General, Follow That Mouse!

The year is 1796.  Austrian forces attempting to route the seemingly invulnerable forces of French general Napoleon are standing white knuckled in a tent, contemplating their next move as all eyes are focused on a military expert tracing a route along a map of the region in an attempt to gain an edge on Napoleon Bonaparte’s war machine.  The fearless leader whose order thousands would follow?  A tiny grey mouse.  And the entire shape of European politics would later be shaped around the tiniest movements it made.

A mouse had been placed on the table at the army’s current position.  As they watched, it followed the valley and ultimately reached a position using a route the army would easily follow.  Napoleon was having a huge amount of success in the mountains where a war for the entire known western world was quickly becoming a battle with the most fundamental forces humanity had fought against since the dawn of time.  Napoleon’s greatest adversaries were not the armies he would fight, but hunger and the biting cold.  With the assistance of the mouse, the Austrian forces would have their battle plan and march on Napoleon’s army.  Unfortunately for the Austrian forces, and to the complete indifference of the mouse itself Napoleon would annihilate the Austrian forces commenting later that he was surprised to find out that the whole of Europe rested in the paws of a humble mouse.

But why would generals use a mouse to guide their forces?  Divination has been used with varying levels of success throughout military history.  At the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa led his forces against Marc Antony and Cleopatra, but not before first consulting his personal astrologer Theogenes who gave him portents of victory.  And Targuinius Superbus, the Etruscan king of Rome was routed by Lucius Junius Brutus (not to be confused with Marcus Brutus of Shakespeare fame) after consulting the stars as well.  Unfortunately, the power of the stars would turn against Lucius Junius Brutus in his later years as they advised him to kill his own sons, which he did in a moment of rage and despair.  And even more recent generals have been known to consult the stars.  The Myanmar junta has been known to rely on omens and astrology to guide its actions.

The chaos of the universe from which humanity has carved an order of society and civilization is particularly interesting when looking at the borders on a map.  These borders, which have been around for centuries in many cases are carved often by military conquest.  And when one thinks that the entire fate of the Napoleonic wars could have had a different outcome based on the tiniest movements of a mouse, the most important political shift before the two World Wars just seems all the more incredible.  Borders may seem permanent now, but the footsteps of the humblest of creatures could have changed them forever.