Napoleon is one of the most well known military men in history. He climbed the ranks all the way to emperor and had potential to stay in power for many years, but his empire collapsed in just ten years. This post will look at the personality of Napoleon and what went wrong. Spoiler alert: those two are very closely connected. Napoleon’s story is incredible and can teach so much about leadership and the rise and fall of nations.
Napoleon was born in 1769 on a French controlled island called Corsica. A young Napoleon was very talented in literature and mathematics during his time in Brienne military college; however, he did not become a scholar as many hoped, but joined Corsican revolutionaries as a second lieutenant of artillery. After a civil war erupted in Corsica, he was forced to flee to France where he joined the military. In only three years, he used his military genius to gain control of the entire French army in Italy. He quickly trained the army into an effective fighting force that took over Egypt and much of the Middle East.
After returning to France, Napoleon formed a new constitution and held an election for first consul. He won the election and became the first consul of France(interestingly enough, the voting numbers were suspiciously high for how many men could vote). In a very short amount of time, he claimed the position of Emperor and formed the French empire. He had an incredibly charismatic personality and held a fantastical view of himself. Although he was a military genius, his attempts at economic warfare fell very short(short pun intended). The surrounding nations were incredibly nervous about such a young, hotheaded ruler. Ultimately, his reign came to an end after attacking Russia. He extensively read about previous attempts on Russia and vowed not to fall for the same mistakes. In his arrogance, he fell for the exact same mistake: attacking during winter. It was a devastating loss for Napoleon. Shortly after his loss, he was defeated by an alliance of European nations and exiled to the island of Elba.
Although he was gone, it did not last long. He returned from exile and managed to gain control for a time called the 100 days. His charisma and former propaganda worked and his former army rallied to his side when he asked them. This did not last long. The countries that had beaten him knew that even in his fragile situation, he could be a grave threat, so another coalition of countries rallied together and defeated him.
So what? Napoleon was incredible military leader and a sub-par nation leader, but his legacy has left its mark on history. His brief, but aggressive rule caused the European nations to work to level the playing fields among the nations so that no one nation could rise to such power again. It is also a valuable tool for modern leaders. Napoleon was not defeated by a huge, powerful enemy, but by his own arrogance and thirst for more and more power. The short-lived emperor may be known for being short(although, the 5’2″ height was actually a different type of measurement, so he was more likely 5’7″), he had a huge impact on Europe and the world and this is his snapshot from history.
Bell, David. Napoleon: A Concise Biography. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Betros, Gemma. “Napoleon the Man.” History Review, no. 72(Spring 2012). Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.historytoday.com/gemma-betros/napoleon-man
Biography.com Editors. “Napoleon Biography.” A&E Television Networks. Accessed April 7, 2016.
Coker, Christopher. Ethics and War in the 21st Century. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008.