Saturday, 6 August 2016

Napoleon Never Started A War

Hear me out.

A heavily romanticised portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, painted by Jacques-Louis David (1801)
Contrary to the often dramatised caricature of a mad, power-hungry & incredibly short Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte had never started a war during his time as emperor of the French.

In the space of 12 years (1803-1815), France was the target of seven international coalitions of European powers, determined to isolate and dismantle the French state for disrupting the status quo of European politics that had been thrown in disarray after the French revolution. All seven wars were declared upon France, not by it.

When confronted with war, Napoleon took to the offensive, that is a given. But how often in contemporary culture do we find ourselves briefly referring to Napoleon as "that crazy French guy who wanted world domination". In Franceshi & Weider's book on The Wars Against Napoleon: Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars (review), is is argued;
Napoleon had an ‘obsessive attachment to peace’, maintained his ‘intangible principle of avoiding conflicts’, never provoked a war, and never took the initiative in declaring war: even his invasion of Russia in June 1812 was a reluctant response to Tsar Alexander’s ultimatum of April 1812 which ‘in fact if not in law’ had established a state of hostilities between the two empires. - See more at: http://www.historytoday.com/ad-harvey/wars-against-napoleon#sthash.q9rB9qV7.dpuf
Napoleon had an ‘obsessive attachment to peace’, maintained his ‘intangible principle of avoiding conflicts’, never provoked a war, and never took the initiative in declaring war: even his invasion of Russia in June 1812 was a reluctant response to Tsar Alexander’s ultimatum of April 1812 which ‘in fact if not in law’ had established a state of hostilities between the two empires. - See more at: http://www.historytoday.com/ad-harvey/wars-against-napoleon#sthash.q9rB9qV7.dpuf
Napoleon had an ‘obsessive attachment to peace’, maintained his ‘intangible principle of avoiding conflicts’, never provoked a war, and never took the initiative in declaring war: even his invasion of Russia in June 1812 was a reluctant response to Tsar Alexander’s ultimatum of April 1812 which ‘in fact if not in law’ had established a state of hostilities between the two empires. - See more at: http://www.historytoday.com/ad-harvey/wars-against-napoleon#sthash.q9rB9qV7.dpuf
Napoleon had an ‘obsessive attachment to peace’, maintained his ‘intangible principle of avoiding conflicts’, never provoked a war, and never took the initiative in declaring war: even his invasion of Russia in June 1812 was a reluctant response to Tsar Alexander’s ultimatum of April 1812 which ‘in fact if not in law’ had established a state of hostilities between the two empires.
While of course his assembling of the Grande Armée (the largest standing army at the time) certainly doesn't rank well for his peacekeeping reputation nor does his unprecedented invasion of Russia, his motivation was the protection of his homeland. He often was quoted as saying "France before all else".

I'm not saying Napoleon not declaring war makes him a saint, perhaps he was egotistical (he did install himself & his own family upon several European thrones, after all). Hitler himself didn't declare a war until December 1941 (on the United States) two years into WWII. All I wish to say is to think of these casual biases. Somehow someway these biases have ingrained and disseminated themselves in popular culture; perhaps it is the result of clever propaganda, a case of the victors writing history, or simple, lazy misinformation.

Whatever the cause, the takeaway message is to HOW and WHY you think of historical figures in negative and positive views. After all, we're all bound to be biased.
Napoleon had an ‘obsessive attachment to peace’, maintained his ‘intangible principle of avoiding conflicts’, never provoked a war, and never took the initiative in declaring war: even his invasion of Russia in June 1812 was a reluctant response to Tsar Alexander’s ultimatum of April 1812 which ‘in fact if not in law’ had established a state of hostilities between the two empires. - See more at: http://www.historytoday.com/ad-harvey/wars-against-napoleon#sthash.q9rB9qV7.dpuf

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