Revolutions? Wars? Dictatorship and Napoleon Bonaparte

ⓒGoya - El Tres de Mayo - Museo El Prado

The world has been going through crazy troubled times lately. Some dictators are defeated by their people quite quickly as we saw it happen in Tunisia and Egypt.

Other dictators fight hard and choose to kill their own people to remain in power. We do not know what will happen in the followings weeks maybe months from now.

I have been feeling quite distressed by all those revolutions and wars. The year of the Hare was supposed to be a good year, filled with peace, wasn’t it? That’s what our Chinese friends told us not too long ago, a few days before Mubarak resigned actually.

Now a little bit of weird thinking about what’s going on.

Can you imagine the day when crowds will stand in line in order to get close to the grave/tomb of Ben Ali (Tunisia) or Mubarak (Egypt) in the monument erected twenty years from now in their own country?

I think I’ll skip the list I had established while walking to Les Invalides...

You see, right now I am staying in Paris. Whenever I step outside, there it is, gilded and flamboyant: Les Invalides.

To make the story short, Les Invalides was built by one of our kings in the 1690s. It was to become a nursing home for old soldiers as well as a hospital for wounded soldiers. This is what Les Invalides still is nowadays, part of it anyway.

It is mainly known now as a monument which houses several museums, all of them about war.

It also is the burial site for several very famous military French ‘heroes’, including our long gone Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte whose ashes are kept in a rather impressive stone tomb.

Believe it or not, I had never been inside Les Invalides. I’m not too keen on wars, you see. Not too keen on Napoleon either.

Not any more ever since I grew up. When I was a teenager, there was this romantic cult about him. I still have to figure out why.

Then this morning, it hit me very hard and I’m still very upset.

While I was standing in line to buy a ticket, I noticed an inscription on the wall: «I wish my ashes to lie on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people I have loved so much.»

Who said that? Napoleon I.

Who was standing in line and buying tickets to get to see his tomb? Tens of people from all over the world. I heard a few French voices mingling with Spanish, Italian, British, etc. voices.

I thought that people forget very easily. I felt very sad for all the people who right now are fighting for freedom and human rights all over the world.

Does time heal wounds and make people forgetful of the truth? Do we need heroes this bad? And preferably heroes with power?

I love Madrid and whenever I’m there I go to El Prado (a very famous art museum). Once there I go straight to the Goya area. I know I will feel awful but I have to go there.

‘El Tres de Mayo’ is very impressive. The dying men are Spanish. The shooting squad is French. It happened in 1808 in Spain after some Spaniards rebelled against French military occupation. They attacked French soldiers with... knifes and forks and were very quickly defeated. The survivors were shot. All of them.

France was then ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, the very Napoleon whose ashes are now in Les Invalides.

Napoleon was one of the ruthless dictators France ever had.

Of course, there were many really freakish dictators after Napoleon. History is filled with their names.

Napoleon was a military man (quite brilliant). He managed to get hold of the power while quite young.

France was emerging from a very bloody revolution. It was quite easy for him to grab the power and very legally at first.

I’m not planning on writing a history course. The Wikipedia pages are quite satisfying. Help yourselves.

But I have to mention that while he was a young general, he suppressed a royalist rebellion (against the Revolution and its bloody leaders, butchering some fifteen hundred people in the streets of Paris in October 1795, in one day (13 Vendémiaire An IV).

Then he went to war again: Italy and Egypt.

He was becoming so famous and so hungry for power that he chose to abandon Egypt and came back to Paris just in time to overthrow the constitutional government. This happened in 1799. On the 18th Brumaire according to the so called Republican calendar (November 3.)

From then one, he was on his way to become the most powerful person in France, first as the ‘First Consul’ (securing his election to this position).

He resumed wars against France’s neighboring countries. He re-established slavery in France’s colonies. Slavery had been abolished during the Revolution.

Being ‘First Consul’ and Commander-in-Chief of a very powerful army wasn’t enough for him.

On December 2, in 1804, he recreated a hereditary ‘monarchy’ in France. He crowned himself  ‘Emperor Napoleon I’ in Paris, at Notre-Dame.

From then on, France became a warring and conquering nation. Napoleon would get rid of the kings of the defeated countries and replace them with members of his family or with high-ranking and trusted officers.

Rebellions were subdued in bloody repression. And the occupied countries were plundered.

To make the story short, Napoleon’s downfall started when he was defeated in Russia.

He started loosing battles against a very strong coalition (7 countries) and then one day, he was thorougly defeated and forced to abdicate unconditionally (without being able to do so in favor of his son which had been his plan). This happened in 1814.

He escaped the island where he had been exiled to and he came back to power for a short time (100 days). He lost everything at the Battle of Waterloo, on June 18, 1815.

He was then sent away for good to a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean, the Island of Saint Helena where he died, supposedly poisoned, in 1821.

His ashes were brought back to Paris in 1840 to Les Invalides, less than 20 years after his death.

Napoleon I’s story belongs to French history and is much more complicated.

I am not saying that he was totally, completely bad. He did great things for France which contributed to some kind of golden legend which survived throughout the centuries.

But he was a dictator, in those times - a tyrant even if he started with ending disorder in post-revolutionary France.

It has been proven that while he was ruling France and most of Europe, he can well be credited with the deaths of at least 1.000.000 men, women and children, a lot of them civilians. Plus around 500.000 soldiers in the French army.

A lot of people when you realize it happened in the early XIXth century when Europe was not extremely populated.

Does this mean that dictators have feelings? Feelings or delusions?

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Niruj said...

I went inside the Invalides once, and it was so over the top and looked like a church - napolean was obviously god to some !

I heard his ashes in that big wooden box are inside 7 nested boxes ... possibly cos they wanted to make sure he never got out :)