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The Evil of Napoleon

Updated on May 11, 2012

Throughout history and the many varieties of opinions we have developed over the years in regard to many historical figures, we as human like to identify the differences between those in the long human story as ‘evil’ or ‘good.’ One great and controversial example is the unprecedented and unequalled life of Napoleon Bonaparte.

France, at the time of Napoleon’s early ages, was at the stage of desperation. The kingdom had flourished under Louis XIV’s grand rule, but under the poor leadership of Louis XV and his son’s reign, was suffering like it had never seen before. They had just gotten revenge on Great Britain for previous losses by supporting the revolution of a small fledgling country in America, but took home many of the ideals that had founded the new country and chose to follow suit. The thing about turning the world’s oldest surviving monarchy into a republic overnight, however, is that you tend to have a problem with rebellion and corruption. Napoleon, with his military ranking baptized by the fire of revolution, offered to the new government what they needed more than anything: stability.

As an amateur historical and political analysis, I couldn’t hate the concept anymore. Napoleon is indeed seen as a monstrosity of a man, but the ignorance of such assumptions is simply not the case. Before making any assumptions about the French Emperor, first I’d like to first separate the fiction from the facts before I describe my own opinions any further.

Stereotypes

The stereotype today is more than well-known; Napoleon was a short man with an unquenchable thirst for power. He crowned himself emperor and raged war against the entirety of Europe, leaving a pathway of blood and destruction on his epic march from Paris to Moscow, from Naples to Cairo. Even as the works of Nostradamus become popular, the similarities of his “first antichrist” seem as though it were a biography of the life of Napoleon.

First and foremost, Napoleon was not really short. We like to picture Napoleon as a three-foot high midget screaming in anger at Bugs Bunny about the positioning of his cannons in the popular show “The Looney Tunes.” In all actuality, Napoleon was roughly five-foot, six-inches (1.69 meters). Although not the dwarf we half in mind, and shorter than many other historical generals such as George Washington (whose superior height surely did not make up for his lack competency in my opinion), Napoleon was depicted as much shorter than his actual height due to the rapid hatred of him by many British artists, who chose to shorten his height in compensation for deceased British soldiers.

Another stereotype we hold against Napoleon is his overwhelming ego. This one was, for the most part, true. France had come to depend on Napoleon far more than he required the assistance of them. With him came a return to the glory days of France with expansion of borders and a restoration of French prestige. Napoleon knew exactly what he was doing far more often than many other generals in history; far more often than George Washington for comparison. Although Napoleon’s ego outgrew his own good, it was well deserved. After all, when you’ve earned the love of your entire nation and the admiration of your rivals, you could afford a touch of cockiness, too.

Another common stereotype of Napoleon was his short temper (possibly alluding to the ‘shortness’ of his height). It is hard to determine the validity without going back and time and watching him have a temper-tantrum. In battle, Napoleon was always known for being calm and charismatic, strategizing and plotting each detail of the battle hours before ordering his men to move. At home, however, Napoleon was a family man. There was one incident in which he had discovered that while in his endeavors in Egypt, his first wife Josephine had had a romantic affair. Upon returning to his home in Paris, Napoleon locked his wife, her children (who were not biologically his), and the pet out of his home and refused to let them in. The following night, however, he calmed from his domestic rage and opened the door to allow his one and only companion reentry into his home. After all, it was cruel to force the dog, who had done nothing wrong, to sleep outside.

One of the most argumentative accusations was that Napoleon was a tyrant. By literal definition of a tyrant, an absolute ruler, this is true. By the common definition of a tyrant, a terrible dictator, this is slightly misguided. Napoleon owned his country like any other king. He was the commander and chief of the military, obviously, and he was the head of the executive branch, and the Chief of State, and many other things just like any ruler. Does this mean that he was a terrible leader? Absolutely not. He reinvented the law system in France and allowed it to expand around the world. This law system was used as an outline and major influence in forming later systems of law in France, but also in the American state of Louisiana and many more. He was loved by his people and saved the people of France. In this way, he is as much of a tyrant, if not less, as Alexander the Great to the Macedonians, or Augustus Caesar to the Romans, or Isabella to the Spanish, or Richard the Lionhearted to the English, or Catherine the Great to the Russians.

Dat Bad Ol' Napoleon!

Obviously, this part of the hub is completely opinion based, so if I offend anyone, please know that it is in satiric nature and in no case am I belittling anyone. If you want to hate my guts and call me an arrogant whatchamacallit, please don’t take everything so seriously. I’m not here to offend anyone’s beliefs or make fun of anyone, because I know I’m pretty dumb myself and I’m sure if I posted this on many other sites I’d be seen as a ‘troll’ and get my life threatened.

A modern accusation toward Napoleon was that he was an evil man and the first “antichrist” which was spoken of by Nostradamus’s prophets. For those who believe Nostradamus is a bunch of crap, this probably gives you the same reaction that it gives me: what the heck are you talking about? For those of you who believe in every prophecy created by Nostradamus, I have two things to tell you: 1) do you also believe in Ancient Aliens, too? and 2) I’ll see you 22 December 2012, after the world didn’t end.

Honestly, I cannot understand why the ignorant hatred of Napoleon would make him become seen as something as terrifying as the destroyer of the soul. Truly, this cannot be the man we place on the same level as Hitler? Napoleon was ambitious, much like plenty of other people. Hitler wanted to kill people based on religious affiliations! Napoleon had a dream to unify Europe to a single diverse country with him as the ruler; Hitler wanted to kill everyone who wasn’t Aryan. Napoleon left behind the legacy which stayed in the hearts of many during the Victorian Age; Hitler left behind a legacy of racism and hatred that made his very name illegal in Germany outside of a history classroom. Napoleon brought about the idea that a man could defy the social statuses and become the superior of kings through nothing but hard work and dedication; Hitler proved that with a golden tongue, you can sell hatred and racism to an entire nation. Napoleon used tactical genius to become a military legend; Hitler’s incompetency and arrogance lead the fall of his entire army at the hands of the Red Army.

In short, the true ‘evil’ of Napoleon was not his own actions or deeds. The evil of Napoleon is the slanderous and inaccurate use of insults we give to him. In my opinion, which has been solid through the time that I first discovered my love for history, Napoleon is the greatest hero in the story of Human History to date and remains a true inspiration for all those who wish to achieve greatness.

« Je ne suis pas le successeur de Louis XVI, mais de Charlemagne. » –Napoleon “I am not the successor of Louis XVI, but of Charlemagne.”

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