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Friday, August 24, 2018

Marshal Ferdinand Foch: Napoleon

This is the closing part of a tribute from one great French soldier to another. The address was delivered before the tomb of Napoleon in Paris, on the one hundredth anniversary of his death, by Marshal Ferdinand Foch [1851-1929], on May 5, 1921.

If one considers that Napoleon revealed his powers in 1796 at the age of twenty-seven, it is plain that nature endowed him extraordinarily. These talents he applied unceasingly through the whole length of his prodigious career.

Through them he marks out his way along a resplendent path in the military annals of humanity. He carries his victorious eagles from the Alps to the Pyramids, and from the banks of the Tagus to those of the Moskova, surpassing in their flight the conquests of Alexander, of Hanni­bal and of Cæsar. Thus he remains the great leader, superior to all others in his prodigious genius, his need of activity, his nature, ardent to excess, which is always favorable to the profits of war but dangerous to the equilibrium of peace.

Thus he lifts the art of war far above all known heights, but this carries him to regions of dizziness. Identifying the greatness of the country with his own, he would rule the destinies of nations with arms, as if one could bring about the prosperity of the people from a succession of victories at grievous sacrifices. As if this people could live by glory instead of by labor. As if the conquered nations, deprived of their independence, would not rise some day to reconquer it, putting an end to a régime of force and presenting armies strong in numbers and invincible in the ardor of outraged justice. As if in a civilized world, moral right should not be greater than a power created entirely by force, however talented that force might be. In attempting this Napoleon himself goes down, not for lack of genius, but because he attempted the impossible, because he undertook with a France exhausted in every way, to bend to his laws a Europe already instructed by its misfortunes, and soon entirely in arms.

Decidedly, duty is common to all. Higher than commanding armies victoriously, there is our country to be served for her good as she under­stands it; there is justice to be respected everywhere. Above war there is peace.

Assuredly, the most gifted man errs who, in dealing with humanity, depends upon his own insight and intelligence and discards the moral law of society, created by respect for the individual, and those principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, the basis of our civilization, and the essence of Christianity.

Sire, sleep in peace; from the tomb itself you labor continually for France. At every danger to the country, our flags quiver at the passage of the Eagle. If our legions have returned victorious through the triumphal arch which you built, it is because the sword of Austerlitz marked out their direction, showing how to unite and lead the army that, won the victory. Your masterly lessons, your determined labors, remain indefea­sible examples. In studying them and meditating on them the art of war grows daily greater. It is only in the reverently and thoughtfully gathered rays of your immortal glory that generations of the distant future shall succeed in grasping the science of combat and the management of armies for the sacred cause of the defense of the country.

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