The words took everyone by surprise. Here was the emperor, who as a commander had bestowed upon France its biggest victories and known for using his might and mind power to win wars rather than relying on divine interventions. Yet he had just uttered some obnoxious-sounding words.
Army chief commanders, along with Emperor Napoleon, were considering the list of generals to be honoured and promoted for key positions. On hearing a particular name being recommended by other generals, Napoleon turned to them and asked, ‘I know he’s a competent general and an astute leader, but is he lucky?’ Looking at other generals gaping in shock at his words, Napoleon added, ‘I would rather have a general who’s lucky than one who is good.’
The statement didn’t help placate the generals. They were flabbergasted as to how a war veteran can even talk in such a manner. That too, Napoleon? Understanding their predicament, he stated, ‘I’ve closely observed the finest generals plan and execute with precision during extremely trying conditions on the battlefield.
Each one of you belongs to that category of warriors who understand battles like the back of one’s hand. However, I’ve fought enough battles to see beyond what’s obvious. There are circumstances where even an immaculately drawn plan fails. Who aids us in such crisis? The general populace attributes it to divine force, while some call it destiny and a few term it luck. Having lived our lives by the edge of swords, guns and bayonets, we might scoff at it, but it’s something that I cannot outright deny. Despite all the victories that I’m credited with, I cannot ignore the luck factor playing a crucial part.’
This incident has not been validated by historians, and a few ascribe the statement to Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France in the 17th century. Even if the latter were true, we cannot deny Napoleon ruling out possibilities of events unfolding that were beyond his ability. There are instances galore of him citing luck in his achievements, even calling his lady love, Josephine, his lucky charm.
Let’s understand what one of the greatest commanders in modern history means when he proclaims this. When we hog the limelight by taking credit for our achievements, let us be cognisant of the fact that there’s an element of luck or divine hand that definitely plays a crucial part in them.