The Little Man Who Started These Great Wars
Napoleon’s Grand Army lost 370,000 men to death and another 200,000 to Russian captivity. When Bonaparte returned to Paris, a military bulletin cheerfully announced: “The Emperor’s health has never been better.” That was true enough, and Napoleon blithely began to rebuild his armies for the next campaign. Napoleon once said, “A man like me does not give a damn about the lives of a million men.” For a million people, however, the romance of the emperor’s adventures led simply to death.
The careful attention Napoleon paid to image-building is highlighted throughout Mr. Dwyer’s account, and will strike many readers as quite modern. It begins with the Battle of Arcola near Verona in November 1796, when Napoleon’s forces finally succeeded in crossing a bridge and taking the small village on the other side. Napoleon used this minor victory to help him win a reputation as a hero of the French Republic, immortalized by the painter Antoine-Jean Gros.
He would continually help construct his own image; “for him the truth never got in the way of a good story,” Mr. Dwyer writes. That story was of the military man who alone could save France.
The sections of “Napoleon” on the expedition to Egypt, with a good number of scientists along for the ride; on Napoleon’s fantasies of conquering India, and on the debacle in Syria — portrayed by Bonaparte as a glorious victory — are compelling (and perhaps may encourage some readers to make comparisons with a more recent invasion of a Middle Eastern state by a Western power).
Napoleão pode ter sido um bom general, mas acima de tudo era muito bom na arte da propaganda. Por muito que a visão predominantemente associada a Napoleão seja a sua capacidade enquanto general no campo de batalha, tenho presente na memória as guerras e os milhões de mortos que o homem provocou com os seus desejos megalómanos. Abomino Napoleão e confesso todo o meu desprezo por todos os pequenos ditadores que povoaram o mundo. A única nota de ironia no meio de todo o mito que envolve Napoleão é a de que ele, um mestre na propaganda, ficará para toda a posterioridade visto como um tipo mais baixo do que o normal, facto mil vezes repetido pela propaganda inglesa da altura, e que ao que parece não corresponde à realidade dos factos. A história vive de fábulas, mais do que imaginamos...