“Bonaparte has differed with his generals here; and he did want – and if I understand his meaning, does want, and will strive to be, the Washington of France.” – Admiral Lord Nelson, describing then General Napoleon Bonaparte’s ambitions, as revealed in intercepted letters, August, 1798
Ah, Napoleon. If only he had succeeded in being the Washington of France, then perhaps “old Europe”, would be standing with us today. But, alas, despite their many similarities, Napoleon Bonaparte was no George Washington. Both were charismatic leaders of men. Both were generals who led rag-tag armies to victories against greater forces. Both fought for infant republics and the rights of man against the excesses of monarchy. Both became the supreme leader of their respective nations. But there the similarities end.
When the war ended, a grateful nation handed yet more power to Washington. Bonaparte seized power in a coup. Rather than abuse his power, Washington used it to nurture the ideals for which he and the country had fought so hard, and to insure that those same ideals became entrenched in the nation’s government . Bonaparte used his power to garner greater glory for himself and for France by conquering his neighbors. Washington’s legacy is a nation that two hundred years later still defends the rights of men everywhere. Napoleon’s legacy was a Europe torn by war. A Europe that continued to fight the battles left by that legacy well into the twentieth century. A Europe that in some ways is still playing the same old political power games of that legacy. And a Europe that still can’t tell the difference between Napoleon and Washington.
Little wonder then, that “old Europe” views our country and the power we’re now wielding with suspicion, though you would think that over two hundred years of example would be enough to reassure them that we are not a nation of Napoleons. But, it’s human nature to project our own faults on others. So, when old Europe sees us mobilizing to topple a tyrant, they think “imperial ambitions,” not “liberation.” They believe that all powerful leaders are cut from the same cloth as Bonaparte. Poor old Europe. They’ve never known a Washington. Fortunate America. We’ve never known a Napoleon.