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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dads in History

Father's Day commemorates fathers and the roles they play in our lives. Let's take that one step further and look at some dads from history. Some played substantial roles impacting the course of history. And at least one son carved out a place in history because of a blood oath to his father.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

Hannibal kicked butt! - Honoring a blood oath to his father, Hannibal terrorized Rome and its armies for more than 20 years. He surprised the hell out of them by crossing the Alps with a full army. And while he lost half of it, Hannibal took the rest and vexed Roman consuls for generations. Read about this very clever son and how he would have made Dad proud.

Caesar - Julius Caesar was the father of Rome's imperial expansion. He is the progenitor of the expression, Caesar. He was a dad, too. Just ask Cleopatra, although junior never reached adulthood—the successor to Julius saw to that. Find out what made Caesar such a incisive figure in his day.

Genghis Khan - Now he was an interesting father. He came, he saw, he kicked real butt across Asia and left so much of his DNA, it still weaves itself through 1 in 200 men to this day. That's prolific. Learn what made Khan such an imposing force.

George Washington - Washington is the father of our nation. He commanded the ragtag forces that won freedom and independence for America, and he was courageous enough to accept being the first elected leader of the Great Experiment.

Napoleon - He is the French Connection—the one who gave France a legacy that even today is prolific. He is responsible for the Napoleonic Code, the dominance of French culture throughout Europe in his day, as well as the one who helped draw the North American map with the Louisiana Purchase. He is also the root of French/English vexations for the past two centuries. Well, not the root but certainly a significant stump. He also dominates several posts from this year.

Sam Houston - General Sam Houston is the father of the Republic of Texas, and later the State of Texas. He was a dad, too. And both his family and historic legacies remains to this day. Find out why he is such a unique man.

Abraham Lincoln - He kept the proverbial "family" together through very dark times. Some of that darkness included the death of his own son. But this resilient and steadfast man never backed away from a challenge and, indeed, used a stern hand in dealing with the Civil War, but also had the compassion for defeated South to "let 'em up easy."

Teddy Roosevelt - He may well have been the father of 20th Century politics and the man who rang in the American Century. His politics were straightforward, just as his personality. And he was a beloved father. This is the first in a series worth reading abut this formidable figure.

A new deal - FDR was a father figure to a nation, and perhaps the world, in the years following the Great Depression, as well as the during America's early years in World War II. This entry is the first in a series on this impactive leader.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Complex Napoleon

Editor’s note: This entry is the fifth and final in a series on Napoleon I. BIH recommends first reading the previous entries, A brand apart, Rise of the little corporal, The return of Caesar and Emperor of the Republic. They review the origin story of the young Napoleon, and then explore his development as a leader and strategist.

Despite his victories as well as his popularity with the masses and much of Europe, things never really settled down for Napoleon. Royalist and competing republican factions persisted with assassination plots. The one sparking a massive coalition against Napoleon involved the Bourbons, a well-entrenched royal family from the 13th century. It had strong ties throughout Europe. The problem for Napoleon was that he tried and executed a Bourbon duke that had nothing to do with the plot, and royal courts all over Europe consequently went ballistic, resolving to stop the French dictator.
Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David in 1804.
Napoleon used these uncovered plots to bolster his power. Ultimately he was made Emperor of France by constitutional referendum, and his coronation took place in 1804. At that very moment he fully and finally sealed his abandonment of the anti-monarch morality he had when the revolution started. This undermined all his efforts because he himself became a monarch, which, ironically, he'd fought against for almost 15 years.

The Napoleon story we know
Now it was on. By 1805, Napoleon had vexed just about everyone around him, and as far off as Russia. A root coalition began forming led by Britain and Russia. They would be at the core of no less than six coalitions formed for the next 9 years with the singular purpose of defeating Napoleon and the advancement of his French empire. The beginning of the end came in the summer of 1812 with the invasion of Russia. Most know the story from there—that Russia drew the Napoleon in deeper and deeper into its territory, until the Russian winter overcame Napoleons strategic abilities. It didn't hurt that the Russians' scorched-earth strategy severely hindered the French ability to resupply.

Battle of Waterloo by ClĂ©ment-Auguste Andrieux (1852).
The Grand Army was no longer so grand, so the Allies began to press against French forces. By April of 1814, Emperor Napoleon abdicated. Next came his first exile to the island of Elba. Although he around ten months later and led an uprising, the British suppressed it at Battle of Waterloo. They held Napoleon on the south Atlantic island of Saint Helena until his death six years later. 

Ego and brand overshadow a legacy

Napoleon's influence on the western world is more extensive than may realize. His reforms included the Napoleonic Code, which remains a significant legal basis for as many as 70 nations. It set out the structures for meritocracy, secular education, sound state finances, and even religious toleration. This code essentially ended rural and feudal banditry, as well as encouraged science and art. It gave the French state, and by extension through conquest, much of Europe the foundation for running a modern state.

Among his other "good deeds," Napoleon welcomed Jews and non-Catholics in the French state. Indeed, he expanded their rights to property and careers. He ignored anti-Semitic reaction from foreign governments and within France, believing religious reform benefited France. Napoleon believed religion was a force for social stability. Although he instituted secular education, he left some primary education in the hands of religious orders. All students were taught the sciences along with modern and classical languages. Unlike the system during the old regimes, religious topics did not dominate the curriculum, although they were present with the teachers from the clergy. 

Napoleon helped shape much of Europe, helping consolidate many fractious territories into nations, such as the 300 regions of Germany merging into fewer than 50, helping set up German Unification in the late 19th century. His sale of the Louisiana territory to the United States during Thomas Jefferson's presidency nearly doubled the size of the young democracy.

So how do you sum up Napoleon? Reformer. Revolutionary. Strategist. Visionary. But you also have to acknowledge that he was quite an ego and, well, ultimately overambitious. Each of the things he was and the legacies he left can only be titrated into a single phrase—Napoleon, a brand apart.