The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848

By Paul W. Schroeder | Go to book overview

9
Napoleon's war with his Empire, 1810-1812

LATE 1809 to mid-1812, like late 1940, was an interlude of Sitzkrieg, without new military campaigns or critical developments in those under way. Yet most of the era was tense with expectation of a new collision, this time between France and Russia. Many contemporaries believed, as some historians have argued since, that Napoleon brought on this great conflict because of his other failures and omissions. Had he not neglected the Spanish ulcer but seriously worked at ending it himself, or had he given his Continental System enough time to work, he might have won in the peninsula and even defeated Britain, and thereby kept Russia in line or at least had no reason to fight it. Failing to win these campaigns, or even to make an all- out effort to do so, he tried instead to save his Empire and bring Britain down by conquering Russia.

There is an important insight here: the decision to invade Russia did stem from profound problems in Napoleon's Empire and the way he dealt with them. However, his invasion of Russia was not a direct consequence of his failure to win in Spain or defeat Britain. In the first place, as will be seen, the main reasons he lost the contests in Spain and with Britain were not that he neglected good opportunities for victory. There were deeper organic reasons making the Spanish war very difficult for him to win and the one with Britain impossible. Essentially he lost these campaigns, as he ultimately lost half the campaigns he launched in his career, because he lacked the strategy and resources to win them.

In the second place, an invasion of Russia was never a reasonable or even half-plausible solution for Napoleon's difficulties with Spain, Britain, and his Empire. Virtually all Napoleon's adviser's knew this and told him so. Even a successful conquest of Russia (something very difficult to imagine) would not have solved his old difficulties and would have created new ones. A comparison of Napoleon's and Hitler's invasions of Russia may help make this clear. In a sense, as Andreas Hillgrubber, Klaus Hildebrand, and other scholars have shown, the strategic situation in which Hitler found himself in 1941 called for an attack on the

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