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Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte to me is a mysterious, mesmerizing, intoxicating, overblown character. He, like all overblown persons, “over-blew” himself. Carl Jung called this  “inflation”–a characteristic of personality. I have to give it to him, though. He was eloquent and grand in his rhetoric. It appears he had a great power of persuasion with rousing speeches to his armies. He even turned his poetry on himself. Jules Bertaut attributes this to Napoleon: “I am the instrument of providence. She will use me as long as I accomplish her designs, then she will break me like a glass.” [Source: Napoleon : In His Own Words (1916) edited by Jules Bertaut, as translated by Herbert Edward Law and Charles Lincoln Rhodes]

Yes, sure–“he boasted of throwing down to anchor French society–the much admired legal code, the administrative centralization, the Court of Auditors, the lycees, the public works–survive to this day.” [Source: Ferdinand Mount, The New York Review of Books, April 4, 2019, p. 38-40]

During the wars he waged in Europe, Napoleon gets credit for expanding the French revolution release of Jews from the ghettos. He lifted laws that limited Jews’ rights to property, worship, and certain occupations. [wikipedia Napoleon and the Jews]

On the down side, Napoleon sent his military to the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue in 1802-1803 to restore slavery and impose French rule. But because yellow fever destroyed his army his plans evaporated. This led to positive events in spite of his insensitivity about slavery: Haitian independence and ultimately the Louisiana Purchase. [Frank M. Snowden. Epidemics and Society, Yale University Press, 2019, p.6.]

And what of the sending off “of droves of cannon fodder on each campaign despite huge casualties and widespread desertions and evasion of the draft?” [Mount]

“…military deaths are invariably put at between 2.5 million and 3.5 million, civilian death tolls vary from 750,000 to 3 million. Thus estimates of total dead, both military and civilian, range from 3,250,000 to 6,500,000.” [Source: Napoleonic War Casualties]

“One suddenly perceives a strange emptiness at Napoleon’s core, a lack of any real purpose beyond gaining and retaining power. What exactly are his armies plowing through the sands of Syria and the snows of Russia for? Never has the term ‘ego trip’ seemed more fitting.” [Mount]

At last, what could THEY have been thinking, that THEY dug up his long dead body at Saint Helena, carted it back to Paris, and installed it in a grand, imperial sarcophagus? 



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