After Napoleon had won a tactical victory against the Russian army at Borodino, one of the bloodiest and most pointless battles in the history of the world, he stood waiting at the gates of Moscow to meet with a deputation of the city fathers.
He had been through this ceremony countless times before. The representatives of the well-to-do of the cities he had conquered came out and gave him the keys to the city and thereby avoided a riot of wanton looting.
He waited, hmm, hmmm, hmmmm. And he waited, hmmm, hmmmm, hmmmmm. And then he started to get a little nervous. And then he waited some more. No deputation. It never came. And it started to dawn on him, I think, that he was up against something he had never seen before, because he was too dense. The power of the Russian nation.
I don’t think he knew it right then, but he probably got a sneaking suspicion that his goose was cooked.
The Russian people had earned their nationhood fighting Genghis Khan. They were not in the habit of sending out deputations. For them, war was total war.
The declarations of Czar Alexander during this terrible drama are inspiring historical documents; he said he would not be the first to draw the sword, but he would be the last to sheath it, and he was as good as his word. His armies ended up in Paris.
When French troops entered Moscow, they couldn’t even find people to act as translators. The only people left were people who for one reason or other couldn’t leave. The only diplomatic contact the French had with the Russians was the head of the Moscow orphanage who had stayed behind to protect the children in his care.
Then, after the French had occupied the city, a brigade of carefully instructed incendiaries began their work, waiting for a ‘favorable’ wind, and burned it down around their ears.
Napoleon was never the same again, although he wasted millions more lives before he was done. If only he had realized what a mighty ally he had in Alexander’s Russia.