Many Americans don’t seem to realize that to a large degree our independence is the direct result of the seemingly constant warfare that wracked Europe during the second half of the 18th Century and first part of the 19th Century.
The US would likely never have succeeded in their bid for independence from Great Britain if arch-foe France hadn’t thrown its support behind the Americans.
And British attempts to defeat the US in the War of 1812 were hindered by the fact that Great Britain was battling France in the seemingly endless Napoleonic Wars, preventing the English from bringing the full brunt of their forces to bear on the US.
But, as Walter Russell Mead, the author of the “The Napoleonic Wars,” points out, Americans would do well to study the Napoleonic Wars as they may be a harbinger of things to come.
“In some ways, the Napoleonic Wars seem very alien to us. Americans are, mostly, used to short and simple wars. Our three greatest military conflicts — the Civil War, World War One and World War Two — were relatively short. After some initial setbacks, victory came relatively swiftly; we never suffered the shattering setbacks that drove the British out of Europe during the Napoleonic wars as coalition after coalition went down to defeat …. The Cold War was the longest and most complex international contest in which the United States has ever engaged as a leading protagonist, and that conflict was less intense and less complicated than the Anglo-French conflict of 1792-1815 … But ever since the end of the Cold War, the world has been trending back toward the kind of kaleidoscopic politics of 18th and 19th century Europe and away from the more stable configurations of the late twentieth century. With no single great power threat to the world order currently on stage and a variety of issues agitating international politics, many countries are exploring new options and testing new partners. While the world hopefully is not on the road to another global conflict on a Napoleonic scale anytime soon, Americans need to prepare for an era of changing coalitions and individualistic and prickly great and middle powers seeking to elbow their way onto center stage.”
(Above: La bataille d’Austerlitz, François Pascal Simon Gérard, 1810)