Saturday, July 26, 2008

Napoleon's Causality Cascade -- comte de La Pérouse

As part of a serial exploration of causality cascades that have profoundly changed the world, this first exposition will focus on a man very few people have heard of, but who may have indirectly changed the course of European History. For some definition, as described in a previous post, a causality cascade is an event that in perspective has snowballed into a force that effects the outcome of numerous subsequent events, and ultimately the course of history throughout the world. To fully embrace the concept, we must first have an elementary understanding of chaos theory. In essence, it's a mathematical theory that describes the behavior of complex systems in relation to the passage of time. For example, in a well known phenomenon called the butterfly effect, even the minimal perturbations of a butterfly's wings may effect the weather around the world. Similarly, a causality cascade can be thought of as a segment of chaos theory, but involving human related perturbations. Often these can be thought of as "what if" scenarios. For example, what if one of the early plots to assassinate Adolph Hitler was successful? How different would the world be today? Or in a related note, what if Hitler had been accepted to art school? Would he still have grown disillusioned? If we look at less influential individuals in the course of human history, we're less certain of their impact, whether directly or indirectly. For example, staying with our WWII example, what if we focus on the life of a Soviet soldier who escaped a sniper and survived? What if this lucky soldier had instead died? Now, assuming that this is a person who was not pivotal in any direct way to the course of human history, would the world be any different? In this instance, it's impossible to tell because perhaps his children or grandchildren somehow contributed to the world as we know it. Yet, it's also likely that perhaps there would be almost no perceptible difference in world history.

Our current Causality Cascade will focus on Napoleon and a little known explorer named Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. La Perouse was a French naval officer and explorer who idolized Capt. James Cooke, and also sailed in his footsteps around the Pacific. The passage between Japan and the Russian island of Sakhalin is named in his honor. In addition, he explored Alaska, California, and many Pacific Islands. In Samoa, he barely escaped injury, but a few of his crew were killed when they encountered hostile Samoans. His crew had a significant proportion of scientists, and he was highly successful in his mapping surveys. Sadly, after sending most of his writings and charts to England with some of his crew, he disappeared never to be heard from again.

The fascinating aspect of this story is that Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the sailors who applied for La Perouse's expedition to circumnavigate the world and help complete and complement the expeditions of Captain Cooke. At the time, Napoleon was a 16 year old second lieutenant from Paris' military academy seeking to serve in the navy, instead of the army, because of his prodigious knowledge of artillery and mathematics. These skills lent well towards a naval career, and had Napoleon made the short list on Le Perouse's circumglobal expedition, European history would probably have been much different. Would Napoleon have been one of those sailors killed by Samoans? Would he have disappeared along with the rest of La Perouse's crew? Would he have been one of the sailors sent to England with the charts and notes of La Perouse's? Had these events taken place, would the metric system be as wide spread around the world as it is today? Would the rise of nationalism take place at the rate it did? Without such a nationalistic uprising, would both World Wars have been delayed or even prevented? This is a true causality cascade. With Napoleons entry into La Perouse's expedition denied, his course in life was surely changed, and subsequently, the course of human history most definitively so.

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