Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Russian Roulette Is Not The Same Without A Gun

November 1812, the French Emperor alone with his thoughts outside the Russian waypoint of Smolensk:

What does this mean this defeat? Am I not who I think I am? Am I not a man of war? Am I nothing but a fraud, a self-deceived angel? If so, I have no home! I have followed this path all my life. Why has it suddenly turned on me now like a civilized wolf who snaps and returns to the wild? This is not me but yet who else can I be? What is this voice that tells me I can yet be saved? Wishful thinking of the stars!

The journey is long and sorrowful. I must get my mind in order before Paris, before the truth arrives, before they find out I lost my self-assurance. What has happened to me? Have I gone too far at last? Do the dogs of war no longer obey my command? What is left for me to do? Qui m'aime me suive!


His million man army lost in the Russian snows, humiliated and defeated beyond lasting repair, forced to gallop ahead to Paris to deflect the horrible news, all of Napoleon's world was falling apart outside his control. His genius - his ability to focus his energies - had been ripped from his grasp as a fire hose held too far from the end directing water of its own volition. The emperor told himself that this slipping control was enough, that his now nominal say could sustain his power but...the truth lay elsewhere.

Napoleon kept his tears on the inside during the gallop of his desperate death. The cold cut his face but he enjoyed the biting wind keeping his mind sober. But what a cowardly ride! Leaving his men to their insufferable fates, he rode guiltily with the relief of escaping the nightmare they must still endure. If it were not such a grand admission he'd have every mirror in the palace removed, never to look upon his betraying face ever again. God, what a thought! How freeing to admit this was the end, game lost, give up the ghost! "I'm the god of war no more, nothing but a simple man." Yes, the mere thought flowed life and blood back into him.

But too many heavy cogs of men and duty had been set into motion. The emperor no longer served himself but his pride, his imagined legacy and the phantom of glory that waved at him like a red cape before a beleaguered bull. Napoleon refused to realize glory now played him like a snorting fool. The descent sloping into a permanent decline, his disregarded instincts correct, now the time to get off the ride. How hard could it be simply to resign? It could be done, one could put his kingdom up for sale though branded a loser for life. Couldn't one?

Never in his life had Napoleon entertained such thoughts. Like a drowning man desperate for a preserver, his soul thrashed in the water terrified of its nearness to death and fearing a master too weak to choose life. Life at this point forward to be something imagined, not lived, a mirage viewed from afar. Upon entering this new stage of his life he curled up like a child within, seeking succor from a heartless world which he helped create. But the one state secret he could never reveal, the one he must take to his grave above all others, the secret that would destroy his empire both for now and all time was the one yearning upon his mind at this time: Josephine.


"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."

It ended with her. I still remember the moment, like an angry gardener pulling the roots of the flowers from his garden, casting them off for reasons he cannot later explain. Who does these things? Was I someone capable of love after all? Have all my grand pursuits been a mere cover-up? I've been dead since the day I plucked those petals. I have yet to sleep in peace again and now with this Russian farce my insides have spilled into the outside. With my brilliant win at Austerlitz I thought perhaps I was invincible after all, that I did not need her, that there is life without love. What a thundering fool I am.

My stomach won't stop churning. I'm over-extended, the tentacles of my army reach beyond my grasp just as the love of my life slips away in a mocking unison. Can it be these battlefields are merely maps of my heart? Dear God in Heaven say it is not so! Does my Maker see the crown on my head for the dunce cap it truly is? The old saying is true: I once thought I was the wind bending the grass but now I find I'm the grass swept by the wind. I give orders as if I'm still in charge! Mon Dieu I pray my men don't find out the truth of their stillborn emperor.

It is my pride, no? I must let it go. I did not follow my true desires when I rebuked Josephine for her many heart wrenching affairs behind my back. I could never forgive her after I had bared my heart and soul to her, professing my love! All the heavens laughing at me and I literally the last to know. "Ah, that Napoleon! A lion on the battlefield, a cuckold in the bedroom!" Who can live with such whispers? How can I command? And the worst shame of all: my desire to stay with her - which burns a sink hole of shame deep inside me.

But this is a time for truth, my games have wrecked me! Admit it, mon emperor, the truth you did piece together. She was forced into the marriage by threat of financial ruin by that dog Barras who had motivations of his own. Say truly! Would not I have her attitude were I pushed into such a unlivable situation? She hates me, takes her resentment out with her many open lovers. And yet...when she sees my anger, my hurt, my broken heart, her heart changes and embraces me, quitting all adultery. Why did I not embrace her back? Instead, I reject her wholly and start affairs of mine own. What does that say of me?

She loves you. Speak freely now lest the winds shift anew! My forced Austrian wife suits me not. This entire Russian campaign that once seemed so necessary - would I even cared had Josephine been still by my side? Yes, I love her still! I can't escape I'm a simple man in a complex web! I want my home, my family and nothing else. How do I explain this to the French people? After this notorious disaster I must pretend a grand and pressing reason for losing hundreds of thousands mothers' sons. I cannot say I was simply off my head without Josephine, that life makes no sense without her.

How terrifying to see the darkness to become real before my very eyes! I can imagine no day in human misery worse than that hell's battle at Borodino. Never can I repeat that name without a poisoned pang in my heart! Those stupid, mad Russians, refusing all logic and reason. Just letting themselves be bombed like purposeless martyrs, standing clustered in defiant negativity but never giving way without taking a bite of me first. Which do they want: life or death?

"The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will
the communication between the senses and the mind."

But it's The Moment that haunts me most, just as when I pulled the flower of love from my garden. For the first time in my life I knew hesitation on the battlefield, afraid to make the decision to bring victory.

Why? Why?

Let us pray I die with my mind unrevealed! I keep reliving my moment of cowardice: "I'll not have my Old Guard destroyed so far from home!" I proclaimed it with such authority no one noticed it was against my better self whom I rebelled. Why did I not pursue at that crucial moment when I knew it to be true? Fear took my soul! I felt as if I was standing outside myself, apart from my will, watching me make a decision with which I disagreed. My liberalism is gone, I retreat into the false tactics of my enemies. Who spoke those words if not me? Words that became my eventual executioner.

Is it even moral to surrender? Is it not treason to the guild of the unhappy to find peace? The river flows one way and yet I paddle the opposite. Yes, I want to give in and let it take me where it will! Let the fools and the vain fight the current! I still remember  overhearing the Leftenant's story, catching his wife in bed with another man, and yet taking her back without shame or hesitation. What courage of life! Where has the river of life taken them, I wonder? What banquet of life did I leave on the table when I walked away from Josephine?

How I dread the lies I must tell when I get back. It's beyond me now. Everything is beyond me. I must give up. Leave the warring to others. They can have this crown of mockery, just leave me be! Why not choose the path of wisdom? Am I not known for making the best possible move? What a bold stroke of history it would make! "That Napoleon, he's his own man! He fears neither war nor peace." Yes, yes - those thoughts do soothe, returning to the Wise Me of old, the one who brought me so far. I shall not split in two again like I did at the Borodino catastrophe. I am Napoleon! I am one once more one with the light!


"Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest
to allow anyone to take her away from me."

But pride, fear and stubbornness won in the end as the general hastily resurrected an army as desperate as his heart upon his return, drawing another 400,000 from a tired, depleted population. Having split from his Wise Self (which could war no more), Napoleon's downward slide was inevitable no matter his efforts to pattern himself of old. As for Josephine, the ruler's love did return. Not the raging, romantic love shattered forever, but a respectful love, an appreciation of their broken connection. Too late they found a space in the other's heart. Soon after, when dying from diptheria, the name of Napoleon was the last word of Josephine, remembering their love lost.

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