Archive for June, 2015

Waterloo

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most important events in European history. The Telegraph did a “live blog” of the battle, starting at dawn and updating in real time as the historical battle progressed. It’s a great read, though probably less amazing to read now that it’s done than it was as it progressed.

There are two things I took from it:

First, starting early this morning and going in real time until late in the evening emphasizes just how long and grueling the battle was. We’re used to battles wrapping up in about 45 minutes of screen time. In reality, they can go on for days, weeks or months. Soldiers can spend hours waiting to fight, then more hours in hell. I first started following around 9:00 am, when the Battle was several hours old. And even then, there was most of a day left and the battle was still uncertain. I did work, had lunch, processed data, made phone calls, came home, cooked dinner. And many of the soldiers were fighting the entire time. It really impressed me with just how a war becomes the soldier’s reality. There in no respite or commercial break or closing credits. It goes on and on and on until one side is simply too exhausted or dead to continue.

Second, I was reminded somewhat of the Battle of Gettysburg. In both cases, a battle was lost because a great general — Napoleon in one case, Lee in the other — was undone by the very qualities that made him great. Both men won battles because they were bold, decisive and intelligent. And it served them well … up to a point. In Lee’s case, he decided on the disaster that was Pickett’s Charge. In Napoleon’s case, he committed everything to the middle of Wellington’s line once Wellington’s right had fallen and the Prussians arrived. Much like Pickett’s charge, it would have won the battle had it worked. And unlike Pickett’s charge, it wasn’t a completely terrible idea. But it turned out to be the turning point of the battle … for the Allies. Once the Imperial Guard was in retreat, the entire French center collapsed.

Anyway, it was great idea from the Telegraph and I really hope someone does something like it again for another battle.