The time has come!
It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. The Big Daddy Dirtbag. An established garbage human who I hate profoundly, and yet who gets a weird romanticized reputation in the history community. My White Whale.
This newsletter has been around for just over a year, and I’ve been putting off writing this profile for two reasons:
There is so much information about him, and so much of it is really boring
He makes me so angry
But sooner or later, it had to be done. Substack is telling me this letter might be too long to fit in an email, so you may have to click through to get the whole story. But so be it. If I can convince at least one of my readers to stop stanning this man, I will have done my duty by my conscience.
Without further ado, let’s hop into the long-awaited rant:
Why Allison Hates Napoleon Bonaparte With Every Fiber Of Her Silly Little Being
Napoleon was born in 1769 on the island of Corsica, which is a French territory in the Mediterranean currently best known as Napoleon Land. A shame, because it could be known instead as the former home of the extinct Corsican Giant Shrew, which, artists generally seem to agree, was cute as shit:
Napoleon was educated on the mainland in France, where he attended the national military academy. He learned a bunch of things about war but never, apparently, learned to spell. I like that the historical record chooses to note this. His fellow students bullied him throughout school for being a weirdo, to which I say: good, and I wish I could have joined them.
Libérté, Égalité, Frat-boy-nité
After school, Napoleon rose to prominence as an officer in the French Revolution. He fell in with the radical Jacobins and supported Noted Dirtbag For A Slightly Different Reason Maximilien Robespierre, aka Mister Revolution himself. Somehow, Napoleon got promoted several times during the revolution, despite committing a list of infractions that included:
Forgetting to come back to the army after his leave
Leading a riot against the French army
Fucking around writing an autobiographical novel instead of doing war business
Endlessly rambling about Alexander the Great to anyone who would listen
Looting the entire country of Italy
Basically, 24-year-old Napoleon was like the vast majority of 24-year-old frat boy humanities majors I have known in my day: unreliable, can’t spell, macho, working on a novel, don’t trust ‘em alone in Rome.
The French army, perhaps eager to get rid of this asshole, sent Napoleon abroad on military missions that amounted more or less to “kill people of color in order to annoy the British.” He led campaigns in present-day Egypt, Syria, Israel, and Palestine, during which he lost fully 25% of his army and also straight-up murdered his soldiers who caught the plague so the army could retreat faster. I would give this military endeavor, at best, one star.
Coup! There It Is
Meanwhile, back in France, the new French government—called the Directorate—was kinda sputtering along. So Napoleon! My man! Thought that a cool thing to do in the year 1799 would be to come back to France, overthrow the Directorate through a coup, and instate himself as France’s brand-spanking-new emperor.
This event, known as the Coup of 18 Brumaire, was a fucking bold power grab that reinstated a de facto dictatorship in France, just 10 short years after the outbreak of the French Revolution. Thanks, Napoleon. All that guillotining for nothing.
Honestly, what annoys me more is that Napoleon pretended to put his leadership up to a vote, which he won with 99.95% support. Every dictator knows you have to make the pretend vote at LEAST a whole percentage point against. That’s just, like, the rules.
World Domination, etc.
From 1800 to roughly 1814, Emperor Asshat went wholeheartedly into what seems to have been his mission on this earth: running around the world picking fights with people.
But first, a caveat: military history makes me want to die. Every time I try to read about battle tactics, I get through three sentences and then suddenly I am already asleep. I physically can’t do it. So please do not send me angry emails about how I skimmed over the tactical genius involved in the Battle of Trafalgar or whatever the fuck. I do not care, and you can’t make me.
Instead, I will group Napoleon’s military endeavors into three basic categories, which are as follows.
1. Pissing Off Europe
While France was going through the whole process of A) guillotining the king, B) guillotining the people who guillotined the king, and C) installing a dictator over the people who guillotined the guillotiners, the rest of Europe was looking on, shall we say, nervously.
Napoleon retaliated to this diplomatic unrest the only way he knew how: by getting on his dumb horse and leading an army into every country that looked at him funny.
I consider most of Napoleon’s actions to be dick moves, but this one is a little less dickish. He sorta inherited this problem. Did he make it worse? Absolutely. Did he start it? Eh, there’s lots of blame to go around.
2. Taking Over the World
But was Napoleon content with self-defense? Of course the fuck he was not!
Once he was done with countries that might feasibly have attacked him first, Napoleon expanded to fighting anybody who had land, power, or prestige he wanted. This started in Central Europe and spread eastward toward Russia, before going the other way toward Spain and Portugal, then back toward Russia again.
In a similar mood, Napoleon kidnapped and arrested the pope. Because Napoleon.
At first, the plan of global domination went well for Napoleon. Then, famously and abruptly, it did not go well. Napoleon made the fatal error of girlbossing too close to the sun, and by “the sun” I mean “Imperial Russia.”
Whatever. Military historians, tell the rest of the story in the comments if you want. For the purposes of this newsletter, we frown upon any historical choices that sound like something a Bond villain would do, and Napoleon’s global conquest meets that criteria for me.
3. Genocide and Colonialism
Consistent with his history of being a shitty person in all areas of his life, Napoleon made the truly mind-blowingly bad decision of reinstating slavery in France’s colonies in 1802, after France had already abolished it about a decade earlier. This colossally shitty move led to revolts throughout Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), because of course it did.
And friends, in the one piece of good news in this entire story, the Black Caribbeans in these colonies kicked Napoleon’s ass.
In fact, they beat him so badly that Napoleon decided to cut his losses in the Western hemisphere almost entirely. By selling a big-ass portion of French land to a little nothing country called the United States of America.
The fact that American high schools don’t teach this period in history by saying “The Louisiana Purchase happened because Napoleon Bonaparte was a racist little bitch” is a travesty.
You Can’t Sit With Us
By this point in the story, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Jesus Christ, Allison, Europe must have been so fucking sick of this asshole after 14 years of putting up with his bullshit.”
And you would be correct!
France’s enemies proposed what, to me, sound like very reasonable terms for a truce: “Depose Napoleon and we’ll stop kicking your ass! We have nothing against France, we just hate this dickhead and would like him to stop invading our countries and murdering people.”
France obliged. Napoleon was deposed in 1814 and exiled to the island of Elba, about 12 miles off the coast of Tuscany. They let Napoleon call himself Emperor of Elba, which I enjoy. It’s sorta like putting a toddler in time-out but calling him King of the Naughty Box.
To guess what happened next, take a look at how far 12 miles is.
If your first thought was “uh…bro, that’s really close,” correct!
After a couple months, Napoleon got his people together, sailed the 20 minutes back to Europe like the most annoying version of Dictatorial Whack-a-Mole, and set about getting his throne back.
This would sound all grand and heroic, except what happened was, Napoleon walked up to the army and said “excuse me, may I please be emperor again,” they said yes, and he was emperor. So much for “tactical genius.”
This worked for about 100 days. History appropriately calls this post-Elba ruling period The 100 Days, because Napoleon does not deserve a catchy name for his bullshit. Then England, Prussia, Russia, and Austria looked at each other and said “Oh, absolutely not. We are not doing this again.” With the combined power of four armies against him, Napoleon was forced to surrender.
This time, they exiled him to the island of Saint Helena, 1,162 miles off the coast of present-day Angola. Because they had learned their lesson.
While in exile, Napoleon did pretty much what you’d expect. He moped. He tried to write another book. He thought about Catholicism. He complained loudly about the wallpaper.
Napoleon died in exile in 1821, possibly from stomach cancer, possibly from gradual poisoning, possibly from the wallpaper. Later, his body was exhumed and sent to Paris, where it’s entombed today. His penis might be somewhere else. We don’t know. Personally I would give a great deal of money never to hear the words “Napoleon’s penis” ever again.
But Wait! What About!
I know there’s at least one reader who’s reading this yelling at me that I forgot XYZ great thing that Napoleon did, and I’m being unfair to the great man, therefore my hate is invalid. This section is dedicated to that reader.
“But what about the liberal parts of the Napoleonic code?”
Did he advance some neat liberal-ish ideas? Yes. Was the right way to spread them by attempting to take over the world? No. Does the fact that people think the Napoleonic code justifies military dictatorship and massive casualties explain a lot about America’s recent foreign policy efforts in the Middle East specifically? You bet.
“But what about his military genius?”
Emperor Palpatine was pretty good at war, too, but I’m not wearing a tee-shirt with his face on it.
“But what about his contributions to education and culture?”
Oh, you mean looting historic artifacts from countries around the world? Or his transformation of the French media into a propaganda engine? Or returning an entire class of people to slavery? Those contributions?
“But what about this cool painting?”
He looks ridiculous. And that horse hates him so much. Look at that horse’s face. Leave me alone.
Long story short, there’s only one Napoleon whose face I ever wanna see again, and it’s this one.
Jesus Christ, I’m exhausted. I’ll be back in two weeks, once I recover from the ordeal of thinking about Napoleon for this long. It’s 8:00 in the morning and I need a nap.