This morning the world found out that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an event that immediately sent reverberations around the world. Hours after he received the news he had to call together his security team moving closer to making decisions in the ongoing war in Afghanistan. This is symbolic in our current world of the ongoing saga of war and peace that has been part of our world from time immemorial.
Tolstoy immortalized the words War and Peace in his book written in the middle of the 19th century of the same title. I started reading this book last year as it is obviously an icon of literature which I had never read. I'm not finished with it yet, but I'm at least halfway through and I find it immensely satisfying. Towards the beginning of the book he describes the particular battle of Austerlitz where Napoleon personally encountered the Emperor of Russia and the Emperor of Austria, and became famous throughout Europe for his military victory over these two great powers at that time. I realized I had no idea what Napoleon had done in his career, except that he had conquered most of Europe and left his imprint on many parts of society (as Julius Caesar had done centuries earlier).
I decided to read a biography of Napoleon and then chose one written not too long ago by an American military historian Robert Asprey, whose account of Napoleon was quite readable, but, as they say in the political jargon originated in the "infamous" debate between Lloyd Bentson and Dan Quayle, Asprey was no William Manchester or David McCullough. I learned a lot about Napoleon which I didn't know at all before. The picture posted in this blog is a city street in Verona in northern Italy, and Napoleon made his first entry onto the world stage in northern Italy fighting battles against the Austrian Empire, which was the power and force in northern Italy at that time. But I didn't really know that after the French Revolution, when Napoleon began his career, almost all of the great powers in Europe outside France, this included England and Austria in particular, attacked France because the establishment of the republican form of government, modeled on the United States, was a threat to all of the monarchies in Europe. This account reminded me vividly of the time when Israel was established and all of the Arab countries attacked at once, because Israel was a similar threat to the Arab hegemony in that region at that time.
Napoleon went from rags to riches and became very arrogant with the power that he obtained. An example of this is when on June 12, 1812 Napoleon decided to invade Russia, and crossed the river which was the boundary between Poland and Russia at that time. Emperor Alexander was attending a ball in the city of Vilnius (Lithuania), and sent a letter to Napoleon asking him to stop the military activity, that they could sort out their differences, and he would welcome an early answer to this letter. He sent a general with this written letter to deliver it personally to Napoleon. He wrote the letter with his aides in a study in the castle in Vilnius. The general attempted to deliver the letter to Napoleon who was on the Russian side of the river, and they gave him the runaround and said that he would get to see Napoleon soon, but he would have to wait and travel with the troops. After four days, Emperor Alexander having fled Vilnius, the general was received by Napoleon in the same castle in Vilnius and in the same study where the letter had been written! Of course Napoleon's arrogance was answered with a major defeat as he marched to Moscow and back losing almost all of his troops.
A final personal note. I was born at a time I personally didn't have to serve in the military. However three of my uncles (brothers of my mother) served in the second world war (Army, Navy, Marines), and my father-in-law as well in the German Navy. My younger brothers served in the Marines and in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and one of our closest friends, generation of our children, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force and visiting us this weekend. He has served in Saudi Arabia as well as Iraq last year. War and Peace may be abstract concepts, but they affect people and families around the world. I'm so thankful the Cold War ended as a cold war, and my hope is that the conflicts of the world will gradually decrease as everyone realizes that we are a small planet with limited resources.