Napoleon: Complex

by Tracy R. Walsh

Jacques_Louis_David_-_Bonaparte_franchissant_le_Grand_Saint-Bernard,_20_mai_1800_-_Google_Art_Project

Brian Eads notes that “200 years on, the French still cannot agree on whether Napoleon was a hero or a villain”:

“The divide is generally down political party lines,” says professor Peter Hicks, a British historian with the Napoléon Foundation in Paris. “On the left, there’s the ’black legend’ of Bonaparte as an ogre. On the right, there is the ’golden legend’ of a strong leader who created durable institutions.”

French politicians and institutions in particular appear nervous about marking the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s exile. … While the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution that toppled the monarchy and delivered thousands to death by guillotine was officially celebrated in 1989, Napoleonic anniversaries are neither officially marked nor celebrated. For example, a decade ago, the president and prime minister – at the time, Jacques Chirac and Dominque de Villepin – boycotted a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of the battle of Austerlitz,Napoleon’s greatest military victory. “It’s almost as if Napoleon Bonaparte is not part of the national story,” Hicks tells Newsweek.