A Smashing Defeat

Today is another significant date in history, which is not surprising, really. Until modern times, many really big events – great gatherings and assemblies and battles – had to wait until the weather made it possible to travel and move masses of people and supplies. Winter was too cold, Spring too wet, so Summer is when a lot of stuff used to happen. Thus June is rather heavily loaded with memorable dates.

It was on this date in 1815 that Napoleon met his Waterloo at the hands of the forces allied against him under Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. The battle of Waterloo was one of those linchpins of history, marking the end of Napoleon’s quest for a European Empire, and a return to the older world order of hereditary monarchs and privileged nobility (for a while, at least.)

In the late 1950s, a young history doctoral candidate at Harvard, wrote his thesis on the aftermath of Napoleon’s nearly 20 years of military adventuring in Europe. Focussing on the Congress of Vienna, at which virtually every change that Napoleon had made was undone, he titled his massive study of the importance of diplomacy A World Restored. This student saw that for all of Napoleon’s magnificent battlefield accomplishments, it was the diplomats who shaped the next century of European history. He later was able to apply his notions of diplomacy in a meaningful way, as Secretary of State: Henry Kissinger.

In American History, the aftermath of Waterloo is notable in that Napoleon’s sale of the Louisiana Territory to the fledgling United States was permitted to stand, even as virtually every other Napoleonic transaction was undone after Waterloo. This meant that The United States of America was the only nation to materially gain from the two decades of warfare that Napoleon waged. No small accomplishment for a nation that never involved itself in the fray! The results of famous victories may be erased almost immediately. Diplomacy can gain more than mighty armies!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The next greatest misfortune to losing a battle
is to gain such a victory as this.

— Wellington, on Waterloo

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