Hitler vs. Napoleon
Historians have noted the similarities between Napoleon and Hitler for years. Both were charismatic dictators who established regimes in times of war and had ambitions of European domination. Both were enormously successful but short-lived in their enterprises. For these and other reasons, Napoleon is easily comparable to Hitler. This essay will explore this comparability in terms of their national achievements, conquests, nationalism, origins, legacy and military/political maneuvers.
Though now popularly viewed as a despot, Napoleon, like Hitler, contributed many positive elements to his native country. He codified French law, particularly the Civil Code, replacing the Ancient Regime’s 360 local codes. He also implemented lycees, secondary schools that were meant to instruct future leaders of France. Hitler, by comparison, instigated in Germany one of the largest booms in civil advancement and industrial expansion the country has ever witnessed. Like Napoleon, military growth accounted for much of the economical improvement.
Napoleon’s strategy of conquest is also very similar to Hitler’s. Both had aims to one day bring all of Europe under their control, and just as Napoleon abandoned campaigns in Britain and ended his career in the Russian wastes, so too did Hitler. Napoleon attacked Russia from an almost impregnable position of advantage in 1812, assaulting a country that posed no overt threat. Hitler did the same in 1941. It is possible both were suffering from the hubris, or excessive pride, of their successes.
Whatever the case, Napoleon was definitely known for his nationalistic pride of Corsica (and France), much like Hitler for his German heritage. The Bonapartists saw themselves as inheritors of the French revolution, and Napoleon’s efforts to expand the empire were tireless. He forbade his conquered countries from expressing their own national heritage, which may have later led to a rise in nationalism in those territories. Most notable of these territories was Germany, whose nationalistic rise Hitler augmented to preclude the inclusion of Jews or any non-Ango ethnicities.
Both Napoleon and Hitler came from relatively humble origins. Napoleon was born in Corsica, a possession of France. The son of a moderately successful attorney, Napoleon received a fair education but carried an Italian accent that would set him apart from the higher tiers of French society. He began his military career as an artillery officer, not considered a desirable command at the time. Hitler, similarly, was not wealthy in his youth. He lived a bohemian life on minimal wages, never completed his high school education, and scratched by a living as a failing artist. But like Napoleon, Hitler would transcend his unspectacular origins, leaving behind a considerable mark on their cultures and the world.
Napoleon’s legacy is evident in his Code, his invention of the modern military conscript, and his innovations on warfare. Under Napoleon, corps took the place of divisions as the largest military unit, cavalry increased in importance, battles became more decisive with broader attack fronts, and armies focused on the annihilation of enemy armies as opposed to out-maneuvering them. He is thought to have spread the Revolutionary philosophy throughout Europe, manifested in the nation states that rose in Italy and Germany.
His Napoleonic Code, however, is the innovation for which even Napoleon knew he would be most known. Hitler’s contributions are, by contrast, negative. He is responsible for taking anti-Semitism to a national scale, implementing the Nazi Party (which still exists today in various forms), and propagating fascism and intolerance as natural products of his military and political strategy.
Indeed, Napoleon was very similar to Hitler in regard to political/military strategy, as well. Both leaders used aggressive strategies in the acquisition of land and both suppressed revolts of the peoples their regimes oppressed. Napoleon was known for his efforts to put down a major Haitian slave revolt and, in 1801 France, to re-establish slavery after its post-Revolution ban.
Likewise, Hitler is notorious for his persecution of the Jews, his anti-Semitic tirades that won him enormous favor among vast demographics of the German population, and his supreme execution of suppression and extermination, the Holocaust. While their strategies show similarity, Napoleon’s do not equal Hitler’s in terms of sheer ferocity and nationalistic fervor.