Alistair’s “Random Rambles” (15)
By Kathy Martin…
Written May 2014
Since April last year, both my wife and I have each owned a basic “kindle” and have found them very convenient and user-friendly. I mention this because we will be going to Istanbul, during the week that this will be published. Incidentally, although we now live permanently “on holiday”, this will be the first time that we won’t have slept in our own beds for more than 6 years! I will, of course, try to think up a non time-specific “ramble” for the following week, but to revert to the practicalities of owning and using a kindle.
There is a certain loss of tactile pleasure in not actually holding pages. However, the ability and convenience of being able to carry the complete works of (say) Charles Dickens, Jules Verne and others as well as both an American and English dictionary, literally in a pocket, during air travel far outweighs any loss of tactile pleasure!
While on the subject of kindles and other modern devices, we have noticed that many people now go to cafes to take advantage of “free Wi-Fi”. We have also noticed many couples and even entire families enter such establishments and, after ordering refreshments, bring out i‑pads, i-phones etc and immediately, in complete silence, scrabble away feverishly on them. Does this mean that mankind will evolve into creatures with fingers and thumbs as flexible as an octopus’s tentacles, yet devolve into creatures without the ability to converse?
Nonetheless, with their microphones, loudspeakers and cameras, these devices are excellent tools to keep in touch with friends, family and even business colleagues who may be thousands of kilometres away.
This week your Rambler is on holiday in mainland Turkey, without his laptop and as such is really out of touch with both reality (no change there then!) and current affairs!
My ramble will be one through history, hopefully in a light-hearted manner and with somewhat sideways views! The word “sideways” used in this context is taken directly from a report that followed the analysis of a psychometric test that I took to measure my mental abilities and processes after being made redundant.
I was 45 years old and suffered from the technically illegal, but nonetheless, practiced “age discrimination” policies. I wanted to be able to show, in addition to the strengths shown on my CV, that I had the potential to be an “employee of the year”. One of the comments on my nature and abilities was that I could look at a problem or situation in a sideways manner and come up with a solution that few other people would conceive!
Many historical figures have (justifiably) been given the reputations as “bad guys”. However, despite being involved in such things as genocide and warfare on a large scale, they did some good in other fields or at other times.
The French leader (later Emperor) Napoleon Bonaparte was one of these. He is best remembered for becoming emperor of France after the French revolution, putting his army in a situation where the majority of it either froze or starved to death in and around Moscow in 1812. He is also remembered for losing the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
He is not remembered for what really he was; both a brilliant military strategist and consummate politician!
However, Napoleon came to power in 1799, some 10 years after the start of the French revolution in 1789, so why did he wait for more than a decade to do the things that he is best remembered for?
Basically, the reason is in the time-honoured saying “history is written by the victors”!
Napoleon seized power because he was a French patriot, who was alarmed at the conditions and events that had occurred in France since 1789. The French people (of all walks of life) didn’t have a revolution one day and wake up the next day to blue and sunny skies with birds tweeting happily in trees!
For the decade between the revolution in 1789 and Bonaparte’s ascension to power in 1799, France was in a state of political, civil and financial unrest, bordering on civil war! Until Bonaparte, no politician was strong enough to bring order to chaos!
No, even (or especially) among the Revolutionary Councils throughout France, there were a number of various, and slightly differing political, factions. While the individual members shouted loudly that they were prepared to die for their principles, of course, in reality they found that it was more advantageous to kill the others who were in political factions that held views differing to theirs!
During Napoleon’s rule the metric currency and measurement systems were introduced in France. Admittedly, in 1812 for some reason, the currency used in retail trade reverted to that used in the “Ancient Regime”.
All religions (“the opiate of the masses” according to Karl Marx later that century!) had been banned by the revolutionary councils. This action had caused great mutterings, not only among the majority of the population, but also in the surrounding countries and especially with the Roman Catholic Pope in Rome!
Not only did Napoleon re-instate the right to practice religion, he also “emancipated” the Catholics, Protestants and Jews.
Let me explain, in “Catholic” districts all Protestants (and Jews) were forced to both live and work in separate ghettos and communes. While in “Protestant” districts all Catholics and Jews…..you get the idea? Incidentally there weren’t any Jewish districts!
Under Napoleon’s enlightened emancipation anyone could live or work in any area, irrespective of religious belief. While the reaction of the Catholic and Protestant church leaders is not on record, the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church said “Napoleon was the “Antichrist” for allowing the Jews to have any freedom or respect!”
1804 was probably Napoleon’s most productive year, as he introduced many reforms that are still valid and in effect today.
Among other items, the Civic Code stated that “all men are equal”. Readers probably know that this was the second slogan of the battle cry of the original French revolutionaries “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”! Well, yes it was, but the leaders of the Revolutionary Councils soon realised that after the ruling class of nobles had (literally) lost their heads, a “power vacuum” was created. The leaders of the councils willingly filled this power vacuum!
The very nature of any, and all, political and economic systems require that there must be a “higher” echelon that enjoy more power and privileges than those of the “lower” (working) class. Had the (ex) council leaders – then the “new” nobility – continued to practice “equality”, all would have been well. However, they created dynasties through nepotism, and as such closed certain educational systems and employment situations to anyone who couldn’t say “my daddy is a politician (or other influential person)”!
The Civic Code made it obligatory to open all educational establishments, as well as trades and professions, to people of ability and merit, not by right of birth or social standing. A central bank was established and many tax reforms (beneficial to the general populace) were introduced. On the down side, women were reduced to the status of second-class citizens, especially in their eligibility to inherit property.
Although Napoleon probably suffered megalomania later in his life, in the early years of the 19th century he fulfilled the saying “cometh the hour, cometh the man” certainly as far as the French nation was concerned.
Napoleon must have been a man who possessed great charisma; he was certainly very popular with the military and common people of France. This is evident shown by the warm welcome that he was greeted with on his return to mainland France after escaping from his exile on the island of Elba. The regiment of soldiers who were sent from Paris to arrest him simply picked him up and then carried him shoulder high to Paris where they sat him on the emperor’s throne (again)! This took place before he went to Russia, Waterloo etc.
Also, if Adolf Hitler hadn’t been involved in concentration camps and the Second World War, he would probably have gone down in history as the greatest German leader of the 20th century, perhaps of all time!