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Dr. Alex Mikaberidze
Dr. Alex Mikaberidze smiles beside the bust of Napoleon in his LSUS office.
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Alex Mikaberidze stands in front of one of his international awards.
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Dr. Alex Mikaberidze sits in his LSUS office where tall shelves crammed with history books, some with his name on the cover, line the walls.
Hanging to his left is a large framed document with a gold medal inside. Prominent on the bookshelf is an ivory-colored bust of Napoleon. The two objects are related.
The gold medal in the frame, the International Napoleonic Society's Legion of Merit Medal, is one of two that give Mikaberidze international recognition. Just in his late thirties, the associate professor of European history already possesses a couple of awards for books he's written and two medals for his research on Napoleon's military strategies. His latest accolade, the Medaille d'or du Rayonnement Culturel, was given to him in 2012.
"I've known Napoleon longer than my wife," he jokes.
A native of Georgia, Mikaberidze’s life-long love of Napoleon brought a surprising twist of fate that landed him in America.
Mikaberidze grew up under Communism. Born in Siberia, what is now Kazakhstan, the town of his birthplace was built by German prisoners-of-war. He recalls a German cemetery there with graves marked only by crosses - no names, just numbers.
He talks freely about vivid memories as a child in a Communist-governed province. He remembers being required to attend the Soviet Pioneers, a Boy Scout-type program that began in the third grade and taught Communist ideals. No one in his home town dared to refuse joining.
Because Mikaberidze was at the top of his class, he was eligible to be "rewarded." The prize was being allowed to miss school to stand guard duty, saluting Lenin's statue all day.
Around 1988, Communism was going down. Mikaberidze recalls his independent-minded father criticizing the system, predicting its failure.
“He would listen secretly to an American broadcast in the middle of the night, the radio surrounded by pillows,” Mikaberidze said.
Because of the turmoil during the collapse, his family returned to where they had once lived in the Republic of Georgia. It was there that he got his international law degree at the University of Tbilisi, working in human rights for the Georgian government.
Several civil wars occurred during this time causing economic collapse in Georgia. As a government lawyer, he was working for an equivalent of seven dollars a month. Eventually, the government owed him nine months of pay.
That was when his lifelong love of Napoleon brought him a surprising twist of fate.
Mikaberidze read one of Ben Weider's books about the murder of Napoleon and wrote a paper about it for a web site. Weider contacted him and invited him to give a lecture in Israel, which he did. Mikaberidze received the Ben Weider Scholarship to get a Ph.D. in Napoleonic studies at Florida State University.
That was in 2000. He came to teach at LSUS in 2007.
With typical momentum, Mikaberidze reinvented himself, carving out an important niche for his research in the academic world. Prestigious invitations to lecture have followed, among them the U.S. Naval War College and a leading French historical organization in Paris.
Discovering the West possessed almost no Russian eyewitness accounts in the literature of the Napoleonic wars, Mikaberidze found and translated a large number of Russian memoirs, diaries and letters of soldiers and others during that time. He was the first to publish authentic Russian voices in English, a task that has garnered international recognition for him.
"The reason I am writing this is for the past 200 years, everything is from the French or British perspective, and for clear reasons," he said. "English is the predominant language in research, French because Napoleon is still very popular. The Russian viewpoint allows us to re-evaluate things. Napoleon says he wins because he says, 'I'm super awesome!' We look at the Russian side and find out he wins because they suck [as a military]. They are the failures."
The latest book Mikaberidze just mailed to his publisher is the third in his anthology of memoirs, a separate volume for each of the three wars – an achievement mastered by sleeping only a few hours a night and teaching six semester classes of European and Middle Eastern history, a load twice the normal size.
His current book project professes an unheralded view that the Napoleonic wars made not only a European impact, but also a global one, affecting India, Africa, America, and Central and South America. The book will be out in January.
In contrast to the scope of his accomplishments is a man equally steeped in humility. He laughs at himself when he can't remember how many books he's authored and edited. His online bio lists at least 15. Sheepish, he relays that he published his first book in Georgia at just 21 years old.
Considering Mikaberidze's military knowledge, the conversation turns to world politics – the crisis in Ukraine, the chaos of the Middle East, and the existence of human rights issues in the Republic of Georgia.
Regarding Ukraine, he thinks a firm stand must be taken against Russia, citing their pattern of behavior.
"While I have nothing but admiration for the Russian people, I loathe Russian government," he says.
He desires to see greater engagement from America on the worldwide front. While he understands America's reluctance to do so after spending 800 billion in Afghanistan and the draining war effort in Iraq, with little to show for it, he still thinks disengaging from the rest of the world only creates a vacuum that others will move in and fill.
On the topic of the Middle East, he adamantly shakes his head no in response to whether he believes peace is possible there.
"Not in the foreseeable future," he says, admitting to a divided opinion. While he agrees that Israel must defend its borders, as any country must, he disagrees with their continual building of settlements and says their occupation of the West Bank is just illegal.
Perhaps, he pauses, a question in his voice, after exhaustion of killing each other, they will seek negotiation for the sake of their children.
A sentiment not far from his heart, which is aptly written on the acknowledgment page of his 2013 book, Atrocities, Massacres and War Crimes: An Encyclopedia. Dedicated to his newborn son, he pens the words: "May his and future generations never witness ordeals described in this book."
Effectively impacting future generations is the heartbeat of his life now, in America.
"I loved working in government, but I love interacting with students, the proverbial light bulb going on," he says, his own face lighting up as he recounts a student walking into his office to tell him that she was changing her major to history.
"That is a huge change in trajectory, a huge impact," he exclaims.
He rolls his chair over to the bookshelf near the wall hanging of the gold medal. He pulls out a simple folder and opens it. Inside are letters and writings from students. He begins reading aloud a thank-you note from one of them.
"That's worth it, huh?" he says, smiling broadly.
By Datha Hopkins