18 Jun 2011

Waterloo: June 18, 1815

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Robert Alexander Hillingford, Wellington at Waterloo

The Duke of Wellington disposed his forces with his customary prudence and intelligence, and Fortune came to his aid. The British victory at Waterloo left England triumphant and serene, supreme in Europe for a century.

Waterloo doomed, on the other hand, the hopes of France (and the rest of Europe) to achieve unity and pass from despotism into Modernity under the leadership of the hero of the age, who had cleansed the Revolution of its filth and covered it with glory.

Victor Hugo:

Waterloo ! Waterloo ! Waterloo ! morne plaine !
Comme une onde qui bout dans une urne trop pleine,
Dans ton cirque de bois, de coteaux, de vallons,
La pâle mort mêlait les sombres bataillons.
D’un côté c’est l’Europe et de l’autre la France.
Choc sanglant ! des héros Dieu trompait l’espérance
Tu désertais, victoire, et le sort était las.

(Waterloo! Waterloo! Waterloo! Gloomy plain!
Like a wave that ends in an urn too full,
In your circle of woods, hills, valleys,
Pale death mingled the dark battalions.
On one side was Europe and on the other France.
Bloody shock! God dashed these heroes’ hope
Victory deserted them, and the chance was lost.)

My Lithuanian ancestors fought on the side of France, hoping to achieve the restoration of the freedom and independence of Poland-Lithuania, partitioned and fully occupied by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in three stages: 1772, 1793, and 1795. Napoleon’s defeat condemned my ancestral homeland to occupation by Russian despotism for a century.

Waterloo was a great battle and a great victory for Britain, but not for Europe.

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