14 Mar 2020


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The French Army Crossing The Niemen’, 1812, (1896). French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) crossing the River Niemen during the invasion of Russia. Typogravure after the aquarelle by F De Myrbach. From Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Volume III, by William Milligan Sloane. [The Century Co., New York, 1896].

“Life is like invading Russia. A blitz start, massed shakos, plumes dancing like a flustered henhouse; a period of svelte progress recorded in ebullient despatches as the enemy falls back; then the beginning of a long, morale-sapping trudge with rations getting shorter and the first snowflakes upon your face. The enemy burns Moscow and you yield to General January, whose fingernails are very icicles. Bitter retreat. Harrying Cossacks. Eventually you fall beneath a boy-gunner’s grapeshot while crossing some Polish river not even marked on your general’s map.”

— Julian Barnes, Talking It Over.

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Fusil Darne

Hitler didn’t get that memo.


My theory is that the generals know from the outset that they must lose a large percentage of their army because their goal forces them to outrun their supplies. So they fight a war of attrition and if their calculation is right they might win even though they lose half their army. IMHO this is the problem with every organization, i.e. that their goal is some obscure measure of success when it should be to get to the end with their people and organization intact. Often that goal is merely the success of a few leaders and isn’t even a strategic goal at all. Sometimes the goal is an all or nothing gamble. Sometimes the goal is even contrary to the actions taken.


[…] Polish river not even marked on your general’s map. — Julian Barnes, Talking It Over.  Never Yet Melted » Life […]


You should (and I’m sure you are already familiar b with it) check out Minard’s infographic about this. Fascinating.


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