Waterloo Bicentennial

Today, June 18, 2015 is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most important events in European and world history. This past week in that little town has been a whirlwind of reenactments, living history, and a series of visits by politicians and royalty. It’s incredible to imagine all the planning and work of the past few years coming together, finally.

 I’ve mentioned before how much people - especially historians - like anniversaries. But this event seems to have escaped America today. I can understand our interest in more contemporary things and events that are relevant to us, but I guess I just expected more. Yesterday the Google Doodle was celebrating the 130th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty coming to America, so I was anticipating something on this important bicentennial. I mean, Waterloo overlooked?

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Waterloo battlefield a few times, as recently as last year with my daughter on our whirlwind tour of Europe. When I was there in October 2012 construction was ramping up near the Butte du Lion, and was still ongoing in June of 2014. I wish I could have been there this week, just to see how it all turned out. But the timing just wasn’t right.

Maybe the coverage is out there, and I just have somehow overlooked it. All in all, Waterloo is one of those places that’s interesting because of the leaders as much as the battles, and it still draws huge crowds - with many partisans. At the Wellington Museum I once heard an Englishman claim that everything in the town seemed to be a shrine to Napoleon, and there’s no doubt that the Frenchman has left a mark. But the man kept talking, claiming that the English won the battle against all odds, and that Wellington deserved more public mention. The lady at the museum agreed, politely, and said that she felt the same way about Gebhard von Bl├╝cher. The gentleman asked, “Who?”, and the lady took the opportunity to educate the gentleman to the fact that there were actually more than English standing against the French that day. Thankfully, he was glad to learn, and more than a little surprised at what he was hearing.

So perhaps it’s just me. Maybe the Battle of Waterloo isn’t relevant in the U.S. these days, and the absence of media coverage is to be expected. But I just can’t get past the feeling that we’re more like the Englishman who didn’t quite understand there was more to the story, and it needs to still be told.