Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Napoleon in Moscow

This post has nothing to do with biking, or with the Promotion of Cycling in Canada petition which is headed towards 2500 signatures, and which you'll be able to sign with old fashioned ink at a few of the MEC Stores across the country in January and February, and at the Bloor and Danforth Grassroots Stores here in Toronto.

Instead, this is just something I found funny in my current book. I'm reading Moscow 1812 by Adam Zamoyski right now, and really enjoying it. He's a good writer and this is one of those episodes of history - of human suffering - that we here in North America in the 21st century just can't believe really happened.
WAIT - I've got a picture of the wrong Napoleon, this is the one I mean:

Actually, this isn't about Napoleon, this is actually about Francois Joseph Lefebvre, one of Napoleon's Marshalls on the Moscow campaign.

Here's the situation: Napoleon took about 450 000 soldiers into Russia without much of a plan for what to do when they got there. To his surprise the Russians didn't really want to fight, they let him go hang out in Moscow for a while, and then winter hit and the French start freezing and starving and they begin this unbelievably horrific retreat out of Moscow in late fall / early winter.
For lots of bad logistical reasons, they have no food, start throwing their guns away because they're too heavy to carry, their horses die by the thousands, and these poor bastards are reduced to eating stuff like this:
First melt some snow, of which you need a large quantity in order to produce a little water; then mix in the flour; then, in the absence of fat, put in some axle grease, and, in the absence of salt, some (gun)powder. Serve hot and eat when you are very hungry (pg 401).
Hell, these guys were doing even worse things, and cannibalism isn't even the one I'm thinking about and am too polite to describe here (think horsies).

Anyway, the French are dying like there's no tomorrow. They're walking barefoot through howling wind and snow, various Russian armies are lurking to the sides and behind them. Lots of the French are deserting and running to the Russians begging to be taken prisoner, and to stop this, to keep his troops together, Marshal Lefebvre gives his version of the classic old "morale boosting Hurrah Hurrah!" speech like the one in Henry V.
You know the one - Henry is at Agincourt and outnumbered by the French, Westmoreland laments that they don't have more men, and Henry (or rather Shakespeare) says:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

It's the speech that every war movie - from Braveheart to Lord of the Rings - tries to imitate. Anyway, this is Marshal Lefebvre's version in the snow in 1812 with his men starving to death.
"Grenadiers and Chasseurs, the cossacks are there, there, there and there," he said, gesturing to the four points of the compass. "If you do not follow me, you are f---ed. I am no ordinary general, and it is with good reason that in the army of the Moselle I was known as the Eternal Father. Grenadiers and Chasseurs, I say to you again: if you do not stay with me you are f---ed. And anyway, I don't care a f--k. You can all go and f--k yourselves." (pg.383).

And give the man credit, his unit stayed together better than most.

On a totally other topic, here's one example of why a bunch of us are vegetarians. And I'm resisting the urge to make an editorial comment, the whole story is just appalling.


mkmcintyre said...

Hi, Tuco -- it's Mary McIntyre here, the moderator of the Big.Ideas@OCAD blog.

Can you send me the hard copy of yr petition c/o, and I will get some pals to sign it!


Melissa said...

best speech.ever.