Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler
Napoleon Bonaparte is reputed as one of the greatest soldiers ever. He was also an administrator, tactician and ruthless dictator. He was at one time a general in the French Revolution and later rose to become the post of consul premier, the highest in France beginning 11 November 1799 until 18 May 1804 through a coup. He became the emperor of France up to 6 April 1814 and again from 20 March to 22 June 1815 and in a little over ten years, he fought virtually all European powers (Luca, 1983). According to Gilbert (2004), Hitler’s rise was as a result of the First World War. Within his highly eventful career, he managed to conquer nine nations. He also managed to defy and ultimately humiliate the largest European powers at the time, creating an economic and social system based on forced domination of millions of Europeans. The only challenge he ever faced in his expansionism was from Poland which was backed by France and Britain.
There are a number of similarities between the careers of the two leaders. First, they both owed their rise to political office to war conditions. The French revolution provided Napoleon with the greatest opportunity to rise and establish contacts that resulted in his rise to power. Hitler on the other hand got his break into military service as a volunteer during the First world war, the absence of which he would not have had a chance to join any military as he was unqualified. The two also shared the characteristic of being dictators and expansionists. Napoleon was well known for his desire to extend the French empire as far within Europe as possible. Hitler on his part believed that the German race was superior and ought to have led Europe, a motivation that led him to seek expansion too. The two men’s careers were also politically launched in conditions that had both internal and external chaos. Napoleon rose in an environment with both internal and external threats of war. Hitler on the other hand rose to power in a condition of social and economic turmoil, leading to demands for a regime change. He incited this further and was able to attain political office (Seward, 1996).
Although the two were similar however, there were notable differences between them. First, Napoleon was a trained soldier. He was trained and used the training gained to get merit postings through which he rose through the ranks. Hitler on his part got into military service as a volunteer and used it as a stepping stone to his position as the leader of the greatest European nation in his time. Secondly, Napoleon initially got to power through a coup. He was therefore a military ruler. Hitler on his part rose through election via the Nazi party and developed his authoritarianism later (Luca, 1983).
How Europe Overcame Napoleonic Hegemony
Europe managed to overcome Napoleonic hegemony by creating strategic alliances. These were initially unsuccessful but eventually worked. For instance, The Battle of Talavera in 1809 came due to a joint Spanish and British army. This also happened in the battles of Fuentes D’Onoro in 1811 and Salamanca in 1812. These were among the heaviest defeats that were handed to the French ever (Luca, 1983).
Seward (1996) notes that in 1805, Britain created an alliance called the Third Coalition with Austria, Sweden, Russia and Naples to fight France. It was severely defeated and upon Russia pulling out and Austria surrendering, eventually collapsed. Napoleon decided to deal with Britain once and for all. He declared the Continental System in 1807, in which all British vessels were to be destroyed. The developments in Europe did not please the Prussians. Prussia therefore allied with Russia against France. The Continental System did not work and led to economic instability in the continent. Napoleon blamed Russia for this and decided to attack it with an army of 600,000 men. He moved into Moscow and set it ablaze. However, the retreat proved to be deadly. The extreme winter killed most soldiers, reducing the army to 30,000. Prussia, Austria, Russia, Britain and Sweden took the chance to form an alliance to deal with France and easily took over Paris, leading to Napoleon’s abdication and exile.
The main reasons for Napoleon’s defeat include his not having an adequate navy. The British Royal Navy remained the best for a long time and Napoleon could never match it. He therefore could not invade Britain. The French Continental System was vulnerable hence making victory for him difficult. Britain’s natural resources also made it easy for her to expand more rapidly in power. Britain was also able to produce enough grains for her soldiers unlike the case of France whose source of food was scarce. His unsuccessful attack on Moscow in 1812 was actually because of Czar Alexander’s refusing to continue offering support to Napoleon’s Continental army. A major reason for the loss of power was also that in trying to control the European coastline, Napoleon antagonized Portugal and Spain. He underestimated the resistance that the two were capable of. This was in addition to the nationalism that developed in the European middle class which was strongly opposed to the kind of taxation and Continental System that had been created. Finally, it appeared like beginning from 1807 Napoleon’s ability to make wise battle decisions became lower. He for instance thought that Moscow was central in Russia and capturing it would guarantee the defeat of Russia, which was not the case (Luca, 1983).
Gilbert, M. (2004). The Second World War: A Complete History. New York: Grolier Inc.
Luca, A. D. (1983). Personality, Power and Politics: The Historical Significance of Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin and Hitler. London: Heinemann.
Seward, D. (1996). Napoleon and Hitler: A Comparative Biography. New York: Macmillan.