Modern war begins with Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1796, reinforced by his wars against Austria, Prussia, England and Russia in the next decade. Three aspects of Napoleonic war tell us it begins modernity. First there is terminology: the names used to describe it. For example ‘avant-garde’ was originally a French Revolutionary term meaning something that invades unknown territory, exposes itself to the dangers of sudden, shocking encounters, conquers as yet unoccupied land.1 With this phrase we are no longer in the safe world of eighteenth-century limited warfare, where armies under siege went home, soldiers did not fight in bad weather or at night, wars did not threaten the existence of states, and campaigns went on for years with only a few battles.
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