NOT only Hitler himself, but his whole gang, particularly Goebbels, were fond of comparing the Fuehrer with Napoleon. They were not troubled by the utter ludicrousness of drawing a comparison between, on the one hand, a statesman and military genius of the first magnitude and, on the other, a contemptible nonentity and moral freak whose career remains an indelible stain on the history of the German people. What did they find in common between the hero who led his brave regiments through the fields of Europe and Africa, and the cowardly creature who kept out of the way of all danger in his comfortable Berchtesgaden retreat and from there issued orders to "resist to the last drop of blood?"

There were mainly two points, in the opinion of Hitlerite publicists, which Napoleon and his German caricature had in common. First, Napoleon wanted to unite the entire Continent against England; and der Fuehrer also proclaimed that when he had subjected all the nations of the Continent to his "New Order" he would lead them against the hated "traders" of London. Secondly, Napoleon held that in order to consolidate his dominion in western Europe he must first square accounts with Russia, and only then would he consider an invasion of England and of her possessions in India; Hitler also held that the political destruction of Russia was a necessary prerequisite for a successful attack upon England. Where the French Caesar had failed, the "superior Nordic race" was bound to succeed: der Fuehrer would enter the Kremlin and there proclaim the final victory of the "New Order."

This was what German journalists dreamed of out loud and wrote and published in the crucial months at the end of 1941, just before the first major defeat inflicted on the German robber hordes -- the defeat at the approaches to Moscow. That was the first act in the German débâcle. Stalingrad was the second. The demolition of Berlin by Marshal Zhukov's artillery was the third and last. All that remained for the leader of the "superior race" was to choose hurriedly between poison and the noose.

Any comparison between the invasion of Russia in 1812 and that in 1941 can only be superficial, and requires many reservations.

To begin with, there was a difference in objectives. Napoleon never set himself the insane objective of physically exterminating one-third of the Russian people and reducing the rest to the status of farm animals. He never told his soldiers "everything between the Niemen and the Pacific Ocean belongs to us who are to become the conquerors of Moscow." He never ranted like the inmate of a mental hospital. He did not dream, even in the event of complete success, of anything beyond peace and a new alliance with Alexander I, with perhaps a joint campaign of French and Russian troops in India. In case of an inconclusive success, Napoleon was prepared to accept most moderate terms: what he was primarily concerned with was a new and solemn confirmation that the continental blockade would be strictly observed. Even in the beginning of the campaign, when he stood in Vilna at the head of an excellently armed force three times the size of the Russian Army, and when he had reason to exult in his protracted rule over nearly the entire European Continent, he refused to listen to the Poles who wanted him to proclaim the incorporation of Lithuania in the Duchy of Warsaw. The reason for his refusal was that he did not want to offend Russia; he did not want to cut off the way to an early reconciliation with Russia.

On the other hand, the cruel, infamous and predatory aims of the German horde that attacked Russia in 1941 had been clearly and repeatedly set forth by Hitler and the twenty-odd criminals now in the dock in Nuremberg. Those aims alone would have been sufficient to inspire the Russian people with implacable wrath. After the expulsion of Napoleon, there still might have been some hesitation in Russia as to whether to march on to liberate western Europe. As a matter of fact, we know that even the main hero of the Russian victory, Field Marshal Kutuzov, when he reached the Niemen in December 1812, was at first loth to pursue the wretched remnants of the fleeing French detachments. But in 1941-1945 there could be no such hesitation on our part. There was one set purpose: To crush the German Fascist viper in its nest in Koenigsberg, in Berlin, on the Oder and on the Elbe! To finish off the fiends who flung Russian children into wells, who set fire to Russian villages and burned their people alive!

Though there is a vast difference between the invasion of 1812 and that of 1941-1945, they did have one feature in common. Neither the French in 1812 nor the Germans in 1941-1945 were able to establish effective rule in occupied territory outside the areas over which their armies were actually moving. In 1941-1945, the Germans were unable to wipe out the Soviet authorities even in Belorussia and the Ukraine, even in the Smolensk and Novgorod regions where they maintained huge forces -- so deeply rooted in the people is the Soviet system. In hundreds upon hundreds of towns and villages far behind the enemy lines, people rose to defend their country and their government. A manifestation of the great strength of the Soviet Union was that its Army and people acted as one.

Here we come to another characteristic feature -- the rôle which partisan warfare played in events during the two invasions. In 1812, the partisan movement was most in evidence during Napoleon's retreat, when partisans kept hot on his heels. In the recent war, the partisan movement began literally in the first days of the German invasion, and partisan detachments were made up not just of scores or hundreds of people, as in 1812, but of many thousands. Partisans waged war fiercely behind the enemy's lines. They controlled large areas into which Germans never ventured. They launched attacks upon large German-held cities, exterminated their garrisons, blew up trains. Russian partisans helped Kutuzov in 1812; but the aid which Soviet partisans rendered our armies in 1941-1945 was far greater.

There is another interesting fact long noted in Russian historical literature: in 1812, Napoleon's purely French troops behaved relatively decently toward the civilian population. It was the German vassals whom Napoleon brought along -- Prussians, Westphalians, Saxons, Bavarians and Wuertembergers -- that mostly indulged in pillage. The behavior of his picked contingents -- the Guards -- was above reproach. But Hitler's "picked" units -- the "Elite" SS troops -- were the most sadistic murderers of Russian women and children. During the armistice in 1813, a few months after the invasion, Russian and French officers banqueted together, the Russians toasting the "gallant French Army," the French replying with toasts in honor of the "Russian heroes." Nothing of the kind was even remotely conceivable in our relations with the Hitlerite fiends. When we defeated them, we made them take off the military uniforms which they had disgraced.

Napoleon was a conqueror, not a marauder; he was a statesman, not the chieftain of a robber band; he was a lawmaker of genius, not the head of a gang of criminals. Lord Rosebery said in his book, "Napoleon: The Last Phase," that Napoleon had boundlessly extended what before had been regarded as the limits of human intelligence and human energy. The most that could be said of Adolf Hitler is that were it not for him we would never have found out to what depths of moral degradation and intellectual poverty the biped called man can sink.

We Russians know that our gallant allies in the war which put an end to Hitler -- Americans and English -- fully agreed with us on the absolute impossibility of tolerating the further existence of the Hitler gang on our planet. The great American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose sudden death was such a calamity for all freedom-loving mankind, left the nations of the world a legacy of irreconcilable hostility against the monster of Fascism. The Russian people, who have inflicted mortal blows on all who assailed their national independence -- Poles in the seventeenth century, Swedes in the eighteenth, Napoleon in the nineteenth and Germans in the twentieth -- revere Roosevelt's memory, not because of America's help in war, but because he laid stress on continuing the struggle against Fascism, which, as he foresaw, has no intention of dying along with Hitler's Germany. President Roosevelt was not only a great statesman but a profound thinker. He realized better than many of his contemporaries that Germany differs from France in this respect: whereas after Napoleon's defeat no plans of world domination were ever again harbored in France, Germany has not given up her criminal dreams even after two terrible defeats. Roosevelt's memory enjoins us all to be vigilant. As long as world Fascism is alive, the danger of a new shambles has not been removed.

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  • EUGENE TARLÉ, Soviet historian; Member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.; author of "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" and other works
  • More By Eugene Tarlé