Friday, October 24, 2008

It's About Time

"Redeeming the time for the days are evil." ~ Ephesians 5:16

Who was the most written about person in the 19th century? Many would guess Abraham Lincoln, whose influence extends to this day. They would, of course, be wrong. Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, was a luminary at the beginning of that century, but likewise, to guess Jefferson would be an incorrect answer.

A few who know me may know the answer to this question, because I have written about this person and consider his achievements somewhat remarkable, even though we know him best for the major failure which was a turning point in his career. I speak here of Waterloo, and with that you have guessed I speak of Napoleon Bonaparte. By the end of the 19th century more than 100,000 books were written about Napoleon, his life, thought and achievements. Considering how little we know about our American presidents, it comes as know surprise that we know hardly anything of some of Europe’s past leaders such as Queen Victoria or Archduke Ferdinand... other than the names.

I discovered Napoleon while reading one of my several books about Ulysses S. Grant. It was in the preface of the book Grant Wins the War, a volume detailing his victory at the Battle of Vicksburg, that I learned what a brilliant general Napoleon was. The author, James R. Arnold, noted that military historians cited two battles from the Civil War as significant enough to be termed “brilliant” by the standards of leadership, strategy and implementation. One of these was Grant’s Vicksburg campaign, the other General Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah campaign. The author noted, almost as an aside, that of history’s top twenty battles, there were fourteen conceived and executed by the martial genius of Napoleon Bonaparte. Fourteen of the top twenty battles of history. It made me desirous to learn more.

What did he do and how did he do it? After doing a bit of research on the Internet I learned that the best single volume was a 1200 page book by a writer named Chandler called The Campaigns of Napoleon. Here are just a few insights from this volume which I feel worth sharing.

One thing I learned was that one of Napoleon’s greatest skills was translating theory into action. Indeed, he considered himself a man of action, and one who did not feel it necessary to always be original. He read extensively and borrowed from history.

According to Chandler he was "a developer and perfecter of the ideas of others." He drew his major ideas from books. "Read and meditate upon the wars of the great captains,” he said. “This is the only means of learning the art of war."

His attitude toward planning was interesting. Chandler writes that Napoleon was "extremely thorough in his planning. Very little was left to chance.” Yet, at the same time, he recognized Chance as a variable and believed every plan should allow a period of time to remedy or exploit the unpredictable.

Plan well, but be open to the unexpected, is as applicable to our personal lives as it is to any general. As the Proverb states, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Prov. 16:9) Or to paraphrase, “Man proposes, but God disposes.”

I find Napoleon’s attitude toward time to be most instructive. For Napoleon, the loss of time in war was irreparable. He considered strategy to be the art of making use of time & space. However, "space we can recover, time never." And my favorite of all Napoleonic quotes: "I may lose a battle but I shall never lose a minute."

You can always get money to replace lost money or goods. Lost time is lost forever.

I think this is what was meant by the quote above about redeeming the time, for the days are evil. Children have no concept of the brevity of life. It is only as we age that we begin to appreciate what a gift it can be. One day that gift will be all used up, and we shall not have the chance to re-do it.

As Napoleon once noted, "All that is to happen is written down. Our hour is marked and we cannot prolong it a minute longer than fate has predestined." Hence his efforts to seize hold of each day and make the most of it.
Good advice. Go and do likewise.


LEWagner said...

>>>>>>>>>>>As Napoleon once noted, "All that is to happen is written down. Our hour is marked and we cannot prolong it a minute longer than fate has predestined." Hence his efforts to seize hold of each day and make the most of it.
Good advice. Go and do likewise.

Well, I ain't never been, and don't plan on becoming, a warrior.
But, as my dad described his thoughts about me, TO me, one time, imitating my Grandpa Wagner's accent and syntax, "Gawd, dat's got a mout' on it!!"
And so, when anyone, anywhere, in any language, starts to get too big for his britches, I tell him so.
We'll see how that works out, in Lao, eh?

ENNYMAN said...

A little too thick on the bravura?

ENNYMAN said...

Actually, there is a war going on... a war of ideas. At the risk of oversimplification, many or most Americans are like sheep who are asleep, eating grass in their fields, chewing cud.

There are things happening in the world that the media doesn't cover, and out of sight out of mind.

There are things we can do (get informed, change our lifestyles) but we don't have the energy... it is so much easier to drift.