Napoleon is something of a puzzle. Almost every family in France lost a son in his wars -- and for what? What did France gain for all that blood? Nothing. He was as bad for France as Hitler was for Germany.
And yet Napoleon is still a hero in France while Hitler is decried in Germany. Why? They both lost so it can't be that. And there was a lot about Napoleon that one might normally dislike. He ran a police state, for instance. Dissent from his rule was swiftly dealt with. It was Napoleon who invented Fascism, not Mussolini. Mussolini just supplied the word for it. And like later fascists (including Hitler), Napoleon built up a personality cult around himself. Like later Communist dictators, he also circulated heroic images of himself.
But unlike Hitler, Napoleon was not much of a patriot. Hitler undoubtedly was a fervent German patriot and lover of his people but Napoleon was not. Largely because he was Corsican and not French, he spoke quite ill of France and the French -- at least in his early days. He shut up about that later on however.
Arthur Silber has put up some excerpts from the biography of Napoleon by Paul Johnson that show how very Fascist Napoleon indeed was:
"The [French] Revolution was a lesson in the power of evil to replace idealism, and Bonaparte was its ideal pupil. Moreover, the Revolution left behind itself a huge engine: administrative and legal machinery to repress the individual such as the monarchs of the ancien regime never dreamed of; a centralized power to organize national resources that no previous state had ever possessed; an absolute concentration of authority, first in a parliament, then in a committee, finally in a single tyrant, that had never been known before; and a universal teaching that such concentration expressed the general will of a united people, as laid down in due constitutional form, approved by referendum.
In effect, then, the Revolution created the modern totalitarian state, in all essentials, if on an experimental basis, more than a century before it came to its full and horrible fruition in the twentieth century."
And another of Bonaparte's policies shows him as a forerunner even in the racist aspects of Fascism:
"In Le Crime de Napoleon the historian Claude Ribbe recalls that the emperor brought back slavery in the French empire in 1802, a decade after it had been abolished by the Revolution. The decision led to brutal fighting in France's Caribbean colonies in which thousands died. Less well known, according to the book, is his imposition of racial laws in metropolitan France, which led to the internment of blacks and the forced break-up of inter-racial marriages".
And Napoleon was as brutal and unscrupulous as any other Far-Leftist (whether Fascist or Communist). We read:
In 1799 Napoleon was in the Middle east. He took 2,000 prisoners in Gaza. At Jaffa 3,000 defenders surrendered to the French on condition that their lives would be spared. Once in possession of Jaffa, Napoleon ordered the execution of all the prisoners from Jaffa and most of those from Gaza. To save bullets and gunpowder, Napoleon ordered his men to bayonet or drown the prisoners. There were reports of soldiers wading out to sea to finish off terrified women and children.
And more from Ribbe:
A French historian has caused uproar by claiming Napoleon provided the model for Hitler's Final Solution with the slaughter of more than 100,000 Caribbean slaves.Since Napoleon is still a French national hero, it is no wonder that the Nazis found it relatively easy to get the French to "collaborate" in World War II.
In The Crime of Napoleon, Claude Ribbe accuses the emperor of genocide, gassing rebellious blacks more than a century before the Nazis' extermination of the Jews.
His accusations refer to the extreme methods used to put down a ferocious uprising in Haiti at the start of the 19th century. Then known as San Domingo, the colony was considered a jewel of the French empire and to save it troops launched a campaign to kill all blacks aged over 12.
"In simple terms, Napoleon ordered the killing of as many blacks as possible in Haiti and Guadeloupe to be replaced by new, docile slaves from Africa," Ribbe said yesterday.
He said he had found accounts from officers who refused to take part in the massacres, especially the use of sulphur dioxide to kill slaves held in ships' holds.
So what is it, then, that the French still like about Napoleon? There can be only one answer: He gave a string of victories to a nation much more accustomed to defeats. At Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt the English gave France a hard time in the late medieval era and, much later, even the Sun King could not prevail against the first Duke of Marlborough. And we won't mention the humiliation at Sedan or Von Manstein's Blitzkrieg. The idolization of Napoleon is then rather pathetic: Clinging to the memory of a very bad man simply because French military victories are so rare.
And was he a military genius? Not really. The French revolution had produced a Volksturm (the whole nation at war) long before Hitler thought of it and the enthusiasm of such troops for a while swept all old-fashioned armies before it. And his disastrous invasion of Russia was plainly hubris, not genius. Even his acclaimed victory at Austerlitz was enabled by a very old stratagem. He secretly brought up fresh troops overnight so surprised his adversaries next morning. Using secrecy to surprise your enemy is of course as old as Hannibal at Trasimene and even Hannibal was not the first to think of it.
And his half-day hesitation at Waterloo gave the Prussians time to come up and turn the tide against him. The military genius in that affair was Gneisenau, the Prussian strategist.
So Napoleon is very much an idol with feet of clay. The continued high regard for him in France bespeaks a very flawed national morality. Americans go into spasms of indignation over just a word -- "nigger" -- but to the French a genocidal tyrant is a cool guy. And they think of themselves as a civilized people! They have considerable claims of cultural excellence. It's a pity that they can't be satisfied with that
UPDATE: Some amusing info about Napoleon's personal life here.