I am a bit miffed at Napoleon. The man had no sense of historic perspective. But, had he known that generations after he nearly conquered most of Europe folks would be quoting him as a an expert on U.S. agricultural policy, I feel certain he would have waxed a bit more eloquent and spent a bit more time thinking about what he was going to say and making certain he had every contingency covered before the pundits of his day got hold of his utterances and scribbled them down furiously with their goose quill pens.

As it is, however, anyone with a soapbox to stand on can use his words to support bad policy. Take Sen. Chuck Grassley (please), quoted in a recent Washington Post article that offered a fairly balanced account of proposed cuts to the agricultural budget.

The article states: “But Grassley has made clear that cotton lobbyists have a tough fight this year.”

And then this quote from the man who has never seen a farm payment he didn’t despise.

"We have a farm program for two reasons, and cotton doesn't fall into either. One is food security for the American people and the other is national defense," Grassley said. "Napoleon said an army moves on its stomach. I can't eat cotton."

Now, my point is that if Napoleon had been a bit more cognizant of his role in history and of his place as an icon of military strategic thinking (not counting Waterloo and that wintry trek into Russia) he would have provided a bit more detail for future military and agricultural policy experts to ponder.

For instance, Napoleon did not contend that his troops moved well fed but naked. Every painting I have ever seen of any of Napoleon’s famous battles, and those of the routs he suffered as well, depicted his soldiers as completely clad in fairly nifty uniforms. Not one naked soldier have I ever seen in any of the masterpieces hanging in the Louvre. Oh, there is the occasional bare bosomed goddess or female representative of freedom leading fully clad armies into battle, but the fighting men always had on some semblance of attire. In some cases, blouses (soldiers wore blouses back then, before shirts were invented) and pantaloons had been shot to rags and were bloody and probably smelled bad. But soldiers all had on clothes.

Nor do modern armies gulp down their MREs (meals, ready to eat in military parlance), grab their weapons and scamper off to battle in their all together. Perhaps wars would be considerably less frequent were that the case. How would one know who to shoot? But we have a fairly good industry in place to make uniforms, some of which include a goodly portion of COTTON.

So much for his assertion that cotton has no place in national defense.

Grassley’s comment speaks more to his misunderstanding of the country’s agricultural complex and the inner workings of a varied crop mix than it does to his astute knowledge of world history and national defense.

Of course he doesn’t eat cotton. But folks who grow cotton provide material for the clothing of the folks who grow corn, and peanuts and vegetables and beef. And some cotton products end up as food, either for human or animal consumption.

The Senator’s comment was unworthy of anyone in his position, unworthy of anyone who has any respect for the farm families that produce all kinds of crops to feed AND CLOTHE folks, and unworthy of anyone who claims to have the nation’s best interest at heart.

I was not around to watch Grassley’s interview with the Post reporter, but I suspect, as he made those comments, he was not naked.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com