What Did I Learn From Napoleon This Week? Part 3
My mind was a tad weary of hearing about Napoleonic France after two weeks of Napoleon The Great, so I started last week by switching to journalist Jon Ronson's 2015 book So You've Been Publicly Shamed.
This non-fiction book had caught my eye because it delved into a topic I've been fascinated and horrified by in the time I used to use Twitter - the mob-like pile-ons of real people in the court of social media. Ronson's book looks at a number of infamous Twitter shamings, linking the phenomena back to the practice of stocks in the town square, multiplied exponentially by the psychological maelstrom that is social media.
I enjoyed Ronson's writing style. He was feeding me fragments of stories, forcing me to piece together the opinions myself. In the six years since 2015 I feel like witch hunts on social media have only intensified. And occasionally this is justified, like when no other avenue exists for politicians or police to be called out for abusing their power. But mostly it's disconcerting. The one conclusion that stuck with me from the book was that, even when they are getting people fired or driving them to suicide, those doing the shaming believe they are doing something good. That just made me feel worse.
The book was definitely thought provoking and insightful, and worth a read.
Speaking of those who believe they are doing good, Napoleon spent the rest of the week trying to reform Europe. Britain was his primary antagonist, and his solution to that was war against Russia, Austria and Portugal. He was also excommunicated by the Pope.
I did like that whenever another country signed a peace treaty with France, Napoleon would force the country's leader to promise eternal friendship with him as part of the deal.
Napoleon was very successful during this phase of his life, which has made me think about success as well.
One attribute regarding success he demonstrated was in recognising success, both his own and others. This was more than just (over-exaggerated) letters about battles. He commissioned a lot of paintings to capture significant moments and achievements. He was also dutiful in awarding medals on the battlefield - along with generous pensions - for all soldiers who demonstrated service, courage, or perhaps just had a cool last name...
Much of Napoleon's military and tactical success came from being a man of the men. This was unlike the generals and leaders in the opposing coalition armies. He wasn't afraid to have a ten minute power nap among the conscripts.
I learnt a lot about Napoleonic era battle mechanics this week - infantry, calvary and artillery. It is a bit more complicated than rolling 3 or 2 dice and draws going to the defender. The logic behind the big groups of dudes lining up and shooting at each other makes sense when you understand that communications across a hundred thousand men has to be done by word of mouth, or perhaps drumbeat and bugle. Also if you're in a long, wide line it means less people get hit by the same cannonball than if you were in a long column.
Armies did employ skirmisher divisions, and these men would run ahead of the big line of dudes to generally duke it out with the enemies' skirmishers coming the other way.
These battles tended to happen in whatever open farmland there was between cities, with small, quaint towns and villages becoming fighting hot spots and places to rest.
Rivers and hills dictated a lot of strategy, and given this was Europe there was a lot of those.
Napoleon was also a victim of success. Particularly after Austerlitz where, despite the victory, the Russian and Austrian empires learnt far more from the battle than Napoleon. Lessons which would lead to French overconfidence, and improved coalition tactics, in future battles. Also, Napoleon was so pumped after this victory that he tried to invent a saint in the Roman Catholic canon named after himself. This wasn't popular, and may have been part of why he was eventually excommunicated.
Napoleon also tried to solve real life murder mysteries that happened in Paris while he was on campaign. The book did not confirm if he did solve any of these.
Napoleon was not successful in the first decade of the 19th Century in finding a strategy to weaken England. The blockade and trade shenanigans that occurred during this time led to Napoleon's scientists successfully cultivating and developing a process to refine sugar from beets. His attempts to make cotton from thistles, and convert people from coffee to hickory, were less fruitful.