“By now it was ten o’clock [in the night of December 5, 1812]. The Emperor rose, pressed their hands affectionately, embraced them, and withdrew… Outside he found a crowd of officers drawn up on either side of his path. His farewell to them was expressed by a sad forced smile, while their wishes for his success were confined to respectful gestures. He and Caulaincourt entered a closed carriage…” (source: Philippe-Paul de Ségur quoted in Scott Armstrong’s excellent Napoleon in Russia blog)
Why out of the blue do I suddenly restart a dormant blog – zenpolitics? And is there anything zen about this event? Well, it’s my birthday, and it’s 2012, so it’s two hundred years ago this evening that Napoleon bade farewell to his officers and to Moscow. Already underway was the most fearsome retreat of all time.
So over a birthday supper tonight in west London I will raise a glass to their memory, to tens of thousands out on the Russian steppes facing snow and despair, and the most bitter cold imaginable.
I feel so small compared to something so vast, but somehow connected with it. Of all the anniversaries associated with my birthday this one has always resonated most, and today, 200 years on, more than ever.
As for zen, maybe nothing so clearly illustrates the folly of conflict. But somehow that’s facile. 1812 was something else.