History Repeating

History Repeating

Hasn’t anyone ever read de Caulaincourt?

David Petraeus was on the TV this morning — hustling for more taxpayers’ money. The disgraced general (he gave national security secrets to his mistress, who put them in a book) was drumming up support for Ukraine…or more specifically, for buying more weapons from US military suppliers to send their way. Mr Petraeus is one of many spokesmen and shills for the war sector, one of the US’s biggest and most profitable industries.

For decades, the war mongers have kept the pot boiling, always looking for enemies — foreign and domestic. And this past February, they finally succeeded in goading Russia into war. The long, sorry history of government in Ukraine is beyond the scope of this blog. So, too, is it beyond the interest of Americans, generally. There couldn’t be more than a few dozen people in the whole US who care whether the Donetsk People’s Republic is controlled by the Ukrainians, by the Russians, or by the people themselves. 

One of the goals of the war industry has been to make Russia the ‘them’ that ‘us’ has to fight. Though, in 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker had promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would ‘not advance one inch to the East’, by 2022, it had pushed Putin’s back to the wall. NATO’s missiles in Ukraine were as unacceptable to Vladimir Putin in 2022 as Soviet missiles in Cuba were to John Kennedy in 1962. And when the Biden Administration brushed off his concerns, Putin took action. 

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows? But today, people all over Europe and the US are flying Ukrainian flags, listening to David Petraeus, and treating Volodymyr Zelenskyy like a war hero. Even from the pulpit, we were advised to pray for Ukrainians, but not for Russians.

Unremarkable allegiance

None of this is especially remarkable. In baseball and war, people take sides. Usually, they take whatever side is sold to them most successfully. During the First World War, for example, Americans could choose to take the side of France and Britain or of Germany. But England had cut the cable from Berlin to New York. All the news coming from the war was filtered through the British propaganda service. And it wasn’t long before Americans were stoning Dachshunds in the street and shooting foreigners in the mistaken belief that they were German nationals.

Also not remarkable is that the world’s leading empire is going after Russia. There must be something about Russia; like a chorus girl on the make for a rich, old man, she seems to attract degenerate empires.  

Charles XII of Sweden attacked Russia in 1708. He was an early proponent of the blitzkrieg — striking hard and moving fast with his cavalry. The Russians retreated, destroying all farm animals and food stocks as they went. Then, as they continued to pursue the Russians, the Swedes ran out of supplies. And in the final battle, at Poltava, the Swedes were decisively defeated. Only 543 Swedes escaped — including Charles XII himself — out of an original force of 40,000.

A century later, Napoleon repeated the adventure, but with 10 times as many men. Similarly, the Russians retreated…using their same scorched earth tactic. And then, reaching Moscow, but achieving no decisive victory, the French were forced to retreat — in the winter — across the vast steppes. The Russians counterattacked. The Cossacks harassed the fleeing French. ‘General Winter’ did his part. And by the time the survivors reached safety, approximately 380,000 French and allied troops had died.

Then, in 1941, Hitler couldn’t resist. Again, he upped the ante, committing 10 times the number of troops used by Napoleon — 3.8 million soldiers. Same story, more or less. And the same outcome. He retreated, leaving about one million dead.  

It was in his defeat that the amusing story was told.  

Lessons unlearned

Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt was a general in Napoleon’s army. He had previously been sent as a diplomat to Moscow and knew the country well. When Bonaparte announced his plan to conquer Russia, de Caulaincourt begged him not to do it. He described the distances, the poor roads, the savage, long-suffering people, and the unbearable weather. Still, Napoleon was determined to attack and took de Caulaincourt with him.  

Of course, all of the miseries de Caulaincourt warned about — and more — soon became apparent to the French and the general later recounted them in a delicious memoire, With Napoleon in Russia.

In 1944, German troops were rediscovering the hell that de Caulaincourt warned about. A group of German prisoners sat on the hard ground as Soviet troops prepared to interrogate them. A Soviet officer with a sense of humour approached them.  

What’s the matter with you people? Didn’t any of you read de Caulaincourt?

Curiously, at least one German general actually did have a copy of de Caulaincourt’s book, in his pocket, when he was captured at Stalingrad.

And now…Joe Biden and his allies have begun a ‘sanctions war’ against Russia, as well as a real shooting war, using the Ukrainians as proxies.

What could go wrong? Have they read de Caulaincourt?

More tomorrow…


Dan Denning Signature

Bill Bonner,
For The Daily Reckoning Australia