April 25, 2008

L’étendard sanglant est levé

The French are finally studying the lessons of Waterloo:

It was a defining moment in British history – a triumph that brought the crowning of a national hero and the end of a bitter foe.

And France is determined to ensure that it never happens again.

Almost two centuries after the Battle of Waterloo, senior army officers have been sent back to the scene of their predecessors’ humiliation. In all 38 spent a day analysing what went wrong for Napoleon in his bloody struggle with the Duke of Wellington.

Brigadier-General Vincent Desportes ordered strategists from France’s Armed Forces Employment Doctrine Centre to undertake the visit because “you learn more from your failures than from your successes”.

Lost in this article from the Times of London, though, is the fact that Vincent Desportes, the officer who ordered the visit, is a serious defense intellectual every measure the equal of his peers in the U.S. and UK armies. On Abu Muqawama's French COIN Reading List (which one of our readers was kind enough to contribute), Desportes's writings on stabilization and counter-insurgency make no fewer than five appearances. In fact, the more he thinks about it, Abu Muqawama is not sure the U.S. Army has a figure in its ranks quite like Brigadier-General Desportes, an intellectual who has published (a lot) and risen high in the ranks. In the British Army, Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely might be a rough equivalent.

Go here for more on evolving French Army doctrine, and here for more on Desportes.