Retour à Waterloo. Histoire militaire et théorie des jeux


Annales. Histoire, Sciences sociales

February 2008, vol. 63, n°1

Departments: Economics & Decision Sciences, GREGHEC (CNRS)

Waterloo revisited: Military history and game theoryThe paper suggests that military history, and more precisely campaign narratives in the manner of Clausewitz, should be subjected to game-theoretic and decision-theoretic modelling. It illustrates the method by revisiting the Waterloo campaign and the hypotheses made on Napoléon's failure. Historians disagree on the rational sense of his decision, on June 17th 1815, to launch Grouchy's detachment against the Prussians he had defeated on 16th at Ligny, but game theory can a certain extent settle their debate. Once this result is obtained, the paper moves up to the reflective and methodological plane. It compares the objections that can be raised against its formalization with those already made against the 'analytic narrative' school. Expanding on the answers, it investigates the conflict between the mathematical models of rational choice and narratives ' the historian's canonical mode of expression. After analyzing the concepts of a narrative (in general), an explanatory narrative and a model, the paper eventually argues for a reconciliation.