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Perspectives on Napoleon

Perspectives on Napoleon

Are there lessons to be learned from Napoleon?

Mortier (Maryland):

Napoleon rarely wavered and in many instances, this was what secured him success. From this, we can conclude that it is better to be confidant but not pompous rather than being overly modest and hesitant. Speed is also something he employed to his full advantage, and all of us should try to upgrade our speed at all things to which this principle is applicable.

Another principle we can glimpse from Napoleon is to never have too many enemies at once. Ultimately, he was overwhelmed because he antagonized too many nations and people. One must choose ones battles carefully and only advance when the prospects and prospective gains of victory outshadow the possiblity and consequences of defeat.

Never try to be something that you are not is another fact we obtain from Napoleon. He thought that he would be accepted into the circle of European monarchs once he became emperor and he was utterly mistaken. If he had always remained First Consul for life, he could have held his power indefinitely since many more non-French would have supported him, making his conquests and occupation facile. His son could have inherited this position...

To leave and cut our loses is one more lesson we draw from Napoleon. Many times, such as right after he took Moscow, Napoleon could have retreated rapidly to preserve the majority of his forces so that they could fight another day, which he didn't. As Chairman Mao commented, "The human factor is essential for any great undertaking." Also, an ancient Chinese book of war entitled "Thirty-six Strategms for the Deceptive Art of War" states, "The best option is to flee."

These are merely a few basic lessons from the myriad ones that we can draw from the deeds and person of Napoleon. Vive l' empereur!

Tom (Texas):

Napoleon curbed the irrationalities and terror that plagued France after the French Revolution which, but for, the order Napoleon imposed through force, threaten to cause France to degenerate into anarchy and mob violence. Napoleon quelled this with force of arms (political power grows out of the barrel of a gun). Having stopped the senseless violence, France stabilized and progressed forward with "ordered liberty". That was an improvement to be sure which is probably why the masses supported him so loyally. They saw that backing Napoleon improved their lot. The ideals of the Revolution were legalized via the Code Napoleon. Certainly an improvement over the fuedal lord and vassal situation. But, having brought France back from the brink of civil disorder and legalizing the ideals of the revolution, Napoleon's ambition, ego and thirst for glory began a paroxsym of wars. These wars inflicted massive and untold suffering. Other countries raised their armies against him to protect themselves from France's desire to impose their political will upon them. To this extent, Napoleon, who started so nobly, degenerated into a cruel warmonger who, with the deluded French masses, caused unnecessary wars of aggression. At that point, I submit, Napoleon was no better than a war criminal under the Nueremberg principle---namely, starting wars of aggression constitutes a war crime. So, the lesson to be learned: stop when you are ahead; power tends to corrupt; and, wars of aggression are war crimes. Had Napoleon just been content with ruling France, its shining example, wealth, and prestige as a model nation state, sooner or later, would have inspired others to democratize and emulate "liberty, fraternity and equality". Forcing others is a crime and tyrannical.

Kenneth (California):

Yes there are! After his defeat and exile to St. Helena, he showed that he can rewrite history or change it to immortalize his own name even after he is long gone from this world. He understood that immortality can be achieved by making himself the stuff of legends. Legends that would occupy the minds of men for years to come. He was also able to cover up his tyrannical character with his more benevolent and often glorious accomplishment. Not many leaders of state can do in today's politics. Napoleon was defeated but it seems that his spirit lives on.

Jane (Colorado):

I thought this movie was excellent. There are endless governmental lessons to be learned from his rule. What I received more than anything from this movie was the feeling of courage and determination, with no fear. What a man can do if he/she is driven to do so. I do believe Napolean was set for greatness is some sort of way. Only God knows mistakes that could or could not have been. I do not know enough about government issues to comment on that. Overall, kind of intriguing!

Michael (New Jersey):

Obviously the first lesson to be learnt in life and politics is that there is a limit to how much power a dictator can amass and hold during his/her reign. Why was Napoleon so ambitious and power hungry that he had to try to rule the whole of europe when he was already the ruler of the most powerful and rich country at that time? Why did a humble Corsican want to be a demigod and elevate all his family to similiar positions? Why would Napoleon make so many obvious and fatal errors in judgement both militarily and politically? The answers to these questions is simply a greed for power and still more power. To all those dictators still hiding under the guise of democracy, especially in the third world, my advice is to order a set of the PBS videos and keep them on their golden bedside tables, together with a copy of "The Prince" by Machiavelli. They will definitely need both, sooner rather than later.

Addison (Virginia):

You embark with small army, and the greatest scientists, of the greatest nation, across the sea, to a strange, semi-barbarous land where 4000 years ago a mighty civilization, now half mirage to Europe, had once flourished. On the way you conquer an island without losing a man and in three days promulgate some 250 revolutionary laws. Arrived in Egypt, you face hordes of fanatical professional mounted warriors, sworn to take your head -- and fearsome marches across broiling deserts where your men blow their brains out from terror and thirst. A group of your officers rebel in protest to these appalling hardships -- if you waver or flinch for a moment, you and your army is destroyed.

The days of such glory are gone, and should be gone. The mere advance in the killing power of weapons, if not progress to the higher goals mercy and humanity, demand it. Youth must find other glory. But wherever you find a young man of humble circumstances burning in the night, thirsting for another kind of glory, be it Tupelo, Mississippi, Hibbings, Minnesota, or Little Rock, Arkansas, there you will see the shadow of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Derek (Washington):

Limited to only what is printed, it appears that Napoleon was a much needed figure in Europe, and more specifically in France. The creation of the written civil liberties was his greatest accomplishment. It created rights for the common people and made an attempt at ousting the unjustice applied to the rank-and-file. Perhaps it even created the means for rank-and-file civilians to advance beyond their current status if they so chose to do - as Napoleon himself had done. However, Napoleon's downfall is derived from his thirst and greed to acquire greater power for himself. This "Power conscience", if you will, had him constantly searching for more, and to acquire more power and rule meant invading upon his citizens' and citizens of other countries' rights. This provoked not only neighboring countries to intercede, but several of his own officers and citizens to revolt against him - such as when his own trusted security officer turned on him.

It seems as though men of sudden power seem incapable of maintaining their own borders and remembering why they had originally been placed in power. Another example could be Lenin. He rose to power through enchanting the current Russian revolution, only to fall to greed to possess more rule over the people of his country and belief that all the world should be functioning as he believed under the scewed Marxist fundalmentalism.

Tom (Michigan):

Emil Ludwig, whose biography of Napoleon remains unsurpassed, sums up this extraordinary career with these words: "What a man can attain through self-confidence and courage, through passion and imagination, through industry and will, he attained." While admiring his leadership, which continues to make him relevant for students today, it is sad that his ambitions got the best of his brilliance.

Nikolay (California):

Napoleon's whole life could be used as an example. An example of all highs and lows possible in a man's life. Victory and defeat, glory and infamy, idealism and tyranny. His way of bearing those burdens, responsibilities, challenges and temptations is remarkable and time-defying. His life is full of the achievements of a brilliant man and also challenges inherent to any human being.


Yes. Even when your ideas are correct, ruling without democracy will fail. No single man, how ever great, can be all to all men.

Steve (California):

I think if there is any lesson to be learned from Napoleon, it is that Europe cannot be united under one rule. There are far too many divergent cultures living too closely together with hundreds of years of history to be ruled by one person or nationality. Also, the big lesson....don't try to take Moscow!

Adam (Maryland):

I think that one of the biggest lessons we can get from Napoleon that have applications not just in modern times, but is itself acually timeless, is a reminder of how easily men may be corrupted by ambition and power. From everything I have read, Napoleon was originally a champion of republican ideals. So much so, in fact, that Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated his third symphony to him (this was before news reached Vienna of Napoleon's coronation; at which point Beethoven ripped out the original dedication, replacing it with "composed to celebrate the memory of a great man").

Despite his early good works, ambition and power eventually succeeded in corrupting him to the point where Napoleon crowned imself Emperor, after having been appointed to the Consulship for life.

Bob (Georgia):

Napoleon was not a dictator in the sense of Stalin or Hitler or even Hussein. Through national referendum, he was chosen by the people of France to be their Emperor. He didn't intimidate his own citizens for popular support. He didn't need to. He did have a secret police and he did arrest political enemies. But these were generally royalist plotters that intended to assassinate or betray the nation. He tried several times in his reign to forgive and reconcile the aristocracy that was so hateful to him. Napoleon was certainly a more democratic alternative to any of the nations opposing him. Despite all of the attempts by Great Britain and the Royalists to assassinate Napoleon, he never returned their gesture.

Kevin (North Carolina):

Napoleon was a master in raising and training mass armies, and in training commanders. He has forced us to study logistics as a partner to tactics and strategy. He and the irreplaceable Berthier also introduced the first modern staff, up0on which all others have been modeled. The legendary devotion, the famous shout Vive l'Empereur, has come down to us as a lesson in loyalty, devotion to duty, and the burning of the 'sacred fire.' Additionally, the lesson of too much overconfidence, which ultimately led to his defeat ruined his Empire and the good example of his generally wise civilian rule of France and the Empire he wrought.

Jandl (Ohio):

Hitler did not learn the most important lesson of all: "Thou shalt not fight wars on more than one front!" Both men were destroyed by too few men and resources to run two wars at once. And "General Winter", pouring down out of the artic, froze both the French and the Germans on their way back from the unconquerable Moscow.

Mario (California):

Europe still hasn't learned anything from the Napoleon experience. They still follow dictators, Hitler, Franco, Musolini, Stalin and most recently Mulosivic. I hope the new Europeon Union will save them from themselves.

Read posted reponses to another question:

Could Napoleon have won the battle of Waterloo?
What was Napoleon's greatest achievement?
Did Napoleon change Europe for better or for worse?

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