Napoleon Bonaparte Quotes

(1769-1821) French emperor

The only one who is wiser than anyone is everyone.

The best cure for the body is a quiet mind.

The human race is governed by its imagination.

History is simply the version of past events that people have decided to agree on.

True heroism consists in being superior to the woes of life, in whatever shape they may challenge us to combat.

There is no place in a fanatic’s head where reason can enter.

Men are moved by only two mechanisms: fear and self-interest.

A celebrated people lose dignity upon a closer view.

Men are lead by trifles.

A leader is a dealer in hope.

A throne is only a bench covered with velvet.

Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.

The crowd that follows me with admiration would run with the same eagerness if I were marching to the guillotine.

Power is founded upon opinion.

A well-established maxim of war is not to do anything that your enemy wishes, and for the single reason that he does so wish. You should, therefore, avoid a field of battle that he has reconnoitered and studied. You should be still more careful to avoid one which he has fortified and where he has entrenched himself. A corollary of this principle is, never to attack in front a position that admits of being turned.

The passage from the defensive to the offensive is one of the most delicate operations of war.

Your line of operations should never, as a general rule, be abandoned; but changing it when circumstances require is one of the most skillful of military maneuvers. An army that changes its line of operations skillfully, deceives the enemy, who no longer knows where his antagonist’s rear is, or what are the weak points to threaten.

It is a violation of correct principles to cause corps to act separately, without communication with each other, in the face of a concentrated army with easy communications.

A good general, good officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, good organization, good instruction and strict discipline make good troops independently of the cause for which they are fighting. But enthusiasm, love of country and the desire of contributing to the national glory may also animate young troops with advantage.

Nothing is more important in war than unity in command.

To be familiar with the geography and topography of the country; to be skillful in making a reconnaissance; to be attentive to the despatch of orders; to be capable of exhibiting with simplicity the most complicated movements of an army—these are the qualifications that should distinguish the officer called to the station of chief of the staff.

The first principle of a general-in-chief is to calculate what he must do, to see if he has all the means to surmount the obstacles with which the enemy can oppose him and, when he has made his decision, to do everything to overcome them.

An irresolute general who acts without principles and without plan, even though he lead an army numerically superior to that of the enemy, almost always finds himself inferior to the latter on the field of battle.

War is composed of nothing but accidents, and, although holding to general principles, a general should never lose sight of everything to enable him to profit from these accidents; that is the mark of genius. In war there is but one favorable moment; the great art is to seize it.

Defensive war does not exclude attacking, just as offensive war does not exclude defending...

Conditions of the ground should not alone decide the organization for combat, which should be determined from consideration of all circumstances.

Take good care of the soldier and look after him in detail. This first time that you arrive in camp, draw up the troops facing each other by battalions and inspect the soldiers, one by one, for the next eight hours. Listen to their complaints, inspect their arms, and satisfy yourself that they do not lack anything.

There are many advantages in making these reviews from seven to eight hours. It accustoms the soldier to remain under arms, it demonstrates that the commander takes his responsibilities seriously and devotes himself completely to the soldier, which in turn inspires the soldier’s confidence.

To your division commanders that make their troops go through the firing drill twice a week, recommend they have target practice twice a week, and finally, that they perform the drill evolutions three times a week.

The mere gathering of men does not make soldiers. Drill, instruction, and skill are what make real soldiers. Soldiers and units amount to nothing if they are not well drilled. Make them perform maneuvers and target practice, and attend to their health.

When I arrived [in Italy in 1796] the army was injured by the bad influence of the troublemakers: it lacked bread, discipline, and subordination. I made some examples, devoted all of our means to reviving the administrative services of the army, and victory did the rest…

In order to adjust my movement and formulate my plan, I require precise information. I need very detailed information, to know the width and length of the islands, the elevations of mountains, the width of canals… the nature of fortified cities, fortress by fortress, the conditions of the roads… All of this interests me in the highest degree.

Study the country: local knowledge is precious knowledge that sooner or later you will encounter gain.

With trifling considerations, small vanities, and petty passions, it is never possible to accomplish anything great.

There are no precise or fixed rules. Everything depends upon the character nature has bestowed upon the general, on his qualities and faults, on the character of the troops, on the range of arms, on the season, and on a thousand circumstances that are never the same.

… [In war,] the presence of a general in indispensable. He is the head… An army in nothing without the head.

Since the war depends absolutely on the season, each month requires a different plan of campaign…

A commander is not protected by an order from a minister or prince who is absent from the theater of operations and has little or no knowledge of the most recent turn of events. Every commander responsible for executing a plan that he considers bad or disastrous is criminal. He must point out the flaws, insist that it be changed and at last resort resign rather than be the instrument of the destruction of his own men. Every commander in chief who—as a result of superior orders—delivers a battle convinced that he will lose it, is likewise a criminal.

Unity of command is of the first necessity of war. You must keep the army united, concentrate as many of your troops as possible on the battlefield, and take advantage of every opportunity, for fortune is a woman: if you miss her today, do not expect to find her tomorrow

In war, nothing is accomplished except through calculation… If I take so many precautions, it is because my habit is to leave nothing to chance.

A plan of campaign must anticipate everything that the enemy can do and contain within it the means of outmaneuvering him. Plans of campaign are modified to infinity, according to circumstances, the genius of the commander, the nature of the troops, and the topography.

There are two kinds of plans of campaign: good plans and bad plans. Sometimes the good plans fail as a result of accidental circumstances, and occasionally bad ones succeed through some freak of fortune.

The art of being sometimes audacious and sometimes very prudent is the secret of success.

To win is not enough—it is necessary to profit from success.

In war, the first principle of the commander its to conceal what he is doing, to see if there are ways of overcoming obstacles, and to do everything towards this end once he has made his decision.

Give your orders in such a way that they cannot be disobeyed.

A great army can be formed only by stages. The organization should progress one step at a time. When a nation has no cadres or principle of military organization, it is very difficult to organize an army.

You know very well… the importance of the profound secrecy in all circumstances. You will employ all the demonstrations and appearances of movement that you judge convenient to deceive the enemy about the real strategically objective… Finally, you will mislead the enemy, insofar as it is possible, about the true points of attack…

The conduct of a general in conquered territories is surrounded with danger. If he is harsh, he aggravates and increases the numbers of his enemies. If he is soft, he inspires hope that later intensifies the abuses and annoyances inevitably attached to the state of war. In either case, if a riot in these circumstances is quelled in time, and if the conqueror knows how to blend severity, justice, and mildness, it would only have a good effect. Disarm the country, and do it thoroughly.

As a general rule, it is a political principle to create a good impression of your benevolence after having demonstrated that you can be severe with troublemakers.

A general should say to himself many times a day: “If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?” And is he is embarrassed, hi arrangements are bad; there is something wrong. He must rectify his mistake.

A military maxim that should never be neglected is to assemble your cantonments at the point that is most remote and best sheltered form the enemy, especially when he makes his appearance unexpectedly. You will then have time to unite the whole army before he can attack you.

In war, there is but one favorable moment; the great art is to seize it.

I calculate on the basis of the worst possible case. If I take so many precautions, it is because my custom is to leave nothing to chance.

In war, it is necessary to have sound and precise ideas. It is with safe and well-conceived plans that we win wars.

There is no man more pusillanimous than I when it comes to planning a campaign… Once I have made up my mind, everything is forgotten except what leads to success.

Everything is more or less organized matter.

If I had to choose a religion, then the sun as the world’s life giver would be my God.