Napoleon Bonaparte was a conqueror, which makes him prone to being kind of a jerk. He came out victorious in many great battles and accomplished quite a bit, but did he do evil things along the way? Yes. So, was he evil? By whose standard? The Bible? Then yes. The Qur’an? Yes. Buddhism? Yes. Okay, hold up, before we throw the holy books at him, let's explore more.
His bad side
Napoleon was a military leader that led the French army to many conquering victories. In fact, he was great at this. War was definitely his thing. But he viewed men as expendable and was known for saying things like, “A man like me does not give a damn about the lives of a million men.” And he really didn’t. He would throw soldiers into battle in mass numbers like if they were just pieces on a Risk board, no regard for their humanity at all.
He also displayed narcissistic tendencies, which doesn’t make him evil necessarily, but this trait would bleed into his actions. He was temperamental, and quick to anger if anyone dared defy his self-proclaimed importance. Such was the case when, in a fit of rage, he ordered the murder of Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien, on suspicion that he was involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Bonaparte’s regime.
People also dislike his level of ambition. Bonaparte was not a person well acquainted with the word “enough.” Moderation and self-control were not exactly his strong suits. Again, not exactly evil in itself, but it leads to actions viewed as evil. To sum it up, and put it in perspective, before Hitler came around, Napoleon was the person people pointed to as an example of an evil man.
His other side
He did have another side to him, though. When it comes to conquerors in history, we can’t help but think of warriors steamrolling a village somewhere, raping the women, pillaging the place and burning it down to cinders. Napoleon did not stand for such acts. Any rape or pillage that might have happened had to happen without his knowledge of it. Otherwise, if he so much as got a whiff of any of his soldiers doing such a thing, he would have them shot. Evil if you’re on the soldier’s side, but if you’re on the side of the rape victim not so much.
Napoleon also viewed himself as a sort of father figure to his soldiers… even though they were so expendable. Stick with us here. He brought treats to soldiers in Egypt infected with the flu, and had marching bands play outside their tents for encouragement. He also asked the doctors tending to dying soldiers to administer opium so they wouldn’t have to suffer in their final days. He understood that a soldier’s sacrifice was necessary for the victories of France, but he also cared about them.
What this boils down to is that, while Napoleon did many evil acts and held compelling views, he also tried having at least some moral code amidst his destruction. Not everything he did was evil, not everything he did was good. In the end, he was human and humans are complex, it depends what actions you choose to focus on.