Napoleon’s Prisoners

It is 1799 and we are in what we call in the modern-day “The Land of Milk and Honey” (or Mossad and Hamas).

General Napoleon Bonaparte is 28 years old when he leaves to lead the Egypt campaign. The operation is intended to threaten british interests in India, as it was still France’s archenemy.

Napoleon lands in July 1798 in Alexandria with 25,000 men and marches on Cairo. Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson of the British navy takes advantage of this by destroying the French naval fleet at Aboukir. The French army, isolated, therefore heads west. Without much effort, it takes Arish on February 20th, Gaza on the 24th,  and Ramallah on the 28th.

But in Jaffa, there’s a snag: a resistance of 5,000 men is organized in the city.

The emissary sent by Bonaparte must not have been very convincing because he is decapitated by the besieged, and his head displayed on the battlements. A vengeful and fierce attack is organized against these ‘barbarians’. 2,000 fighters are killed by the French army, who only lost around 50 men in the battle. The 3,000 survivors take refuge in nearby buildings and begin negotiating the conditions of their surrender.

Bonaparte’s advisors consent to sparing their lives. They then officially became prisoners. But the general is furious, “Where do you want me to put 3,000 prisoners?”  “How do we monitor or feed them?” “You think that we can don’t have enough to do?” In order to fix the problem… the prisoners were discretely executed between the 8th and 10th of March – mostly via the bayonet in order to save munitions.

The status of prisoners of war wasn’t really defined until 1907 with the Hague Convention This was reinforced with the Geneva Convention of 1929 and 1949 Before this, a prisoner was often just dead weight.

During antiquity, he would have been reduced to slavery. And if he was an officer or sovereign, he would have been used as a hostage or a bartering tool. This was notably the case with King Francis I of France, who was taken prisoner by the army of Charles V after his defeat at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. When a prisoner wasn’t of any use, his fate was left up to the discretion of the victorious armies. Well now, there’s a very ancient Latin expression that is very clear on the subject: “Vae Victis”… “Woe to the vanquished”

Napoleon was sent to make war in Egypt by the Directory, the young general benefited from a bulky reputation especially after his victories in the Italian campaign at Arcola and Rivoli. We know that he was ambitious, so it was probably a way for them to distance him from Paris all the while benefiting from his military talents.

As for Napoleon himself, he saw an occasion to increase his reputation, and he saw himself as following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar.

The wars in Egypt and Syria lasted over two years, A third of all French forces involved died there from disease or in combat. We can speak readily about the expedition in Egypt because the army was accompanied by more than 160 scholars, engineers, historians, and artists.

In order to counter English propaganda about his abuses in Jaffa, Napoleon immortalized his visit to the plague victims in May 1799.

bonaparte visiting the plague victims of jaffa
Oil on canvas – Antoine-Jean Gros

“Bonaparte visiting the plague victims of Jaffa“, was painted in 1804 by Jean-Antoine Gros, so 5 years after the actual events. We see a gloveless Napoleon touching a plague victim with his bare hand irrespective of the danger. It alludes to the old myth about the kings of France supposedly having the power to heal by contact.

We have a tendency to forget that, at the time, he had proposed to euthanize the sick just for convenience. Napoleon never really expressed remorse for having those 3,000 unarmed men killed But he did miss the liberty that he benefited from while in Egypt. Count Chapal reports these words of the emperor:

In Europe, only Wellington and I are capable of carrying out such measures. But a difference between him and I is that France, which we call a nation, will criticize me whereas England will approve of him.

I have only ever been free in Egypt. Thus I have allowed myself to carry out such measures.

Politics and Science: 60 Years ago VS Today.


Linus Pauling VS Edward teller

Sixty years ago, two worldviews took to shenanigans worthy of a thousand HBO series. East and West launched an arms race, two superpowers had nuclear weapons: the situation was extremely alarming. In the midst of this political conflict, there was also a high-strung scientific debate in the USA.

One side was led by Linus Pauling , winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He campaigned for disarmament and against nuclear tests – later he would also get the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment. Pauling was of the opinion that the fallout after nuclear tests is harmful to health. On the other side were scientists like Edward Teller, who had worked on the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was involved in the development of the hydrogen bomb. He was in favor of nuclear testing and was of the opinion that nuclear weapons were needed to avert an attack by the Soviet Union. Teller insisted that the fallout’s radioactivity is so low that nobody has to worry about it.

In a television debate in February 1958, the two scientists clashed. After that, Pauling was so angry that he refused to continue public discussions with Teller – which he found “improper” . But the dispute persisted and both sides continued

The TV debate

“According to my estimates, the increase in mutation rate due to radioactive precipitation from testing at the current test rate is one percent,” Pauling said in the TV debate – meaning one percent more children with severe genetic damage. “75 million children are born every year, 2% of them with hereditary diseases,” explains Pauling. “With an increase of 1%, it comes to 15,000 seriously ill children per year, whose suffering is due to the fallout.”

Teller, on the other hand, argued that there was no clear evidence that such a small increase in radioactivity caused any damage whatsoever. Anything imaginable could theoretically increase the mutation rate and he cites a study that establishes a possible link between mutations and tight clothing. According to these calculations, it would be possible that fashion causes 100 or 1000 times more damage than the radiation from the nuclear tests.

The moderator concludes, “It has not been solved”. The spectators did not walk out any smarter.

The question of mutation rates and radioactivity is actually not political – but in the politically tense context of the Cold War, it became one. Some accused Teller of being a Militarist. Others accused Pauling, of being a dirty Commie. The whole debacle did not do any good for science nor its image.

The Climate Today


Right and Left
Oil on canvas – Winslow Homer


Today, once more, a scientific question in the United States is discussed politically: Global warming. According to a recent Gallup poll (March 2018), 69% of Republicans believe that the importance of global warming is generally overestimated. Only 4% of Democrats share this opinion. 91% of Democrats, but only 33% of Republicans, are concerned about global warming. In 2000, it was still 78% – 64% . The division between party lines is increasing.

There is a broad scientific consensus that man is the main cause of an ongoing global warming. The fact that so few Republicans see this must probably be due to the fact that they shy away from the consequences: a change in their own behaviors and a regulation of the industry. Too deep is the politically motivated aversion to any state intervention, especially if it could jeopardize the economy. President Donald Trump calls global warming a hoax. Some even believe in a conspiracy on the left. “For some reason, this issue of climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left – in this country and around the world,” said Vice President Mike Pence in an interview .

As different as the debates about nuclear tests or climate change are – there are also many similarities. In both cases, the debate is not factual, since it is about politically sensitive issues. Scientists are accused of having a political agenda – they are communists or leftists or rightists. In both cases, the boundaries between politics and science are blurring.

Does that mean we should separate politics and science? So in the sense that scientists are apolitical and provide the facts, while politicians – or society in general – pull the political conclusions? Hardly likely. Scientists are part of society. They are human beings and thus they have a right to a political opinion. And yet one wishes that scientific facts are seen as what they are: facts, not munition for the use of either right or left. The ice is melting in all directions.