An Illustrated Atlas
I have just read your Atlas that purports to be an accurate account of World history. There is throughout this book a blatantly biased and dismissive account of Napoleon and an utter disregard for his empire.
Modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years and today there are about 7.3 billion people. Some 7.5 billion individuals have lived on this planet. In all that time and amidst all those numbers only three historical personages have been known widely by their first names. They are, in chronological order: Alexander, Jesus and Napoleon.
After the Bible and its references to Christ, there have been more books written about Napoleon than any other person who has ever lived. He died less than 200 years ago yet there are now at least 250,000 books on Napoleon and 1,000 more are added every year. In your own country more than a dozen settlements have been named ‘Napoleon’ in many different states.
The renowned German writer Goethe called Napoleon: ‘The greatest man of the C19th.’ He was the hero of the German Jew Heine. And he was William Hazlitt’s hero in contemporary England. Yet your Atlas virtually ignores him. Worse than that, your writers choose to slander his name and vilify him at every opportunity. This is what your hacks write:
‘In truth, he was one of the many meteoric conquerors with supersize egos throughout history who dazzled the world briefly before they came crashing down, achieving little of lasting significance compared with those who built enduring empires.’ (Page 271)
This statement is absolute tosh, and a consummate travesty of history. Your writers are certainly not historians and if that is the best they can do they should stick to fiction.
Napoleon gave Jews equal rights in his empire. If he had done nothing else, his memory would have been worth preserving for this act alone. He was also the first person to suggest that Jews be given a homeland in the Holy Land. No wonder he was Heine’s hero. And no wonder that 150 years after his death the Jewish historian Ben Weider set up the International Napoleonic Society to honour his memory and to counteract all the lies and misinformation spread about him over the past two centuries.
Ben Weider studied Napoleon and his times for over fifty years. I have been studying Napoleon and his times for over forty years. I simply do not recognize the cartoon character referred to by your jejune and unqualified writers. What academic qualifications have they? And what peer reviewed historical papers or books have they produced? I have read over two hundred books about Napoleon and I have never in over forty years heard of your lamentably informed staff.
Without Napoleon the discipline of Egyptology would not exist. He took 177 savants to Egypt and they produced the brilliant Description De L’Egypte - a work of the utmost importance and a cultural icon. Any nation would be proud of such a monumental work of impeccable scholarship. From the start, Napoleon wanted his Egyptian enterprise to be more than a military conquest. What other general in human history has ever undertaken such a venture that redounded to the intellectual benefit and glory of all Mankind? Yet what do your hacks write:
‘… imperial glory seekers such as Napoleon, who invaded Egypt and marveled at monuments that would continue to dazzle onlookers long after the sun set on his ambitions.’ (Page 55)
Napoleon’s Description De L’Egypte will last as long as there are people who actually know a little bit about history – it will last forever.
Because of Napoleon’s own insatiable intellect, Egypt became the magnet for countless archeologists, writers, painters and historians. And without Napoleon there would have been no Howard Carter, no Tutankhamun’s tomb and no Rosetta stone. Discovered by a French officer during Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign this tri-lingual stone led to the unraveling of the mystery of Hieroglyphics by another great Frenchman - Champollion. There is more extant carving in Egypt than all the other countries in the world put together. Recent satellite imagery has indicated that 97% of Egyptian ruins remain to be unearthed. Without Napoleon’s own intellectual passion that launched the study of Egyptology none of this would even be known.
The only other major reference to Napoleon in the Atlas is also on Page 271: ‘Despite Napoleon’s smashing victories on the Continent, he remained hemmed in by the British navy, which shattered his fleet at Trafalgar in 1805. When Russia joined the British in opposing him, he launched a disastrous invasion of that country in 1812 and was forced into exile. Attempting to return to power, he was crushed at Waterloo in 1815 by Britain’s Duke of Wellington.’
There is simply no context to this threadbare account of Napoleon’s time in power. He brought peace to France after the Revolution, signed the Concordat with the Pope, instituted the Bank of France, built roads, canals and bridges and beautified cities and had not Britain paid millions to persuade other countries to attack him who knows what else he might have achieved? It was due to Prime Minister Pitt’s malign influence that war in Europe became endemic. Millions from the Bank of England poured into the impoverished coffers of Austria and Russia. They were bankrupt and without this financial aid would never have been able to attack Napoleon in 1805.
The British reneged on the treaty of Amiens in 1803, Napoleon was attacked in 1805, in 1806 by Prussia, in 1807 by Russia, in 1809 by Austria and in 1815 the so-called Allies declared war on him despite his plea for peace sent to all the European monarchs who had opposed him in the past. In 1811 Tsar Alexander hoped to attack France but found that nobody else was interested. In 1812, driven to distraction by the Tsar’s treachery (he who was implicit in the murder of his own father and who slept with his own sister), Napoleon launched his ill-fated 1812 campaign. He hoped for one decisive battle - like Austerlitz in 1805 - that would sway the duplicitous Russians back into the fold, but the coldest Russian winter for 100 years doomed the enterprise from the very beginning.
The hacks mention Waterloo without any reference whatsoever to the Prussian involvement in the battle. More Germans fought that day than either French or British. Of Wellington’s 69,000 troops less than 24,000 were British. It was a great German victory. Tim Clayton’s excellent recent book Waterloo shows how Wellington’s decimated troops were pushed way back on the ridge of Mont Saint-Jean and without the arrival of Blucher and the Prussians there would have been no Allied victory.
As all proper historians know, Napoleon was attacked because he was anathema to the Divine Right monarchs of his day who dreaded that France might export the Revolution to their countries. Napier, the great British historian of the Peninsula Wars says so at the start of his monumental work. And the English historian Walter Runciman stated that if Great Britain had left Napoleon alone and not rejected his calls in early 1805 for peace with such overweening arrogance, then the two countries could have co-existed in peace. But the National Geographic hacks obviously know nothing about all this.
In the timeline at the back of the Atlas there is only one tiny reference to Napoleon – again derogatory: ‘1812 Tsar Alexander I withstands invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte.’ (Page 355)
The Atlas does not mention Catherine the Great’s hatred of the Revolution, nor Russia’s attacks on France by Suvarov, Tsar Paul and Alexander himself in 1805, 1807, the putative attack in 1811, or the 1815 Coalition against Napoleon.
There are many more omissions in this book supposedly about great empires. There is no mention of the Anglo-Saxon empire of Athelstan - the grandson of Alfred the Great - who after the Battle of Brunanburgh in AD 937 affectively created the English nation. He was dubbed the Emperor of the whole world of Britain at the time because of his great victory over the Northern Coalition. England has been a nation for nearly 1100 years but the National Geographic doesn’t seem to realize the fact. There is also no mention of the great Viking Dark Age empires. Without the Vikings who had a settlement in Greenland as late as AD1450, Columbus would have known little of what lay across the Atlantic.
According to the hacks, Napoleon was an inconsequential nobody – even though 1,000 books are written about him every year! Yet the Atlas has pages on the so-called Comanche empire and the like and it enthuses about the Dominians of the Mali and Songhai and other household names like the Asante Osei Tutu Opemsoo – what a consummate dude he was. I can’t see a brandy being named after him for quite a while…
Throughout, the Atlas reeks of Political Correctness – which is anathema and poison to a genuine historian. It is interesting that Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic copied Napoleon’s coronation ceremony exactly when he crowned himself emperor in 1977. This homage to Napoleon nearly bankrupted his country. He did not bend over backwards to emulate our friend Osei Tutu Opemsoo. Didn’t Bokassa know that Napoleon was a ‘nobody’? Perhaps the National Geographic forgot to tell him.
The job of an historian is to tell it all as it really was, without fear or favour. Even though I am English, I believe the rule of Napoleon was far better than that of the corrupt and unrepresentative oligarchy that controlled Britain in the late C18th and early C19th. The English politician Canning ordered the British Navy to bombard neutral Copenhagen in 1807 killing 2,000 unarmed civilians – and they also stole or destroyed the whole of the Danish fleet. Nelson had dozens of Neapolitan rebels executed on his own orders in 1799 – murdered in effect. And he was rewarded with the Dukedom of Bronte by the Bourbons for his pains. The British invented concentration camps during the Boer War and hundreds of Boer women and children starved to death in them.
There is enough shame and horror to go around. The Germans inaugurated The Final Solution and gassed millions of Jews during the Second World War. That ‘nobody’ Napoleon gave them equal rights. The American empire gave us the My Lai massacre, Agent Orange, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo – and the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis in the search for non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Finally, a look today on Google led to 73,100,000 references to Napoleon. The National Geographic has blown both its feet off with its misleading and untruthful caricature of Napoleon. Unfortunately it has a ‘history’ of such things. I add a review I did of its take on Waterloo, a programme entitled Napoleon’s Last Battle shown on British television on March 11th 2009. It was almost physically painful to watch such an embarrassing excuse for proper history.
John Tarttelin Teaching Certificate (history and geography), B.Ed., (history), M.A. (history), FINS (Legion of Merit) author of the Real Napoleon - The Untold Story and 45 years of reading about Napoleon.
NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE
ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TELEVISION
MARCH 11TH, 2009, UK
ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TELEVISION
MARCH 11TH, 2009, UK
I have just watched an appalling programme about Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo on the National Geographic Channel. It was replete with all the usual lies and misrepresentations that are made about him. I was so moved by its one-sidedness that I immediately sent the email below in protest. As Ben used to say, the same untruths are constantly repeated - but one expects better from the National Geographic!
Members of the INS might be surprised at just how high some of the same old nonsense comes from.
I have just watched your programme about Napoleon. It was a bigger disaster than Waterloo! This one-sided travesty of a programme is unworthy of the high standards that the National Geographic normally stands for. It was a truly awful production, full of mistakes and factual errors. And there were massive and glaring omissions.
The final comment: ‘A life written in blood’ is absolutely pathetic and woefully biased against Napoleon. Your programme is an exercise in character assassination - whatever it is - it certainly isn't objective history as I understand the term. Your revolting portrayal of the French Emperor cries out for a reply. It is easy to slander the dead who cannot fight back.
Your partisan film is worthy of the worst of English High Tory arrogance and nationalism. I expect better from a nation that owed its very existence to the French navy at Yorktown. Without the money given to the Americans by French officers, and the support of De Grasse's navy, Washington, would never have taken Yorktown. (Source: Jay Luvaas P. 152 Clues to America's Past (1976) - National Geographic books).
Not once in your 'programme' did you mention the fact that Napoleon was nearly always attacked first by the Allies. It was the British that broke the Treaty of Amiens by refusing to evacuate Malta, and it was the British Cabinet and Pitt who paid for the terrorist attacks upon Napoleon perpetrated by the Comte d'Artois the evil younger brother of Louis XVIII, and his infamous group the Chevalier de la Foi. Many innocent French civilians were murdered in these assassination attempts - but absolutely no mention in your dreadful programme.
You did not mention the fact that the British paid millions of pounds in subsidies to the Austrians and Russians to encourage them to ATTACK Napoleon in 1805. Your coverage of the Battle of Austerlitz was very vague - no mention of the Pratzen Heights. It was because the Russians and Austrians took control of these that they were convinced that Napoleon was planning a retreat. That led to their overconfidence and their subsequent drubbing.
After Napoleon's victory, Emperor Francis of Austria said: ‘The English are traders in human flesh’. By then he realized he had been duped into fighting by the British. You say nothing about this.
There was no mention of the fact that Prussia ATTACKED Napoleon in 1806 - no mention of Prussia at all until 1815.
You skate over the plebiscite that gave Napoleon the position of Consul for life by 3,000,0000 votes to 8,000. Why did you not mention that no other country in Europe had any elections whatsoever? The most glaring error in your film was that there was not one mention of divine right believed in by all the monarchs of the period. They believed their right to rule came from God himself! THAT is why they were fighting Napoleon and constantly attacking him. The last thing they wanted was for the French to have a Republic (like the one those French officers helped bequeath to you Americans).
You did not mention that Austria ATTACKED Napoleon again in 1809, thinking that he was preoccupied in Spain. You do not say a single word about Spain - another glaring omission.
Talleyrand virtually handed Paris over to the Allies in 1814. Napoleon lost power in 1814 because he was betrayed. He was not defeated militarily, and he was not technically a 'prisoner'. He voluntarily gave up the throne after several of his Marshals betrayed him as well, notably Marmont, the Duke of Raguser. That very word in French today means traitor.
When Napoleon landed in France, you rightly say it was a 'gamble' but you made little mention of the sheer elation felt by millions of French people at his return. Louis XVIII was loathed by the French - and unlike Napoleon, nobody had ever voted for him.
You say the Allies flocked to Belgium - palpable nonsense. Only the Anglo-Dutch-German and Prussian armies where anywhere near the crucial fighting zone. The reason Napoleon attacked was precisely because he hoped to defeat these two armies in turn before any other of the divine right monarchist armies could enter the fray.
Why did you not mention the fact that the first thing Napoleon did on his arrival in Paris in 1815 was to write to the Prince Regent in England and the other Allies requesting peace? Were you trying to blacken his name on purpose? He wanted peace - he needed peace. France was a basket case under the Bourbons - they who learnt nothing and forgot nothing.
You then make a terrible conflation of two battles. You go on about Ney and the cavalry and then talk of Marshal Grouchy going after the Prussians. Hopeless! In fact, despite having a hangover on the day of Quatre Bras, and being slow to get his men to the vital crossroads, Ney held his own. Wellington was lucky that one of his commanders disobeyed a direct order and reinforced Quatre Bras with Allied troops. Wellington hadn't a clue what was going on until the fighting for the crossroads was well underway, and then he had the sense to reinforce those men established there in contravention to his earlier direct order.
You stated several times that Napoleon hoped to re-establish his Empire when he returned to France in 1815. The fact is he was fighting for his very survival having been proscribed by the Allies at the Congress of Vienna. He had no other option than to fight because they were going to ATTACK him. This international proscription was illegal even in 1815 and Wellington later had the grace to say it should not have been done.
You state that Napoleon was the 'cause' of six million dead in battle. That is demonstrably a lie. As I have detailed above. MOST of the time, he was the one attacked!
Your utterly biased, prejudiced and one-sided character assassination is unworthy of the National Geographic. It plays like a rather evil Walt Disney production - bearing little reality to what actually happened during those momentous years. You ought to be ashamed of this 'programme' of defamation. It is an utterly appalling waste of the money given in magazine subscriptions by people such as I. Shame on you!
P.S. I have read nearly two hundred books about Napoleon and yet I have never come across any of your 'contributors' in the thirty-five years that I have been researching the period.
John Tarttelin (M.A History) Sheffield, England. FINS.
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