People have always recognized Napoleon’s over-weening ego. Heck, we have a whole phrase for it, especially when applied to men of shorter stature: “Napoleon complex.” Still, Napoleon is generally admired for breaking down the last medieval walls on the European continent, both figuratively and literally. Also, people with a bone to pick against British Imperialism like the way in which he kept the British on their toes for decades. And considering that he lost to the imperialist power, he has the lovely smell about him of a victim of, yes, imperialism. In France, he’s lauded for breaking down social barriers and bringing about universal education. All of which leads to the “but….” sentence, explaining why we shouldn’t admire him too much.
It turns out that there is quite a big “but” to append to Napoleon’s accomplishments — and it may explain, beyond the shared idea of world domination, just why Hitler admired Napoleon so much. More than 120 years before Hitler, Napoleon was big on mass torture and genocide, including gassing 100,000 people to death using sulfur smoke in ship holds. As with the Nazis, Napoleon believed in collective punishment, public torture and execution, and the destruction of those races he deemed inferior (Caribbean blacks, and Turks).
It all makes for harrowing reading, and it reminds us, yet again, that a State has no conscience so that, once its leaders set a goal, there is nothing to stop their most extreme efforts to carry it out. Conscience resides in individuals, and when they are subordinated to the state, anything goes, no matter how foul.
Hat tip: Danny Lemieux