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From Napoleon to Armageddon

At 3 A.M. of March 31, 1814, on the way from Paris to Fontainebleau where he shall abdicate, he writes: “My health is good. I suffer from what you must suffer (Je souffre de ce que tu dois souffrir.)” And after the abdication, before the departure to the Island of Elba where she refused to follow him, he writes to her: “Your pains are all in my heart; they are the only ones I cannot bear. Try then to overcome adversity…You have at least a house and a beautiful country, while the trip to my Island of Elba would tire you and I would bore you, which is as it should be, since I will be older while you are still young…” Even Marie-Louise’s liaison with Count Neipperg from which a son issued did not extinguish his tender feelings toward her. So in his will he could say that he retained for her “to my last moment, the most tender sentiment.”

Napoleon’s feelings for his son duplicate those toward Marie-Louise. He wanted a son, as he wanted a wife who could bear him a son, for reasons of state. He who destroyed most of the monarchies of Europe and humbled those which he did not destroy, by marshaling against them that self-same popular nationalism that was to be his undoing, wanted to assure his empire monarchical immortality by leaving a monarchically legitimate heir. But once that son, conceived in political calculation, was born, he became the object of a father’s passionate love. Again, Napoleon’s letters from the Russian campaign—curious, concerned, playful in turn—testify to this. Combining the imperial and the personal, he leaves to his son in his will: “My arms, that is, my sword, the one I carried at Austerlitz…My gold dressing case, the one that served me on the morning of Ulm, of Austerlitz, of Jena, of Eulau, of Friedland, of the Island of Lobau, of the Moskwa, of Montmirail. In view of this, I wish that it will be precious to my son.”

What I have said here about Napoleon is made visible in these exhibitions. The profusion of objects, both private and public, lovingly preserved and intelligently displayed, conveys an illusion of immediate participation which is instructive and moving. Here is the bed Napoleon shared with Josephine, here is the bed in which he slept before the battle of Austerlitz, here is the bed in which he died. Here is the briefcase he used as First Consul, the map which served him during the battle of Waterloo, the white hat he wore on St. Helena, the last handkerchief he used before his death, and the report on his autopsy.

For me, the most revealing of all the exhibits is a triple portrait of Napoleon, reproduced on the opposite page, sketched without his knowledge by Girodet on April 13, 1812, in the theatre of St. Cloud. In the first, Napoleon is asleep; in the second, he awakens with a start; in the third, he watches with a Mona Lisa-like smile. Here he is no longer a condottieri of the quatrocento, as he appears in the early pictures, or the performer in the role of general, statesman, or emperor, as in the posed ones of the middle period. He saw himself as the successor of Caesar and Charlemagne. Here he reveals himself, in all the power of his will and mind and in his sybaritic sensuality, as what he really was: the last of the Roman emperors.

II

I flew from Paris to Leningrad in a Soviet plane, whose passengers were composed of two groups: a delegation of Russian technicians and members of a Soviet youth organization who enjoyed an emotional send-off from their French comrades. While the plane taxied for takeoff, the youth group sang, and it clapped when the plane left the ground. They sang again when the plane descended for landing—between two Russian songs a solo voice rang out to the tune of “We Shall Overcome”—and clapped when it touched ground. I was uncomfortably reminded of the passengers on Spanish and Mexican planes, who on takeoff and landing made the sign of the cross and said special prayers. On both occasions confidence in the technical prowess of the crew obviously needed strengthening from some extraneous quarter.

Leningrad is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But it is not so easy as it is with other cities to define in what its sublime beauty consists. No single building can be called an architectural masterpiece, but the city as a whole is certainly a masterpiece. First of all, the city has almost complete unity of style. Its austere baroque blends easily into the pure classicism of the buildings of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That style is unfailingly graceful and elegant. These qualities are enhanced by the judicious use of color—yellow, brown, blue—on the façade of many buildings. And they are hardly impaired by the existence of a business district on Neva Prospect; for, by virtue of the essentially non-competitive system of retail distribution, stores do not intrude into the physiognomy of the city but rather blend unobtrusively into its architecture. You walk on Neva Prospect and come across a stately mansion whose ground floor is illuminated; you look into a window and see that they sell meat there. Aside from the light, the presence of the queues indicates the opportunity for something to be bought. You enter a church and find yourself engulfed by the hot and humid air of a swimming pool.

Peter the Great conceived the city as a northern Venice (in truth, it is a composite of Venice and Paris). Lenin only worked there, and there is no monument, except posthumous statues, testifying to his presence. But the Soviet government deserves praise for the care and unfailing taste with which it rebuilt the city as well as the palaces outside the city, such as Pushkin, the former Tsarskoe Selo, which suffered such vast destruction in the Second World War.

It is of course obligatory to visit the Hermitage, and for a good reason; the quality and quantity of its holdings compare only with the Louvre. The place swarms with visitors, single and in groups, who concentrate in the classical and Rembrandt galleries. Viewing the Rembrandts, I found myself in the proximity of a score or so of East Germans under the tutelage of a German guide of about thirty years of age. The group paused before the picture of an old man named Goldschmidt, wearing a cap, and the guide explained that Rembrandt had to paint many Jewish types since he was indebted to Jewish usurers. “Probably at 12 percent a year,” one member of the group chimed in and another discoursed gravely on Rembrandt’s stringent circumstances and bankruptcy, implying that the Jews had done him in. I looked into the faces of these people and saw there the same smirking, gleeful hatred from which I had fled thirty-eight years ago. I could not but marvel, as I had done so often before, at the persistence of national attitudes that survive radical changes in ideology and institutions.

The contrast between these galleries and the ones that house the Impressionists, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso is not only artistic. While the former swarm with people, the latter are deserted. I spent more than half an hour in them and encountered just one other visitor. This kind of art is obviously off limits for guided tours.

III

The first Pugwash Conference was convened nineteen years ago by Cyrus Eaton on his estate in Nova Scotia for the purpose of promoting peace between the United States and the Soviet Union through periodic dialogues of their respective scientists. It is of course fallacious to assume that scientists, presumably having the same intellectual interests, are able to formulate and settle political problems on the common ground of scientific analysis. Science, far from defusing politics, becomes infused with it. This was inevitable from the very outset and became more pronounced with the addition of scientists and social scientists from a great number of different countries. While thus Pugwash conferences could never achieve their original purpose, they have, however, been useful on three counts. Since the rules of the conferences protect the confidential character of the discussions and resolutions. I must limit myself to some general observations.

First, scientists of different nations have been able, by reaching a consensus at Pugwash conferences, to give authoritative weight to evaluations and recommendations of a scientific nature. Second, a politically astute observer, by watching and listening carefully at Pugwash conferences, can isolate the main political interests of the major powers and detect the methods, sometimes quite ruthless, with which they support these interests. This assessment has been particularly revealing in the case of scientists whose statements and votes are coordinated by political authority and closely supervised and directed by the latter’s representatives on the spot. Third, informal discussions between sessions and at social gatherings give one an insight into the thought processes, opinions, and purposes of the representatives of other nations which may support, contradict, or modify the assessments one has made on other grounds.

The 1969 Conference, attended by 101 scientists from twenty-nine countries, was dedicated to “World Security, Disarmament and Development.” Its main contribution was to nuclear arms control and disarmament, and this is of course primarily a matter between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the past, the main quality of the nuclear dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union as well as among other nations has been the gap in sophisticated understanding between the United States and the rest. This gap has been the result of the historic fact that the United States became a nuclear power long before anyone else and, hence, at least some of its strategists were ahead in assimilating into its thinking the unprecedented novelty of nuclear weapons and their military and political consequences.

Even so, General LeMay, a former chief of staff of the United States Air Force, could say in the fall of 1968 that a nuclear weapon is just another weapon, and the present chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Wheeler, has defined United States strategic aims in a nuclear war as “to terminate hostilities…under conditions of relative advantage while limiting damage to the United States.” “Damage-limiting capability” carries the implication of being ahead in a nuclear war even though it is admitted that this is not the same as winning it. On the other hand, Soviet military doctrine at one time maintained that the Third World War would not be decided by the initial nuclear exchange but by the conventional so-called “broken-back war” following it; and one can still read today in Soviet military journals articles by generals asserting that a nuclear war can be won in the conventional sense. I remember how amused I was a few years ago when the chairman of the military committee of the French Chamber of Deputies assured the German participants in a private conference that the French nuclear force would defend Germany against the Soviet Union!

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