The Emperor’s Clothes

A look back at the history of men and nations can be a good teacher in viewing the events and leaders of today. In its newfound role of unopposed supreme world power, the United States of America has come under increasing criticism from much of the world for its heavy-handed policies and apparent unquenchable thirst for hegemony at the cost of sovereignty and social justice. Mr. Bush in particular has been personally vilified as representing the kind of man who in the past has led the world to great misfortune, wars and destruction. Perhaps a review of the life, events and personality of one of the world’s great despots would be instructional.

In his grand crusade for republicanism, Napoleon Ponaparte marched into Moscow relatively unopposed; then they burned it down around his ears.

This tyrant of the early nineteenth century had rallied all of France, and much of Europe in the name of egalitarianism, freedom and liberty. Yet, in the end he had become a true despot, garnering almost unlimited power unto himself–intimidating his enemies, spying on his friends and following a megalomaniac’s delusion of being “boss of the world.”

Sharing the delusional path of most power filled men, he led his nation into multiple foreign misadventures of immense consequence. His invasion of Russia at the head of the largest army ever assembled, taken up with such casualness against a former ally, was to ultimately cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children and end in disgrace. The Russian campaign was his true undoing, nearly bankrupting France. The battle of Waterloo, his last military defeat, was only the cap on the bottle that sealed his fate–to become a deranged old man in exile on a deserted island, slowly dying of syphilis.

Napoleon’s personality had a certain charisma, especially before a crowd, and he was known for his speaking ability and the ability to rouse a people and make them believe in the rightfulness of his causes. Yet, his actions spoke a completely different language. When he sat the crown of “Emperor” upon his own head, he saw nothing unnatural in the act. Such can be the delusion of unlimited power and control over people’s lives.

For those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear there were early signs of his approaching neurosis and megalomania. His rage and anger in private was legendary, but closely concealed from the public where he wore the face of benign concern and reason. His inability to admit to mistake separated him from many of his comrades and drove him to fabricate twisted rationales for failure that defied all reason. Yet, even in the face of disasters, he would not be deterred. He was known to have never offered an apology in his life.. In both the campaign in Egypt and later in Russia he left behind tens of thousands of stranded troops, to suffer the harsh fate of the marooned in a foreign land. Yet, such was the hero worship around him that even in defeat he seemed victorious. Victory was all he spoke of, even in the face of unmitigated ruin. His obsession for “winning at all cost” squandered mighty treasuries, hundreds of thousands of lives and lay waste to whole regions of villages and towns.

To accept a setback at the hands of cruel fate was tantamount to death for Mr. Bonaparte. As a result he was rigid and inflexible as a warrior. While brilliant in his ability to devise military tactics beforehand, he was unbending and inadaptable on the battlefield. His preconceptions and ego driven will became his tactical stumbling blocks when the tide turned against him. Hundreds of thousands died or were maimed as a result.

The most singular lesson that Mr. Bonaparte left the world of thinking men is that–given enough power–all men become corrupted and lead nations to ruin.

Dr. JOHN BOMAR, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is a Catholic Lay Minister in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He can be reached at: