Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Great Moments in Stupidity: Napoleon Bonaparte (Part I)

Napoleon Bonaparte

By the third anniversary of the French Revolution, the situation in France had deteriorated into full-blown anarchy with the National Assembly not knowing what to do about a bankrupt national treasury, a howling mob roaming the streets, and the Austrian/Prussian army sitting just across the border where it was waiting on the right moment to sweep into France and put Louis XVI back on the throne. Faced with such sobering realities, the National Assembly of France decided on a course of action that has been followed by every revolutionary government since: it started to look around for somebody to execute. Unfortunately for the ex-King of France, Louis XVI, he was the most convenient target.

Charged with "conspiracy against the revolution" and tried by the same body that had handed down his indictment, Louis was found guilty in record time and was duly beheaded on January 21, 1793. Louis' death accomplished very little in the way of relieving external pressures on France and, in fact, only added more nations to the ever-expanding list of countries that were now at war France.
The National Assembly, again setting an example for future revolutionary governments, turned the whole matter over to a paranoid schizophrenic named Maximilien Robespierre and the equally unbalanced Committee of Public Safety. The Revolution would now feed on her own children.
Although it took a few months before everyone figured it out, the Committee of Public Safety was a bigger problem than the problem it was supposed to replace. Even worse than that, the mobs that were running loose inside Paris were starting to get the idea that anything but the Committee of Public Safety would be an improvement. The Committee of Public Safety, fearing for its own safety and not wishing to follow Louis and family to the guillotine, began looking into ways to literally "keep their heads while everyone around them was losing theirs." The Committee found the answer to their problem in the person of Napoleon Bonaparte.
At this point, a bit of digression will help to explain Napoleon's actions in defending the National Assembly, the Committee of Public Safety, and the other temporary alliances that wanted to run France according to their various (and in no way compatible) agendas.
Napoleon's bragging rights were based on the fact that he had pulled off a victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Remy and that he had done so was due to his ability as an artilleryman. This simply means that he knew what to do with cannons, which was point them in the general direction of the enemy and open fire. In those technologically-unsophisticated days this was quite a bit more difficult than it may seem. Back in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, you didn't use your cannons to blast holes in the enemy's position; you used cannons to blast holes in the enemy's soldiers. This is rather difficult to do if you have to fire one cannonball at time, which in turn led to the invention of the first weapon of mass destruction, something called grapeshot.
Grapeshot consisted of several dozen iron balls, of approximately the same size and weight of our contemporary .45 caliber slugs, which were packaged inside a canvas bag filled with gunpowder. Once this combination or iron and explosives was stuffed into a cannon, the said cannon was pointed at the nearest available target and fired. The resulting shower of iron, if properly directed, could easily kill or maim a few dozen enemy soldiers. Its main drawback, as far as military tactics were concerned, was that every army on the continent knew about it and would respond with its own rounds of grapeshot. This would in turn decimate your army. In fact, in all of Europe, there was but one army that didn't have an armory full of grapeshot and that was the army of idiots that happened to be running lose on the streets of Paris.
When the National Assembly summoned Napoleon to deal with the problem of the mobs that were threatening to destroy France in general and Paris in particular, they made the mistake of asking him how he planned to accomplish such as Herculean task using only the handful of troops that he commanded.
"I will give them a whiff of grapeshot" he replied.
It is a documented fact that rioting mobs are not easily impressed by a few people in fancy uniforms. Mobs are, however, greatly impressed by the sounds of cannons being fired at them and even more impressed when the grapeshot being fired from those cannons is rapidly reducing the number of rioters.
Needless to say, the mob decided that it was time to let things calm down a bit since the little guy with the Corsican accent seemed to know what he was doing with the cannons and grapeshot. This earned Napoleon the undying gratitude of the National Assembly, which promptly promoted him to the rank of general before sending him southward to settle some old scores with the Italians (and, they thought, remove him from the public eye).
France, and the rest of Europe, had yet to see the last of Napoleon Bonaparte

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