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The Birth of Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769

2020-08-10T14:52:23-05:00August 10, 2020|HH 2020|

There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.” —Proverbs 6:16-19

The Birth of Napoleon Bonaparte, August 15, 1769

The British called him all sorts of things: The Beast, The Monster, the Man of Blood, the Little Corporal, and Old Boney. No doubt other European nations had their special names for him. He was the most hated and the most beloved man on the continent. His actions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. He came from well-to-do minor nobility of Italian descent on the Island of Corsica. Whether you call him by his given name, a nickname, or an anthropomorphic nightmare appellation, he changed history in a large way. His given name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

As a young man Bonaparte attended the French military college—the first Corsican to graduate from that distinguished institution. He spoke fluent Corsican and Italian and a heavily accented French. In 1785 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the artillery. With his support of the French Revolution, Napoleon received a captain’s commission. He published a pro-revolution pamphlet and led his artillery in the siege of Toulon, where he was wounded and came to the attention of the Committee of Safety, who in effect ruled France. The revolutionaries ignored the historic protocols for advancement based on seniority or social standing, that the royal government had followed, and elevated loyal and successful men of the Revolution. The council promoted Napoleon to Brigadier General and sent him on campaign in Italy after he successfully defended the National Convention from attackers, by deploying his artillery and slaughtering the mobs.

Napoleon at age 23

Carlo Bonaparte (1746-1785), Napoleon’s father

Letizia Bonaparte (1750-1836), Napoleon’s mother

The Revolutionary French army went to war with several other European nations simultaneously, especially Britain. Napoleon took his army to Egypt, defeating the Mamluks there, and awaited the British armies that would come to shore up their empire. Napoleon’s 13,000-man army defeated and destroyed city after city in the Middle East until his own fleet was destroyed in the Battle of the Nile by Lord Horatio Nelson. Most of the French army perished from bubonic plague and battle casualties before he returned to France, greeted as a hero.

Napoleon at the Battle of Shubra Khit, the first major engagement of his Egypt campaign, July 13, 1798

The Battle of the Nile (August 1-3, 1798) with Admiral Horatio Nelson superimposed. Visible on his tricorn is a token presented by the Ottoman Sultan as a reward for the victory at the Nile.

Taking command of the French armies on behalf of the “Republic,” Napoleon channeled their revolutionary fervor into systematic campaigns against Austria, Prussia, Italy, Spain and Portugal, defeating them all in spectacular and bloody victories, with occasional peace treaties in between. Europe had never seen a warrior such as Bonaparte; he redrew the boundaries of nations and placed his relatives on thrones. In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor, a permanent First Consul, reminiscent of the Roman Caesars. The vast majority of the French electorate decided in his favor, although assassination plots were consistently being revealed by his secret service.

The French Empire at its zenith in 1812

Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), appointed King of Spain by his brother Napoleon

Louis Bonaparte (1778-1846), appointed King of Holland by his brother Napoleon

Coalitions of his enemies continued wars against France unabated until 1814, with battles of unprecedented size and ferocity. In 1808, Napoleon invaded Russia, defeating the Tsar’s armies at Borodino, which resulted in a combined 80,000 killed. He failed, however, to capture Moscow, and the battles and long winter retreat cost France more than 350,000 dead. In 1813, the Sixth Coalition attacked France once more, finally defeating Napoleon’s army and sending him into exile on the Island of Elba. He escaped, however, and once more electrified the population with memories of the glory and elan of past French victories.

Napoleon watching the fire of Moscow, September of 1812

Napoleon’s return from Elba

France rallied once more to Bonaparte’s banners as 200,000 men chose once more to follow their Emperor against England and Prussia. He lost it all to British General Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington and to Marshall Blucher of Prussia in the decisive Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Napoleon was forced to abdicate and went into exile once more, this time to the Island of St. Helena. In exile he wrote a biography of Julius Caesar, a tyrant to whom he favorably compared himself. Napoleon died in 1821, reconciled to the Catholic Church of his youth after many years excommunicated, and secure in his place in history.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)

Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (in modern-day Belgium), June 18, 1815

There are multiple thousands of books on Napoleon, examining his military and political genius, his hypnotic effect on people, charismatic personality, and reforming zeal in French politics and culture. Although short in stature, he became a giant among the leaders of history, and defined the course of the rest of the 19th Century. France has never recovered the glory and place it possessed on the European continent, compared to the greatness achieved by Napoleon. His wars cost hundreds of thousands of young lives in every country and his campaigns are still studied in the military academies around the world. If you hold to elements of the Great Man Theory of History, Napoleon Bonaparte could be the poster boy par excellence, although in his day he was considered one of the greatest monsters of history, a picture of the sort of strong man who seizes power and restores order when revolution brings chaos and confusion.

Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena, nearly 1,200 miles off the West coast of Africa where he eventually died in 1821

Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima, 1945

2020-08-03T12:20:23-05:00August 3, 2020|HH 2020|

“And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it….” —Joshua 6:24a

Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

Certain events in history changed the world for all time. Gutenburg’s printing press in the 16th century revolutionized the publication of books and other printed material. The Wright Brothers ushered in the reality of motorized flight, which eventually resulted in walking on the moon, the space station, and war from the air. The use of an atomic weapon over a civilian-populated city brought about the nuclear age which defined political, technological, social, and foreign policy issues for the nations of the world. The remarkable story of the creation of nuclear weapons still seizes the imagination and divides those who study it, over morality and warfare.

The atomic bomb mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

In the Second World War from June 1944 to June 1945, the United States suffered about one million casualties out of the 1.25 million total of the entire war. Germany had surrendered on May 7, but Japan fought on, seemingly to extinction. The American Joint Chiefs and their leader George Marshall struggled to find a means to force the Japanese to quit. The conflict that began April 1 on Okinawa—an island considered part of Japan by the emperor—was using up American troops at an unprecedented rate, and the Japanese were fighting to the last cartridge, making suicide attacks or just killing themselves in their caves.

The signing of the terms of surrender in Reims, Germany, May 7, 1945

Landing of U.S. Marines on the shores of Okinawa, April 1, 1945

In the first six months of 1945, General Curtis LeMay sent B-29 bombers to destroy the industrial centers of Japan, culminating in the fire-bombing of Tokyo in March, which wiped out sixteen square miles of the city, killing more than 100,000 people, mostly civilians. By mid-June the six largest cities of Japan had been fire-bombed to ashes, causing the Japanese government to redouble its production efforts and recruit a citizen army of several million people to repel any invasion.

Tokyo burning under B-29 firebomb assault, May 26, 1945

At the end of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt had authorized the Manhattan Project, the development of a bomb that could use the power of nuclear fission as a weapon of mass destruction. Led by theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer, the top secret project scientists raced to create a usable weapon before the Germans or Japanese developed their own nuclear program. Within two years the Los Alamos Laboratories in New Mexico produced two bombs.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967)

A special air command called the 509th Composite Group, commanded by Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. surreptitiously joined the more than 130,000 people working on the project, and prepared to deliver the atomic weapons over Germany or Japan. Germany surrendered before the atomic bombs could be used there, but Japan stubbornly refused to admit defeat as they prepared for an invasion of the homeland. In July, 1945, the weapon was successfully tested near Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the stage was set for the use of a weapon that could change history.

Part of the Manhattan Project, “Trinity” was the code name for the first detonation of a nuclear device, carried out on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. The height of the mushroom cloud reached 7.5 miles, and the explosion was felt over 100 miles away.

The “targeting committee” chose five potential sites in Japan that had military significance but had not yet been badly attacked. At the Potsdam meeting of “the Big Three,” Truman once again reiterated the American requirement of the “unconditional surrender“ of Japan and warned of a new destruction about to descend on them if they did not come to terms. The Japanese insisted on keeping their emperor. After much debate and soul-searching, the President gave the order to deploy the first atomic bomb.

Mission runs of August 6 (Hiroshima) and August 9 (Nagasaki)

The “Big Three” at the Potsdam Conference (July 17 – August 2, 1945) in Potsdam, Germany, left to right: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Harry S. Truman, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin

On August 6, Paul Tibbets in command of the B-29 Enola Gay, named after his mother, lifted off for the six-hour flight from Tinian Island to the City of Hiroshima, Japan. At 31,000 feet, the bomb, named “Little Boy,” was released and detonated at about 1,900 feet above the city. About 80,000 people were killed by the blast and the ensuing firestorm. Another 70,000 were injured, and many died in the following days. Ground zero was about a one-mile radius, and 4.4-mile burn zone. Warfare, foreign policy, and history were changed forever.

Paul Tibbets waves from the cockpit of the Enola Gay B-29 Superfortress before taking off for the bombing of Hiroshima

A view of Hiroshima in the aftermath of the bombing

Fierce debates have ensued ever since the bombing of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki several days later. Japan capitulated and got to keep their emperor after all. The United States occupied and rebuilt Japan, but the controversy over using nuclear weapons has never dissipated. Critics have argued that Japan was ready to surrender and the United States government ignored them. Others denied that an actual invasion would not have been necessary, so arguing that the bombing saved lives in the long run just confuses the issue. Many of the arguments supporting the use of nuclear weapons are based on the pragmatic view that a million American lives were preserved, not having to invade. Others suggest that nuclear weapons are just another weapon, with more power than the rest, and did not kill nearly as many as conventional fire-bombing.

Hiroshima two months after the bombing

That comment hints at the basic question, did bombing from the air, whether conventional or nuclear, killing millions of non-combatant civilians, violate any biblical principles regarding warfare? The answer to that question touches on several biblical principles laid down in the Law of God regarding rules for warfare. When you throw in civilian slave-laborers working in war-related industries, the indiscriminate slaughter of non-combatants gets even stickier. If you ask a Second World War veteran if he is glad for the atomic bomb, odds are he will bless the day Hiroshima got destroyed and brought the Empire of Japan to its knees.

Ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (left) now form part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

The Victory of William Wilberforce, 1833

2020-07-27T10:20:37-05:00July 27, 2020|HH 2020|

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” —Galatians 6:9

The Victory of William Wilberforce, July 26, 1833

Providence is indeed inscrutable. Had Britain retained her American colonies in the late 18th Century, slavery might have been abolished in America by English Parliamentary legislation in 1833. British slave owners in the Caribbean—mainly Jamaica and Barbados—and the absentee landlords and English investors—mostly aristocrats—received compensation for their losses when England abolished slavery in the Slave Abolition Act of 1833. The act was the culmination of a lifetime of fighting for that end by a devoutly Christian Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce. He was informed of the Act three days before his own death.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
Member of Parliament (1784–1812) and a leader in the slave trade abolition movement

At the age of nine, William Wilberforce began his formal schooling, falling under the influence of a godly teacher, then his aunt and uncle to whom he was sent upon the death of his father in 1767. His Methodist relatives were supporters of evangelist George Whitefield; Wilberforce became attracted to “evangelical religion.” At the age of twelve, however, William’s grandfather and mother, disturbed at his “nonconformity” brought him home to be placed under the influence of rigid Anglicanism. By the age of seventeen, Wilberforce had abandoned his attachment to evangelicalism, inherited a fortune from his grandfather, and entered Cambridge as a witty, party-loving, hail-fellow-well-met student. He excelled in his studies though rather lazy and hedonistic, earning two degrees.

The Wilberforce House in Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, England—birthplace of William Wilberforce

While a twenty-one-year-old college student, Wilberforce, along with his friend William Pitt, became a Member of Parliament as an independent. He continued his life as a bon-vivant, welcomed at all the best parlors and gambling dens. Although his eyesight was bad and his stature thin and small, his shrewd mind and powerful and eloquent voice won him many admirers. In 1784, on a European vacation, his life changed forever when he came to faith in Christ and submitted his life to the pursuit of godliness.

William Pitt (1759-1806) became the youngest Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783 at the age of 24

Because outspoken Christian views and evangelistic zeal were frowned on by the upper classes as boring and socially unacceptable, Wilberforce considered leaving politics altogether. He sought counsel from his pastoral friend John Newton and his old friend William Pitt (“the Younger”), both of whom strongly urged him to remain in Parliament and serve Christ in the highest councils of the land. He chose to remain in public life and champion biblical morality whatever the cost socially. In 1787 Wilberforce began what eventually became a crusade to end the slave trade.

John Newton (1725-1807), former slaver turned abolitionist who encouraged Wilberforce to stay in Parliament and “serve God where he was”

As one of the leading slave-trading nations, England’s participation garnered great wealth for the owners of the slave ships and the end-users in the Caribbean. The sugar industry in particular was utterly dependent on the trade, and made millions for the owners and shippers. The human cost in the deaths of slaves during transportation was enormous, not to mention the heavy labor in the cane fields upon arrival in Jamaica, Barbados or other of the Crown Colonies of the New World. Taking on the super-wealthy merchants and their backers in Parliament was both daunting and discouraging for reformers. Wilberforce entered in his journal that “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners (morals).”

Late 18th century slave trade routes

Wilberforce joined with Quakers and other fellow Anglicans in a campaign to inform the public about the horrors of the slave trade. His leadership of a remarkable fraternity, unique in British history, led to the formation of chapters of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade all over Britain. They garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures for legislation relating to the abolition of the slave trade, and they coordinated their activities with like-minded groups in the other slave-shipping countries of Europe and the United States. Wilberforce commenced his anti-slave trade campaign in Parliament, in earnest, in 1789. In the 1790s, the French Revolution and the slave revolt in Haiti set back the forces of the anti-slave trade in England. The bills brought forth by Wilberforce were defeated again and again, and he was even accused of sympathies to the French. Undaunted, Wilberforce and his allies, now called the Clapham Sect, continued to meet, strategize and inform people, despite the criticism and success of their opponents. The parliamentary agreement to abolish the trade “gradually over time” and the War with France that broke out in 1795, slowed the cause for more than ten years.

The Battle of Vertiéres (1803)
The last major battle of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) a slave insurrection against French colonial rule in what is now Haiti

A typical scene at the House of Commons in Wilberforce’s day

The final phase of the campaign included a 400-page book by Wilberforce, and the building of a political coalition that finally ended in the abolition of the slave trade, with royal assent, in 1807, one year before the American Congress did the same. From 1812 to 1824, Wilberforce’s health deteriorated badly, but he kept up his proposals, now to end slavery altogether in the British Empire. The government was opposed to abolition of slavery itself, for it generated great wealth, especially for the vested interests of the aristocracy in the House of Lords. In his 60s, Wilberforce became the figurehead of abolitionism, having to leave Parliament with broken health. As he lay dying of the flu in 1833, he was informed that the government had finally agreed to the compromise that led to the full abolition of slavery in a bill the following year. William Wilberforce died knowing that his unique place in Christ’s Kingdom and the life-long efforts at moral reform—especially the ending of slavery in the Empire—had not been in vain.

William Wilberforce died July 29, 1833 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to his friend William Pitt the Younger