Monday, February 28, 2022

Hubris is costly - to everyone

 Hubrisexcessive pride or self-confidence.

I'm sure Sun Tzu had something to say about it as it relates to war but it has been too long since I read The Art of War. I never did wade through Clausewitz but he certainly would have had reason to comment on it as much as anyone since Napoleon is one of the finest examples.

Napoleon said "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake", so Kutuzov didn't. Napoleon made some of the most careful logistical preparations to supply his troops, yet Kutuzov knew Napoleon was beaten when he crossed the Nieman River with half a million men and invaded Russia.  He was over confident but faced conditions he had no knowledge of. Within 6 weeks half the men were dead from weather, disease and starvation. The supply trains couldn't keep up and there was no way that many troops and animals could live off the land as they had in western Europe.

Kutuzov could see no reason to fight and simply kept retreating, though there were smaller battles. Russian nobility were hungering for a fight since it meant glory and honour and all that stuff so Kutuzov was finally forced into meeting the French Army at Borodino. The Russians lost but Kutuzov won as he could easily replace his losses and Napoleon could not. Long vs short supply lines.

Napoleon had only 100,000 men when he entered a deserted Moscow in mid-September. He expected Alexander to sue for peace because that was how it was done. Alexander sat in St Petersburg while Napoleon strewed in an empty city. Who started the fire is debatable but the city burned and Napoleon pulled out. He had to go back the way he came as the Russian army blocked him from going a southern route. His men starved and froze. He arrived at the Berezina River with 40,000 men and 40,000 hangers on, picked up in Moscow. The Russian army under Chichagov was waiting for them and The Grande Armee took a heavy beating but Napoleon was allowed to escape.

Then the real cold weather set in and maybe 10,000 made it back to France

Hubris. Chichagov could have captured Napoleon but did not think it was important. This resulted in 3 more years of war and thousands of more lost lives. 

This is a very very abridged version. Wikipedia is a good initial reference. 

Tolstoy's War and Peace is a wonderful read and not a bad history of the war

1812: Napoleon's Russian Campaign by Richard K Klein is the comprehensive history I have read

National Museum in Poznan,  artist January Suchodolski 1866
the Battle of Borozina

Next blog with be on the ultimate Hubris - Operation 
Barbarossa, Hitler's Invasion of Russia


  1. It's time Russia got a taste of their own medicine.

    1. I'll get there. But Russia's hubris will cost them and Ukraine many thousands of lives before we are done.

  2. Have you seen Minard's map of Napoleon's Russian campaign? It gets cited in Statistics courses as a masterpiece of conveying data in a graphic that is understandable at a glance.

    1. Yes. Love it. Have looked at it many times. Didn't he invest that format?

  3. You must be still hunkering down and haven't had to pick up your bags and leave. Thanks for the history lesson. I know very little about Napoleon's conflicts. Glad you are OK.

  4. are you still safe? is there any fighting? you're not going to fight are you?

  5. I know very little about Russian History. I read one book on Catherine the great. It was some time ago.
    Coffee is on and stay safe


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