Friday, July 25, 2008

Napoleon Was Hitler's Genocidal Model, Historian Claims

I noticed the Daily Mail article on the new postmodern history of Napoleon yesterday, while searching Google for information on blacks in the military. Here's the introduction from the story, "The French Fuhrer":


Three days after the fall of France in 1940, Napoleon, lying in his marble tomb in Paris, received a visit from his greatest admirer.

Adolf Hitler, on his one and only visit to the French capital, made an unannounced trip to the tomb in Les Invalides.

In his white raincoat, surrounded by his generals, Hitler stood for a long time gazing down at his hero, his cap removed in deference.

He was said later to have described this moment as 'one of the proudest of my life'.
The next day, during his official sightseeing tour of Paris, Hitler again visited Napoleon's tomb to salute him.

Conscious that his hero was known to the world simply as Napoleon, Hitler boasted that he would not need a rank or title on his gravestone. 'The German people would know who it was if the only word was Adolf.'

Throughout the war, Hitler had sandbags placed around Napoleon's tomb to guard against bomb damage.

Wooden floorboards were laid across the marble floor of Les Invalides so that they would not be scarred by German jackboots.

Until recently, the French would have been incensed by any comparison between Napoleon and Hitler.

But to their rage and shame, new research has shown that France's greatest hero presided over mass atrocities which bear comparison with some of Hitler's worst crimes against humanity.
These reassessments of Napoleon have caused anguish in France. Top politicians backed out of official ceremonies to mark what was possibly Napoleon's greatest victory, the battle of Austerlitz, when Napoleon's Grande Armee defeated the combined armies of Austria and Russia in just six hours, killing 19,000 of their adversaries.

A street in Paris named Rue Richepanse (after Antoine Richepanse, a general responsible for atrocities in the Caribbean) has recently had its name changed to Rue Solitude.

Claude Ribbe, a respected historian and philosopher and member of the French government's human rights commission, has been researching Napoleon's bloodcurdling record for some years.

He accuses him of being a racist and an anti-Semite who persecuted Jews and reintroduced widespread slavery just a few years after it had been abolished by the French government.

These are some sweeping claims, and without reading the book, they sound plausible.

Still, the historical consensus on World War II and the Nazi Holocaust is that the scale and brutality of Hitler's anti-Semitic eliminationist program is unprecedented in modern times, if not world history.
The Shoah represents the height of mass-based, mechanized, industrial-scale murder. Further, it is understood that the banality of death under the Third Reich represented a collapse of the Western Christian conscience of man. For these reasons, "never again" is the phrase of warning so that this enormity of man's inhumanity to man is never repeated in the world.

Again, I can't fully criticize Ribbe without reading his work. I looked for information on him and his research online, and there's not a lot. I did find
a French blogger who had interviewed Ribbe, where he's quoted:

There are perhaps as many books written on Napoleon as the days since his death (somewhere around 67,500 days). But none of the books talk about the gassing and the slavery.

The French racism is very linked to Napoleon, so attacking Napoleon is the best way to attack racism. He’s the man who reestablished slavery. If the man who reestablished slavery is a hero in France, then it’s impossible to do anything.
If we look at Ribbe's slim Wikipdedia entry we find this:

Claude Ribbe (born October 13, 1954) is a French writer and "human rights commissioner" of Caribbean origin. In his book The Crime of Napoleon, Ribbe claimed that Napoleon's regime used sulfur dioxide gas for mass execution of more than 100,000 rebellious black slaves when trying to put down slave rebellions in Haiti and Guadeloupe, nearly 140 years before Hitler's holocaust.

Some of this account appears historically commensurate with extent records of the times, for example, the history of Haitian independence.

Yet, Ribbe's apparently a controversial figure in the historical profession (by his own account), and it's a stretch to go so far as allege that black Haitians were victims of genocide.

As in the case of American Indians, what happened in Haiti under French imperialism was not a genocidal crime but a tragedy of cultures in conflict. Specifically, French suppression of Haitians - while unspeakably violent - was of a design and scale far below the extermination of the Jews in World War II. Neither is excusable, but Ribbe's allegations of Napoleonic genocide represents an indictment of the entire French system of politics and power. Ribbe, then, falls in line with the postmodern turn in social history that sees the history of the West and the imperial project an irredeemable stain on the course of human history, and thus the justification for a reordering of power relations in contemporary politics, complete with reparations and war crimes remunerations from the state.

Most of all, by elevating Napoleon to the realm of Adoph Hitler, Ribbe minimizes the ranks of evil. If Hitler's no different from Napoleon, then neither is Radovan Karadzic.

But to do this is to refuse discernment on the most horrifying chapter of human destruction in the 20th century.

I never would never wish the fate of French colonialism upon the Haitian people. Nevertheless, the sweeping charge of genocide against Carribean slaves is logically innacurate and politically motivated. It's just too much.

Photo Credit: The Daily Mail