After the Reign of Terror   Leave a comment

Not so long ago, I finished reading Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker series, which is an alternative history fantasy take on the Napoleonic era. I loved the story, but disagreed with her basic admiration of Camjiata (otherwise known as Napoleon). We writers get our depictions from many sources, so this is not really a critique of Elliott’s writing, so much as to say there is no way I could admire the Napoleonic Code and I would have made Bea and her lover at some point look like fools.

But that’s not reason for this article. I’m actually looking at World War 1 and what it teaches us about war in general and you get to be party to my thought processes.

To understand World War I, you have to go back to Napoleon. See, there’s a method to my madness.

A Corsican of minor nobility, Napoleon was a young man during the French Revolution, who used the general chaos as an opportunity to rise quickly through the ranks so that he was a general by only age 24. His campaign in Italy captured the entire peninsula in less than a year. In 1799, at the age of 26, he engineered a coup that made him of the Republic. Ever ambitious, in 1804 he became the first Emperor of the French.

Napoleon established the first modern police state. He tapped Joseph Fouché, a clerical student who had never taken his vows as a priest, to organize a secret police force. During the French Revolution, Fouché had organized mass shootings. He developed Napoleon’s spy network throughout Europe, and he arranged to have adversaries abducted and killed

In 1805, Napoleon defeated the Austrian army at Austerlitz and crushed the Prussians at Jena in 1806. Napoleon ordered that German-speaking states, including Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, HesseDarmstadt, Nassau and Berg, be combined to form the Confédération du Rhin — the Confederation of the Rhine. These French-controlled,
German-speaking territories were in addition to those territories west of the Rhine, notably Cologne and Mainz, that France had annexed in 1792.

Some 100,000 of Napoleon’s troops occupied Prussia at the nation’s expense. In 1807, he signed the Treaty of Tilsit with Russia, stripping Prussia of German-speaking
provinces north and west of the lower Elbe River, and Polish provinces to the east. Altogether, Prussian territory was cut from 89,120 square miles to 46,032.

Napoleon dismissed corrupt old tyrants, but often replaced them with his relatives, who were just as corrupt and tyrannical. He imposed his Code Napoléon on conquered territories. Based on Roman law and some 14,000 decrees issued during the French Revolution, it was a simplified civil law code providing uniform rules for people to live by. It abolished the hodgepodge of feudal laws and customs by imposing a singular one-size-fits-all code that not everybody agreed with.
Napoleon demanded that the Prussian government pay him 140 million francs, which amounted to a huge tax that devastated the economy. Making things worse was Napoleon’s “Continental System,” aimed at harming Britain by closing Europe’s ports. The Continental System meant that Prussia couldn’t earn its traditional revenues from grain exports.

Once bought off, Napoleon withdrew his forces from Prussia to subjugate others, and the Prussian king pondered how his state might regain its place in the world. More on that later.

The consequences of the Napoleonic wars were devastating as they played out decades later in Prussia and throughout Europe. According to historian Paul Johnson, the wars “set back the economy of much of Europe for a generation. They made men behave like beasts, and worse. The battles were bigger and much more bloody. The armies of the old regimes were of long-service professional veterans obsessed with pomp and circumstances, fine uniforms and elaborate drills. The kings could not bear to lose their pets. Bonaparte ended the powdered hair, supplied mass-produced uniforms and spent the lives of his young, conscripted recruits as though they were loose change.

His insistence that they live off the land utterly failed in Spain and Russia’s subsistence economies, where if the soldiers stole, the peasants starved. The standards of human conduct declined as men and women, and their growing children, learned to live brutally.

The savagery was shocking:

“French corpses piled up in the mountain ravines…Drunk with fury against the servants of Christ who preached hatred, the French soldiers sacked the churches, carried away the objects of veneration, profaned the House. The village priests slaughtered the French who sought refuge among them. Farms were left burning like torches when the French had passed by. The wounded and the ill were murdered as they were being taken from one place to another. The roads were strewn with denuded corpses; the trees were
weighed down with the bodies of men hanged; blind hate was loosed against hate, a nameless terror roamed the deserted countryside, death came slowly through the most frightful mutilations.” Historian Antonina Valentin

Napoleon’s worst horrors occurred during the Russian campaign. In the spring of 1812, he assembled 600,000 soldiers — his “Grand Army” including Prussians, Austrians and Italians. They crossed the Niemen River that flows from western Russia into the Baltic, headed east in a front some 300 miles wide. Napoleon wanted a decisive battle that would force the Russian Czar Alexander I to become his subject, but the Czar’s forces harassed Napoleon’s soldiers in skirmishes, then withdrew into the interior of the country,
destroying fields, towns and cities as they went, denying Napoleon the opportunity to replenish his supplies.

The further Napoleon advanced, the further Russian forces withdrew, and the more devastation Napoleon encountered. His forces entered Smolensk after it had been burned.
Napoleon’s supply lines were stretched to the limit, but he recognized that his forces would desert if they wintered in Smolensk. He decided they must continue on to Moscow. He reached the outskirts of Moscow on September 14, 1812 and stopped advancing to wait for a Russian delegation to surrender. By the time Napoleon actually entered Moscow, it was burning. While the French soldiers were happy with the luxuries they looted, they found little food and the countryside had been stripped bear. Napoleon was forced to call retreat, but his men were already worn out by the march forward, so many died as they returned home, both from exposure and weakness and guerrilla attacks by Cossacks and peasants.

Altogether, Napoleon’s wars resulted in the deaths of some 2 million people. It’s little wonder that the memories of the Napoleonic wars convinced many people that they should refrain from war. In September 1814, five months after Napoleon’s first abdication, European foreign ministers met at the Congress of Vienna, to negotiate history’s most comprehensive and successful peace treaty.

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Posted April 3, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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