200 years af­ter Waterloo, Bri­tain is still en­gaged in a bat­tle against Napoleon

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY DE­NIS HIAULT

Two hun­dred years af­ter the Bat­tle of Waterloo, Napoleon is still un­der at­tack in the United King­dom, where the im­age per­sists of a mil­i­tary ge­nius con­sumed by a fa­nati­cism com­pa­ra­ble with Hitler or Stalin.

The Em­peror of French rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and regi­cides con­tin­ues to strike fear in his neigh­bors across the Chan­nel, long af­ter his death on the South At­lantic is­land of St He­lena, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish his­to­rian and au­thor An­drew Roberts.

“Moth­ers used to qui­eten their chil­dren with the threat that if you don’t watch out, Boney will get you,” he told AFP.

“There were still chil­dren in the 1950s be­ing scared by this par­tic­u­lar threat.”

In­deed, the ti­tle of his latest 900-page bi­og­ra­phy — “Napoleon, the Great” — raised more than the odd eye­brow at home.

Firstly, most Bri­tons would ar­gue that “the Great” was not a fit­ting epi­taph for “lit­tle Boney,” who is still ridiculed for his small size and lust for war.

For good mea­sure, Chan­nel 4 re­cently re­vealed in a doc­u­men­tary that the im­pe­rial penis “reached 1.5 inches” or 3.8 cen­time­ters.

“He was also very un­lucky that he came to power at the same time as the great­est po­lit­i­cal car­i­ca­tur­ists that the Bri­tish ever cre­ated — James Gill­ray and Thomas Row­land­son,” said Roberts.

“They al­ways made him, some­how, to be small like a dwarf but also com­pletely blood­thirsty.”

Their draw­ings de­pict­ing “the Lil­liputian,” “the Cor­si­can plague” and “Beelze­bub” re­cently went on dis­play at an ex­hi­bi­tion in Lon­don’s Bri­tish Mu­seum.

“I don’t sup­pose any­body in history had been vil­i­fied and ridiculed in the way that Napoleon was vil­i­fied and ridiculed ever be­fore,” said Tim Clay­ton, a Napoleon ex­pert.

“Be­cause you were fright­ened of him, you had to be­lit­tle him, make him seem not so fright­en­ing,” added Sheila O’Con­nell, cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Pro­pa­ganda

“Un­for­tu­nately, the Bri­tish do have a very old-fash­ioned view of Napoleon, one that was cre­ated by the pro­pa­ganda of the Napoleonic wars,” said Roberts.

Since then, the con­ser­va­tive im­age of Napoleon as “a mon­ster and an evil dic­ta­tor” has stuck, with the no­table ex­cep­tion of great wartime leader Win­ston Churchill, who de­scribed him as “the great­est ac­tion man since Julius Cae­sar.”

“He was a con­queror,” added Roberts. “Of course he was ruth­less. How­ever, all of these things must be seen in the con­text of a to­tal war, one that lasted 22 years.”

“To blame him ... for all the wars that took place and killed so many peo­ple in Europe, about 6 mil­lion peo­ple, I think is to­tally un­fair.”

Faced with col­leagues such as his­to­rian Adam Zamoyski, for whom Napoleon was “mega­lo­ma­niac, in­com­pe­tent and a usurper,” Roberts ar­gued that his hero was as much the vic­tim of ag­gres­sion as the per­pe­tra­tor.

The Bri­tish, Aus­tri­ans and Prus­sians launched the first war against Rev­o­lu­tion­ary France in 1792, when Napoleon “was still a sec­ond lieu­tenant of ar­tillery.”

How­ever, he could be blamed for “the ap­pallingly op­por­tunist at­tack in the penin­sula against Spain and Por­tu­gal in 1807 and 1808 and, of course, the in­va­sion of Rus­sia.”

His over­all mil­i­tary record — de­spite his crush­ing and decisive de­feat at Waterloo — stands at 47 vic­to­ries and seven “ties” in 60 bat­tles.

French ‘rewrit­ing history’

The de­bate over whether he was a tyrant or hero has pro­vided fod­der for thou­sands of books, clut­ter­ing the shelves of Bri­tish li­braries and online shop­ping sites such as Ama­zon.co.uk.

With so much de­tailed anal­y­sis in the public do­main, his­to­rian Roberts is per­plexed that Napoleon can still be com­pared to Sad­dam Hus­sein and Moam­mar Gad­hafi or Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, as in a re­cent BBC doc­u­men­tary.

“These men had ab­so­lutely noth­ing in com­mon, ex­cept that Napoleon tried to in­vade Rus­sia and so did Hitler,” he said.

“Not only was he a fine soldier, and a bril­liant strate­gist, but of course he was a head of state. He was al­to­gether a much larger fig­ure than Welling­ton,” said Eve­lyn Webb-Carter, pres­i­dent of the Waterloo 200, which is or­ga­niz­ing the bi­cen­ten­nial com­mem­o­ra­tions on the Bri­tish side.

“Peo­ple who visit the bat­tle­field Waterloo no­tice that the shops, restau­rants and the cafes are very much con­cen­trated on Napoleon, who lost, rather than Welling­ton who won,” added Roberts.

“That does ir­ri­tate the English­man rather a lot, es­pe­cially the English tourist.”

The Lon­don media are also stok­ing the em­bers, ac­cus­ing the losers of be­ing de­luded.

The Daily Tele­graph ran with head­line “French re­write Bat­tle of Waterloo to cast Napoleon as the vic­tor” af­ter Frank Sam­son, who will play Napoleon dur­ing the bat­tle re­con­struc­tion, said: “In terms of his his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance, it’s clear that he won at Waterloo.”

Even Michael Haynes, one of the English ex­tras at the bat­tle site, in mod­ern-day Bel­gium, treach­er­ously con­fesses to hav­ing “a lit­tle bit of love for Napoleon.”

“Even though he was a lit­tle bit of a tyrant, he was a great gen­eral.”

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