Napoleon Bonaparte and Propaganda – The Shit Blizzard – Jan 12

Speaking of 19th Century Franco-English propaganda, let’s learn a little bit about Napoleon Bonaparte.

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Now eeeverybody knows that Napoleon Bonaparte was really short, right? He had an inferiority complex that drove him to crush all those tall Spaniards, Germans, etc. Well, that’s simply not the case. Napoleon was about 5’7″, or 1.7 meters. Even today that’s pretty close to median male height in America, which rests around 5’10”, and back in the early 19th century it was the median height. So where did all the short jokes come from?

Well, first, his nickname as an emerging officer in the French Revolutionary armies was ‘the little corporal.’ When Napoleon was climbing the ole pomotion ladder he cut his teeth as an artillery officer. When he was a general he still tended to head back to the artillery batteries and do some of the sighting and aiming of his artillery pieces himself, works usually reserved for someone of corporal grade. It was dangerous work, the artillery batteries always drew plenty of fire from their opposite numbers in the opening skirmishes of a late 18th/eartly 19th battle. Not as dangerous as being one of the poor chumps marching between the contesting batteries, naturally, but rather closer to the action than the conscripted peasants of 18th century armies were used to seeing their normally distant, aristocratic officers. ‘Little corporal’ was a term of endearment from the troops, referring to how Napoleon got his hands dirty on the gun line even when his rank meant he no longer had to–and probably a jab at his relentless micromanaging as well.

Of course word of this nickname gets out, and once the French and British are throwing down with Napoleon at the helm the political cartoons start coming thick and fast in English newspapers and pamphlets.

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Pretty soon the meme was ubiquitous. And of course the British won those wars, then went on to proudly paint the earth in blood and ashes for a hundred years after. Their narrative of the period won out, including their propaganda line that Bonaparte was an upstart dwarf.