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Analysis of the Napoleonic War

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The Napoleonic War refers to a sequence of wars that were pronounced against the Napoleon's French Empire between 1792 and 1815 by the opposing coalitions. The increasing discontent with the Feudal Government of France has led to the French Revolution in 1789, drawing the attention of every European nation. What followed was violence and worldwide involvement that triggered nonstop war for over two decades, as different competing empires tried to impose their opinions regarding power balance. The Napoleonic War era can be classified into two occurrences: The French Revolution, as well as the Napoleonic Empire. The revolution has led to the collapse of the old French Government, after which it was replaced by a series of vicious civilian administrations. The peak of the violence saw the king; King Louis and his queen being brutally murdered; an act which incited European nations to be against France and guarantee that they would not cooperate with it. The unsuccessful invasion of Russia by France in 1812 has led to the collapse of the French power. Napoleon troops successfully managed to conquer a major part of Europe and, consequently, Napoleon Bonaparte, who was an intelligent and charismatic army general, took over the control of France. Napoleon’s presence as the leader of France complicated the political landscape of Europe, and increased the environment for confrontation till one of the two conflicting sides was defeated. The Napoleonic Empire suffered a military defeat in 1815 at Waterloo, bringing to an end the Napoleon Wars and bringing back of a monarch to Paris.

Carl Von Clausewitz's “Paradoxical Trinity”

Clausewitz's “Paradoxical Trinity” is composed of a) pre-historic violence, hatred, and hostility which are considered as a blind natural force; b) the game of chance and probability, in which there is freedom for creative spirits to roam; and c) element of subordination, which is used as a policy to make the ruled see reason. That is to say, the passion that triggers a war must be intrinsic in the people; the extent of the game of talent and bravery in the realm of chance and probability is dependent on the specific character of the commandant and his army; while the political aims are left solely to the government. Therefore, Clausewitz's “Paradoxical Trinity” consists of the people, the commandant and his army, and government, and not violence, chance and reason as some people presume.

The people are concerned with the nature of the war; the army is concerned with how the war is conducted, while the government is concerned with the purpose of the war. It is important to note that all the three magnets must be dedicated to war, in other case; the disproportion may result into a defeat. This is confirmed in the assertion by Clausewitz's that all the elements of the “Paradoxical Trinity” should be considered equally, despite their variable relationships and co-equal status. The strength of the relationship between the government and his military commanders determines greatly how effective the people are in employing foreign policy and military instruments in achieving the objectives of the war. In addition, the strength of the relationship of these magnets is dependent on the ability of the commander to communicate and peoples’ ability to understand the inherent linkage between nature, purpose and conduct of the war.

Analysis of the Napoleonic War (1792-1815)

From the Napoleon’s campaigns, it is apparent that the blind natural force, i.e. the violence that propelled the French troops across Europe to fight in the war, did not emanate from the people of France, but from general Napoleon himself, who had control over the army, as well as the government.  Napoleon’s key military strategy was to identify and overcome the central force of the enemy. His aim was to break his opponents’ will to resist, making it easier for subsequent negotiations. This is evident in his own words when he said that he was confident that by crushing the central body of the enemy, the matters that followed would take care of themselves. Of importance to note, is the close attention he paid to choosing his generals, as well as how he calculated the logistical requirements of his campaigns. He also synchronized his operations by ensuring that his troops routinely used accurate watches and maps.

Napoleon’s unsuccessful invasion of Russia in 1812 that has led to the collapse of the French power was a blunder that historians blame on poor logistical planning. He concentrated on the general picture of the war, devising the overall plans for the battle and giving directions on combined attacks, but leaving the vital decisions of tactical employment to his soldiers. Being the head of the government, he used his powers to incorporate the military, diplomatic and political dimensions to help him to succeed in the war. Clausewitz's “Paradoxical Trinity” of government was largely employed in the war, as all events were controlled by Napoleon, who was the head of the French Government.

It can be said that the cooperation of the military and the government, was the reason behind Napoleon’s success in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The failure of the Peace of Amiens resulted in the British Government forming the “Third Coalition” which included Sweden, Austria and Russia in April of the same year. Following threats to attack Britain, General Napoleon sent over 200,000 troops to the East. He also invented the use of self-contained army corps. He used six corps, with each corps strong enough to work independently. This helped the troops to progress along a broader front, facilitating logistics and enhancing the pace at which they advanced. Napoleon was personally in Germany commanding his troops, and with the support of a majority of states in South Germany, he progressed to meet the Austrians who had taken over the control of Bavaria. Napoleon’s troops encircled the Austrians, who decided to surrender 30,000 of their men, without any fight, in Ulm. Following the surrender of Austrians, the Russians retreated. Napoleon’s then focused its attention on the Prussia troops who had plans of invading France but were unprepared. After the Peace of Pressburg came to an end, Napoleon declared war on Prussian soldiers, completely destroying them and earning an early success. As seen above, Napoleon, as the head of the government, was concerned with winning the war (purpose), and he used his powers to instruct his military officers on whom and when to attack. However, without the cooperation of the troops, the battle would not have been successful. Therefore, it can be said that the strong relationship between the French military commandants and their army and the Napoleon government has lead to the success of the Battle of Austerlitz.

Other than the use of military might, propaganda was also employed in fighting the Napoleonic War, especially in the French Revolution. The support of the masses was vital, and, therefore, British and French governments used propaganda to rally their citizens to have belief in their countries. Through propaganda, soldiers were encouraged to battle bravely, while civilians maintained working to provide their countries with everything they needed. The aim of propaganda was to create nationalism and loyalty in the people so that they would willingly want to fight and even die protecting their countries. The use of propaganda required the cooperation of the government and the people for it to be a successful strategy for winning the war. For instance, the British Government tried to create a bad picture of France in the minds of its citizens by making them believe that France was a bully, and that the French revolution was a foreign risk that was against changing the political ways of Europe. The British’s nationalist propaganda exploited the variations between French and Britain, successfully managing to convince the British nationals to hate France, even if they did not have a chance to find out the truth for themselves. Consequently, British nationals developed a strong love for their culture and country and fought to protect their country.

Napoleon also extensively and masterfully used propaganda to climb to power, legitimize his rule and establish his picture in the minds of his subjects as a symbol of posterity. His propaganda mechanisms involved severe censorship and exercising control over all aspects of art, books, theater, as well as the press. Napoleon’s aim was to be depicted as the person to bring peace and stability that was very much needed in France. It is important to take note of the gradual changes in the propaganda methods used during Napoleon’s reign. Initially, his focus was on his function as a soldier and a general in the army, but later on the propaganda changed to depict his role as a civic leader and emperor. He targeted the civilians to make them have a belief in him that he was the one to change France. Though it was unexpected, he managed to cultivate an association with the contemporary art community, even being actively involved in the commissioning and controlling every art production to achieve his propaganda goals.

In conclusion, I would say that all the three magnets of the paradoxical trinity were very influential in understanding the Napoleonic War (1792-1815). This is because the people, the military and the government were all dedicated to the success of the war. Even if general Napoleon was defeated in the end, he managed to succeed in some of the battles e.g. the Battle of Austerlitz. It was through cooperation and hard work of the military commandants and their army, and the people’s support that Napoleon managed to take over the rule of France and fought in the war. Therefore, the three magnets are inseparable, they are all important for the success of a war.

 

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