Napoleon was utterly opposed to torture – my letter in the Financial Times today

I have a letter in the Financial Times today:

Simon Schama misses one important aspect of Napoleon’s legacy. He was utterly opposed to the practice of torture. He wrote in 1798 that “The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know”.

Would that state security services remember, and keep remembering, this lesson from history.

Bonaparte, N. (1798). On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in “Correspondence Napoleon” edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128.


Shane O’Mara | Professor of Experimental Brain Research and Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator | Institute of Neuroscience | Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Blog | Twitter | LinkedIn

Forthcoming book:

Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation (Amazon) or from Harvard University Press

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist, Psychologist, Writer

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