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Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby DaveH » July 18th, 2015, 11:38 am

As two Kevins, favourably disposed towards Roberts, are unhappy about mentioning Hitler to show how silly Roberts' argument is, perhaps this is okay? http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/f ... ianreview9 but we can take another example - for WW1, the UK and USA both declared war on Germany, neither being under any alliance obligation to do so. That does not make Germany the innocent victim of the aggression of these two nations, does it?

History and especially the big personalities are often viewed through the prism of subsequent events. In 1809, Austria is accused of starting that war without a declaration. Reading Krieg 1809 would be enough to appreciate that the messenger as delayed on his way to Munich. However, this is not an issue for British enthusiasts, as we have declared war many times (viz. 1914 and 1939) and been involved in wars, which didn't start with a declaration - it matters to Americans because of Pearl Harbour 130 years later.

You thus cannot dismiss parallels across time, which show or disprove the validity of a line of argument. There is no objective test of "greatness", so comparisons through time and with contemporaries will occur, even if some carry a lot of baggage and remain within living memory. Indeed, we in the UK revere Churchill, but that has necessitated a certain amount of ignoring of some aspects of his career - Gallipoli and using chemical weapons for example. Why? Largely because it was our 'finest hour' but also because it was our last episode as a top dog on the world stage. It is the same with Napoleon and France - his rule was France's last time as to in Europe and since then, she has always played second fiddle to Germany.

In arguing about Napoleon's "greatness" we perhaps say more about ourselves and the historical prisms we look through than the person himself.
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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Kev » July 18th, 2015, 11:49 am

jf42 wrote:The correspondence between Charles Esdaile and Andrew Roberts is very telling. One man is defending a position, the other is defendng a case.


I enjoyed reading the exchange. It is very good that these two individuals are able to disagree but maintain a civil and respectful dialogue. :)
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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Senarmont198 » July 18th, 2015, 12:18 pm

And both are credible historians who produce excellent books that add to the literature of the period. And it doesn't matter if everyone agrees with them or not. All the books being produced should be read if possible and the greater majority of them are all 'arrows in the quiver' of the assembled knowledge of the period in question.
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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 18th, 2015, 1:27 pm

Debate is not in its essence about agreement, but discussion, ideas and the exchange of them. It is about showing both sides of the story. A good debate should be an equal partnership, both sides are necessary, and can bring a balance by their conflicting views. Few singular books or lectures can be wholly unbiased one way or another, debate whether on a forum or in person allows for a truer sense of a subject.
Too often the passions of the participants can ruin it, as their opinions clash, it is therefore vital to keep it as if it was a game of sport, both players respect the other and play hard. Shake hands at the end.

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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Senarmont198 » July 18th, 2015, 1:57 pm

I would suggest that all authors and historians (and the two aren't necessarily synonymous) have biases one way or another. Further, I have never come across a book that does not have errors in it. The best ones are where there are few errors and the authors' bias is held in check.

The readership also has their inherent bias and that too many times causes a knee-jerk reaction to what an author might say that what the individual may believe, with or without researching the subject themselves.

Some people are 'upset' because Roberts' excellent work is sympathetic to Napoleon. Those same people may not be 'upset' at the pseudo-biographies of Napoleon by such as Alan Schom and Corelli Barnett, which are error ridden and biased in the extreme.

Source material also should be looked at as not all source material is reliable on the subject, such as Jomini, Bourrienne, Abrantes, and Remusat.
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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 18th, 2015, 3:48 pm

Bias is to be found on both sides here. Roberts' book is not excellent to some, the others' are not pseudo history to the other side. Roberts gives a positive bias & the others a negative one. Therefore depending on ones outlook they will all have errors depending on your viewpoint.

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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby jf42 » July 18th, 2015, 3:52 pm

I for one have no problem with any one arguing the merits of Napoleon Bonaparte either as a commander or a monarch. 'Sympathy' is another matter. I am sympathetic to Arthur Wellesley in all his incarnations but I would never wink at his failings as a man or any errors he made as a commander in the field.

This thread began as a discussion of one particular article by Andrew Roberts which was egregious in its errors, its laziness and bias. The focus of my impatience was Roberts not Napoleon.
Last edited by jf42 on July 19th, 2015, 8:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 18th, 2015, 5:25 pm

Shrewdly said, JF, I concur.

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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Andrew » July 18th, 2015, 5:52 pm

For me, writing history should be objective; provide all the evidence and let the reader make his own mind up. New information and ideas will inevitably come up that might change a historian's viewpoint; they should be big enough and intellectually flexible enough to be prepared to change their own position. I would certainly change a number of things in my own books when/if they get re-printed.

Of course, being objective is far more difficult when you are writing about (or even having a view about) an individual. Personally, I much admire Napoleon as a military commander, generally feel that he is somewhat maligned as a country's leader and my jury is still out on him as a personality! More study in this respect needed!

When debating such issues, it is necessary to respect the views of others, but be prepared to produce contrary evidence when this is available; then others can make up their minds one way or another. There must be a recognition that one person is unlikely to be one hundred percent right or wrong. We must be prepared to debate all the many topics that come up on this forum because if we all always agreed, it would be rather less interesting than it is!!
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Re: Andrew Roberts: we'd be better off if Napoleon had won

Postby Senarmont198 » July 18th, 2015, 7:25 pm

Agree completely.

Anyone attempting to write about history has to conduct historical inquiry. And that is assembling a myriad of facts on the subject concerned. After assembling the facts, a conclusion, or conclusions, can then be reached on the subject.

While it may be difficult, preconceived notions or ideas on the subject, if new or unknown information is found, and that information changes those ideas, then the preconceived ideas need to be changed in accordance and subject to the information and facts found during research.

Unfortunately, this isn't always done.
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