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Napoleon Bonaparte - Corsican at Heart (Part 1)

Conquering is a grim business. History looks upon the practice far more favorably than modern society does. Brutal war for the sole purpose of subjugation has fallen out of fashion. This largely due to the rise of the internet, making the reality of war more graphic and immediate.

Social pressure can be a powerful thing. Citizens can only tolerate their leaders' bad behavior for so long before something breaks. This process is helped along with the strategic application of propaganda. The average person's thoughts and opinions are often identical to the last piece of propaganda they were exposed to, whether they realize it or not.

Revolutions are nothing new. People shrug off the yoke of their old leaders, only to replace them with something new. That's exactly what happened during the French Revolution.

Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power during a time when the French were demanding more freedom and liberty for all. His reign would be welcomed with open arms. Though it was just as authoritarian as that of his predecessor, and far more deadly.

Corsica and France

People are inevitably shaped by their heritage. The society and politics that surrounds them lay the framework for future attitudes. Whether they grow to believe in the society that spawned them, or to reject it.

Corsica is the fourth-largest island in the Mediterranean. The island has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BCE. From 1434 to 1729 the island was mostly under the control of the Genoese Republic.

Genoese rule was characterized by a corrupt justice system, which instilled in the Corsicans the need to assert their own justice. The Vendetta became a common way to deal with those that wronged you.

Vendettas are a personal blood feud. Street justice. They often end only in the death of one or both of the parties involved. So, in short, it's a national institution.

Corsica rebelled against Genoa in 1729. The rebellion was disorganized and lacked leadership. Leading to chaos on the island, until 1755, when Pasquale Paoli returned to Corsica and established the Corsican Republic. Paoli would be one of Napoleon's great heroes.

The Republic was never truly acknowledged by Genoa. So, in 1768, when France made an offer to buy the island from Genoa, the latter was more than happy to agree. Selling something you don't own and getting away with it is the greatest business strategy.

French soldiers invaded Corsica and overcame their resistance with a brutal campaign of suppression. Paoli chose exile, and fled to England. His rebel soldiers continued the fight from bases in the mountains. Their continued resistance was often rewarded with public display of their bodies after death.

His close ally, Carlo Bonaparte, opted to capitulate to the French. Carlo was rewarded with minor nobility from the French. Pasquale Paoli would never forgive him for what he considered treachery.

The Young Napoleon

15 August 1769 was a normal day on the recently captured island of Corsica. The inhabitants of Ajaccio were unaware that a great ruler had been born among them. Nor could they imagine that one of their own would bring Europe to its knees in the decades to come.

Carlo Bonaparte, Corsica's representative in the French court, and his wife Letizia were blessed by the birth of a child. Napoleon was the second son to join the family. They lived a somewhat comfortable life, thanks largely to Letizia's frugality.

Napoleon would later remark that she had the head of a man on the body of a woman (which was supposed to be a compliment, but it reads very differently in the modern era). His stance on women would be made appallingly clear in his later political policies.

Ambition flowed through the veins of the Bonaparte men. Carlo had a hunger for adventure and often partook in risky business ventures and court intrigue. He passed this recklessness to his sons. Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon's younger brother, would live a politically active life. Often involved in plots, schemes, and small-scale revolutionary activity.

Napoleon spent his early life living on Corsica with his mother. The boy loved reading and writing, and had aspirations of becoming an author. His inability to speak French was unacceptable to his father.

During his early youth, he would undoubtedly be exposed to the violent suppression of Corsican rebels by French soldiers. This childhood trauma would shape Napoleon's early views on France.

Carlo sent Napoleon to learn French on the mainland at the age of 10. The boy spoke French with a heavy Corsican accent, that he would never shake. This would prove to be a thorn in his side when, in 1779, he attended the Military Academy at Brienne-le-Château.

His peers, mainly aristocratic French children, rejected him. They bullied him for his awkward looks and dark skin. He took refuge in his studies, and excelled at math, history, and geography.

All the while, he held onto his strong Corsican Nationalism. France was a heinous occupying force, in his mind. He wrote several essays and stories that all had strong anti-French themes throughout his adolescence.

Excelling at math is a sure way to be assigned to the artillery divisions. Owing to the complexity of calculating trajectories during the heat of battle.

His talent was noticed, by his teachers. Five years later, he graduated and earned his place at Paris' École Militaire, the premier training facility for France's future military officers.

Napoleon found himself thrust into the decadence of the French aristocracy. His peers, being high-born, were treated accordingly. Lavish residences, carousing, and visits with prostitutes were the norm.

He was exposed to the Enlightenment ideals so popular at the time. Also coming into contact with the Jacobin political faction. The ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy appealed to the young officer.

Napoleon's great inner conflict arouse during this time. He wanted desperately to retain his Corsican heritage. Resisting the French was such a big part of his childhood. As he would soon discover, Corsica wasn't what he remembered. He had been away for such a long time, and placed his homeland on such a high pedestal, that a schism was inevitable.

It was during his time there that the ten-year period of the French Revolution would begin. Giving Napoleon the opportunities he needed to rise from military and literary obscurity, to the heights of historical fame.

Soon after the outbreak of revolutionary violence in France, Napoleon would return to his beloved Corsica. There he would try to reconcile his deep-rooted nationalism with the ideals of the revolution.