God is on the side of the big guns.” Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte was a mystic man who will always remain as a riddle for his role in the human history. Born to a financially ruined Corsican aristocratic family Napoleon was destined to conquer and rule. He became famous for his military tactics and made the French Army as one of the finest military machines in Europe. His glory had no boundaries. Other European nations were feared when they heard his name. He was pompous, arrogant and controversial.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s father who had a far thinking mind was able to preserve a place for young Napoleon in the Royal Military College in Paris. His contemporary cadets described Napoleon as a quite and a solitary lad who could hardly speak French. But he was proud and ambitious.
In 1789 France erupted with the Revolution and the French society’s basic power structure shattered. Although he was not a revolutionary, he welcomed it. He knew the Revolution would open new avenues for him. The French Revolution cleared his path to power breaking the aristocratic obstacles and the Monarchy.
Napoleon read the military history with a remarkable enthusiasm and studied the military tactics. He was a very efficient company officer. He was self-centered dual personality shifted from Corsican to French. His motto was better to eat than be eaten. Hence the officer Napoleon never missed any opportunity fell on his path. The famous Toulon battle was his chance for glory. He proved himself under the cannon fire. He was promoted from Captain to Brigadier General.
Napoleon could be described as a hot-tempered person with occasional violent reactions. He may have felt inferior following his height. Five feet 2 inches tall, Napoleon was a small made man. It may have been one of the driving forces behind him to achieve greatness. Also his Corsican origin affected him right from the beginning.
Indeed Napoleon was a disciplinarian and valued order. He knew what anarchy and mob rule did to the Revolutionary leader Robespierre. He wanted to restore law and order in France. But still he had no political power or worthy connections. His involvement with lady Josephine at the early stages had a motive. Josephine was well connected to the high places. Soon Napoleon would be benefited by these acquaintances.
Gradually Napoleon became the shining star in the French Army. He was a fine commander and adored by his fellow soldiers. They trusted him and were ready to go to the battle with him under any adverse conditions. His theory was surprise attack. Mostly he used unconventional military tactics to assault the enemy. Speed and surprise was his ultimate weapon. Indeed Napoleon was brave. When other senior officers evading the cannon fire he marched forwarded. His enemies described Napoleon thus. He fights like lightening and strikes like a thunderbolt. He was invincible.
Seeking his glory Napoleon invaded Egypt. His intention was to start a continental blockade. This way he would paralyze the English trade roots. Near the Pyramids he faced fearless native warriors and clamed victory over them. In this battle over six thousand native fighters where killed. Napoleon lost only 30 soldiers. It was a splendid victory, which made Napoleon a national hero.
The British Empire retaliated the French with their famous Admiral Nelson. Nelson destroyed the French fleet near Egypt. While his army surrounded by the English and dying due to plague Napoleon was managed to escape and come to Paris. He received a hero’s welcome.
In 1800 at the age of 30 Napoleon became the most powerful man in France the First Counsel. Ambition in his motion Napoleon strengthened his power both in militarily and politically. He used religion as a political tool. At the age of 35, he became the Emperor and ruled over 70 million subjects. Consequently, he created an effective regime, which ruled many nations with an iron fist.
He converted France into a Police state. His Police had spies in every corner of France. Freedom of press was suppressed and he abolished over 60 newspapers. Napoleon introduced a new cult personality to France.
With power in his hand Napoleon over estimated his strength. Arrogance and ego brought his downfall. His military campaigns became disastrous. In 1812 with 600,000 soldiers, he invaded Russia. Russians retreated until winter and then attacked the French troops. Dreaded Russian winter and hunger perished his army. Only 93,000 came home alive. Napoleon was forced to renounce his thrown. He was sent to the island of Elba.
While in exile in the island of Elba Napoleon tricked the English Navy, came to Paris, and again seized the power. Within 100 days, he had to face his final battle Waterloo. This time his opponent was the Duke of Wellington or the Leopard of England.
Waterloo was a decisive battle and it brought final defeat to the legend Napoleon. He was imprisoned in the lonely island of St Helena. He became isolated and suffered from so-called Post Combat Depression.
The English feared Napoleon even he became a prisoner. They expected Napoleon’s departure soon. To accelerate the process the English poisoned Napoleon until he succumbed to it.
Accordingly, Napoleon’s legend came to an end. The Empire that he made disintegrated and the power balance in Europe changed. However, the fame of Napoleon did not die with him. On the contrary, three million soldiers died for his glory.
Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.