Saturday, May 17, 2008

So, I promised a discussion of Franceschi and Weider's the Wars Against Napoleon. I greatly regretted this promise, because it required I actually finish the book, a task which I would have just as well let drop uncompleted. Even if I did pay hardback prices for the thrice-blasted thing.

The book is being sold as a revisionist work arguing the diplomatic case of Napoleon I's innocence and genuinely peaceable nature. This would be a substantial burden for the most scholarly and clever of authors, as Napoleon has become a by-word in the English-speaking world as an aggressor, a tyrant, and a degenerate. Franceschi and Weider are neither clever, nor do they demonstrate any scholarly characteristics, I must report.

First of all, diplomatic history is a long-winded and detailing sort of affair. I should have been well-warned to note that this work of diplomatic history was barely more than two hundred pages long. What detail is contained within its few pages tends more towards the military, than the diplomatic. Perhaps the authors were confused by the word "Wars" in their title, and concluded that they were obliged to include great swathes of text about the operational and tactical events of Napoleon's many, many campaigns. Nevertheless, in a book proporting to tear the diplomatic mask from the warlike visage of the Bonaparte family's wicked royalist enemies, the material on diplomacy and politics is sparse, spotty, and underwhelming. We get barely three pages on Tilsit, two or three pages scattered here and there on Amiens, and maybe a page and a half on Luneville. A few paragraphs here and there about Campoformio, etc. Meanwhile, the maneuvering behind the establishment of the myriad Bonapartist puppet-states justifying what still looks to me like Napoleon's many aggressions and invasions are airly dismissed with bald nonsense which the North Korean's propagandists would blush to commit to print.

For instance, this on the enthroning of a Bonaparte brother over the Netherlands:
On the institutional plane, the Dutch threw themselves into the arms of Revolutionary France to escape the stadholders (governors of the country.) At the time, the Netherlands had a republican regime presided by the "Grand Pensioner" Schimmelpenninck. In 1806 the Batavian authorities took advantage of their leader's illness to request of Napoleon that he give them his brother Joseph as king. Joseph had earned their respect the previous year while commanding a Franco-Dutch corps. The proclamation was issued on June 5.

Thus was one of the oldest republics in Europe placed under a monarchy by the banner-carriers of the revolutionary Rights of Man!

Kindly note, the lack of citation in the above quote. There is none. In the entire book. Apparently the authors received their enlightenment on the subject via divine revelation, because there is no worldly credit given anywhere outside the obsequious acknowledgments contained within the brief preface. Not even quotes from correspondence and contemporary works are properly cited such that a reader not inclined to take the authors at their word might consult the originals.

This book is an act of contrascholasticism. The authors appear actively contemptuous of the notion of active readership, of the idea that their book might act as any sort of gateway for a journey deeper into the subject. Their word is, apparently final.

They also seem disinclined to persuade or convince an uncertain or open-minded audience. The text is littered with rhetorical, unearned daggers flung at the enemies of Napoleon, often out of context. Bernadotte, the general who turned against Napoleon once he became Crown Prince of Sweden, never appears in the text without an accompanying shriek of rage against his eventual betrayal of the peaceable emperor. Every other personage of note who did not stand with Napoleon until Saint Helena are likewise pummelled about their unworthy heads and shoulders.

Look, I was willing to entertain the idea that the monarchs of Europe were perfidious and brought Napoleon's catastrophes upon their own heads. Hell, I bought the book, didn't I? But once you wade through two hundred pages of:
In foreign affairs, the domain more relevant to our subject, Napoleon's first concern was to reassure the European monarchies. He attempted to disarm their hysterical hostility by informing them that he accepted the Treaty of Paris, thereby indicating that he renounced any claim to reconquer the frontiers of 1792 and instead engaged to respect those of 1789.

it becomes difficult to maintain equanimity and balance. Oh, and please note - the above was a description of the diplomatic maneuvers during "Hundred Days", and Napoleon fought the whole of that spring's campaign in Belgium, which is decidedly on the wrong side of the 1789 borders.

Really, this book is naked apologetic. They write to defend their hero, against every insult ever essayed by an opponent. Check this out - this is their defense of the then-Consul's slaughter of prisoners in Jaffa during the Egyptian campaign:
Confronted with a fait accompli, Bonaparte found himself in a nightmarish issue of conscience. Already suffering from a shortage of provisions for his soldiers, he was unable to feed this additional mass of humanity under any circumstances. Nor could he spare sufficient soldiers to guard them, being cruelly undermanned as a result of operations. Simply to abandon these men to their fate would be to condemn them to a slow and horrible death in the desert. Finally, in the rigid oriental mindset, any measure of clemency would be perceived as a weakeness of will tha would probably encourage even more ferocious resistence in future combats. It was thus that Bonaparte was obliged to resolve his moral crisis by taking the terrible decision to exterminate the prisoners under indescribable conditions.

What a prince.

In short, this book leaves me more ignorant of the subject than I was when I first opened its leaves. What few new facts one might glean from the authors' presentation are so compromised by their unrelenting partisanship, refusal to cite sources, and blatant bias that I find myself unable to accept any of it as true. Their endorsement of interpretations I've encountered previously have undermined the legitimacy of said interpretations by that very endorsement.

In short, I regret that I ever encountered this horrid little volume of pestiferous Bonapartist propaganda.

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