for democratised literature?

And so with the not so new digital book in the not so great industry, the offshoot of paperbacks that once dominated the market – standing for democratisation of information – the small e-book companies that once sprang up in the 1990s became only Amazon and Apple – and bingo the digital book revolution supporting wide uncontrolled literary ideas-of-reader-choice shrivelled up – as any endangered species in any jungle, you care to roam into, will when unsupported.

The free-market e-book died from neglect – well, in truth, it was shot between the eyes by big publishers – with the e-books that remained corralled into industry-run zoos under the reasoning and guidance of ‘let’s make it all a more manageable-market old boy’, with the management-cry of more profit for the old boys and old girls culturally watching over the e-book. And what did readers get in total? An endangered and on-its-last-legs novel in control of top-down economic-political controllers, as it once was before the early market-free days of the paperback boom.

A Rainy Day in New York

From the moment in Annie Hall when he led Marshall McLuhan out from behind a film hoarding in a New York cinema I have been a huge fan of Woody Allen. He is America’s best writer director of ensemble urban comedies – truly a unique filmmaker.