Historical leaders like Napoleon or Julius Caesar are often divisive figures when it comes to how they are perceived in the modern lens. By today’s standards, many of the things these figures have said and done can be absolutely abhorrent and would be considered war crimes.
However, these figures hold special authoritative significance in military history and are touted as examples of the world’s greatest military leaders. The question then becomes; can you celebrate the military prowess of these people while still condemning their actions we don’t agree with?
For example, Napoleon is a folk hero in France, and his influence on modern-day French culture cannot be overstated. Everywhere you go in France you can find references to him, and moments erected in his honour. The French legal system was set out by Napoleon and is still used today.
But Napoleon was responsible for a war of conquest so large that some argue it was the real first world war. Millions died due to the ambitions of Napoleon to not only rule France but to leverage control over other parts of the world. He wanted to crush his enemies, not just defend the French nation.
Other figures that are revered as military leaders or colonial explorers are often tied to acts of violence that are considered abhorrent by today’s standards. Some acts can ever be considered genocidal – so how can we ‘respect’ people who did things like that just because they were great military leaders that modern soldiers can study?
Ultimately, venerating military leaders or leaders who use violence to get their way can have a negative effect on society. It implies there is something noble or glorious about the prosecution of a war, when in reality, war should only ever be a last resort.