In war the general alone can judge of certain arrangements. It depends on him alone to conquer difficulties by his own superior talents and resolution.
Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon’s Art of War, Maxim LXVI
In an earlier post, I utilized a quote from Marcus Aurelius that encourages a person to ask for help, to not be afraid and accept that there are many occasions and circumstances we can not nor should we tackle alone. Friendship and community are one of the foundations to successfully quitting drinking. Hence why groups such as AA are as popular as they are. I could not have done this alone. Swallowing my pride and asking for help created a sense of courage in me that I knew that I had but was too stubborn to use. It’s hard to say if I would have discovered this fully on my own, but joining an AA group aided in the willingness to self-exam and lead me to that goal.
Napoleon Bonaparte has been called a giant for the ages. His military prowess is considered to be on a scale rarely seen before in human history. His sphere of influence encompassed not only the battlefield but law and governance as well. He was an incredibly hard worker, often sleeping for three hours or less a day. He had the tendency to nearly inhale is food, caring little for what he actually ate. As a member of a family of minor nobility on the island of Corsica, Napoleon began his military career during the early days of the French Revolution. Napoleon was fortunate enough to live during a time when individual merit was prized greater than or equal to a noble birth. Post-Revolution, Napoleon led marginally successful expeditions into Egypt and Palestine. On his return to Paris, he took control of the government in a bloodless coup, becoming the First Consul at the young age of 30. In 1804, he proclaimed himself sole emperor to solidify his control. He wielded that much power and popularity; his rule was virtually unquestioned. According to a contemporary observer, Madame de Rémusat, “men worn out by the Revolution…looked for the domination of an able ruler” and “people believed quite sincerely that Bonaparte, whether as consul or emperor, would exert his authority and save [them] from the perils of anarchy”. The next 15 years witnessed his nearly complete takeover of a majority of continental Europe. Strings of victories led him to overreach with an abortive campaign into Russia in 1812. His decisive loss at Waterloo in 1815 was the beginning of his ultimate demise, leading to his exile on the island of St. Helena, where he died on May 5, 1821.
As Napoleon aged, his health began to decline, causing serious physical and mental deterioration. Sources show that he suffered from severe headaches, high blood pressure, chronic hemorrhoids, somnolence and lethargy. He may have contracted a form acute infective liver disease that was endemic to St. Helena.
The official cause of Napoleon’s death is stomach cancer. but scientists found something very interesting in analysis of his hair. Deadly levels of arsenic were found in locks of his hair, although poisoning seems improbable. There are a few hypotheses that stated that Napoleon, known for being less than faithful to his wife, may have contracted syphilis, of which arsenic has historically been used as a treatment of that disease.
The first few times I read this maxim by Napoleon, the word “alone” stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the sentence. Perhaps because I can’t imagine getting sober alone now that I have built the support team I have. I have learned, through prior attempts, that going it alone on sobriety was bound to fail. I’m sure there are folks that have the strength, determination, and will power to quit by themselves, but in my opinion, having a group of people who help you through the hard times and hold you accountable are tantamount to success.
The truth of the matter was that Bonaparte was not alone, he was at the top. He was the leader of a Grande Armee, thousands upon thousands of foot soldiers, cavalry and artillery. His decisions led his army into both victory and defeat. Win or lose, the decision and conclusions laid with him. The burden of the death toll lay solely on his soldiers if his officers obeyed his commands. I can only imagine what was going through Napoleon’s mind during the horrific retreat from Russia. Physically, he was surrounded by thousands, but mentally he stood alone in his decisions and the consequences of.
Napoleon stands as an example of one of the greatest military leaders throughout human history. He was a master tactician, able to command the respect of his troops and control the field of battle, more often than not in his favor. A series of mishaps late in his military career led to his ultimate demise. Pair that with disease and his death was imminent. However, even great men fall. We all live on borrowed time, time that never belonged to us in the first place. Reading the maxim again, “alone” doesn’t seem quite as stark. At the end of the day, I am thankful for my support system. But through all the tools I learn at AA and other sources, learning to control my battlefield of the mind is up to me. I am the one who realizes his addictive personality. I am the one who must control his anger, speech and behavior. I must stand accountable for my actions and rectify as many past transgressions as possible. I must learn to wield my tools and weapons given to me by my war council, just as a great general uses is talent and knowledge to place his artillery, set his infantry lines and send his cavalry in the best flanking direction. Consequently, I’ll pattern my battles less like Waterloo and more akin to Austerlitz!