Life

The Battle of Waterloo: A Turning Point in European History

For Europeans, June 18th is a very important day. Every year on this day, many people will come to a meadow about 20 kilometers south of the Belgian capital Brussels, dressed in the military uniforms of France, Britain, the Netherlands, Prussia and other countries in the 19th century, and using the weapons and equipment of that era, they will be divided into two camps, reappearing Napoleon Bonaparte’s last battle.
I have witnessed such a scene: soldiers, cannons, and horses participated in the performance. The artillery roared, gunpowder smoke was everywhere, and the sound of explosions came and went one after another; horses galloped, sabers waved, and the sound of shouting and killing was endless.
This grassland and the endless farmland nearby are the ruins of the ancient battlefield of Waterloo. On June 18, 1815, the French army under the command of the French Emperor Napoleon and the anti-French coalition forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington fought a thrilling decisive battle here. The two sides invested more than 140,000 troops, and the battle was repeated several times. The fighting was extremely fierce, and the fields were blood red. After about 12 hours of fierce fighting, Napoleon was finally defeated.
In 1852, the great French writer Victor Hugo visited the ancient battlefield of Waterloo while in exile in Belgium. In 1861, he came here again on a special trip and stayed in a nearby hotel to explore the battlefield in depth. “I stayed in Waterloo for two months,” he wrote, “where I performed an autopsy on this disaster. For two months, I have been lying on this body.” In the place of battle, record the people, things and thoughts interviewed. These words became a chapter in the novel “Les Miserables”, running more than 50 pages.
“On June 30, 1861, at 8:30 this morning, I finished “Les Miserables” on the Battle of Waterloo.” Hugo said. Regarding the reasons for Napoleon’s defeat, he described the reasons for Napoleon’s defeat in the first volume of “Les Miserables”: There was a sudden heavy rain the day before the war, and the entire field of Waterloo turned into a swamp. Can’t enter the position, so the offensive bombardment is late. Failure thus became a foregone conclusion. Had it not been for the heavy rain, the offensive artillery would have fired earlier, and the war would have ended before the Prussians surrounded them. Would history be written in a different way?
Historians generally believe that the Battle of Waterloo was an important turning point in European history, which changed the course of European history and basically established the political structure of modern Western Europe.
“If Napoleon wins the Battle of Waterloo, he will take advantage of the momentum to expand his achievements and conquer the whole of Europe and even further afield,” said Philip Lacson, a Belgian historian who has studied the Battle of Waterloo. In order to become the hegemon of Europe, Napoleon launched a series of wars from 1803 to 1815, resulting in the death of 5 million people. “The Battle of Waterloo completely shattered Napoleon’s dream of ruling Europe.”
The Battle of Waterloo marked the end of Napoleon’s era and also heralded the beginning of a new era in European history. In Napoleon’s time, Europe was a fragmented region made up of multiple countries. After the Battle of Waterloo, some countries in Europe began to seek unity and cooperation to avoid future wars.
The Battle of Waterloo also paved the way for the rise of European nationalism. During Napoleon’s time, many European countries were conquered by France. Napoleon failed, these countries regained their independence and began to value their own culture and national identity. This trend led to the rise of nationalist ideas in Europe.
Because of this battle, the word “Waterloo” became synonymous with complete failure. In fact, the Battle of Waterloo did not take place in Waterloo, Waterloo is located about 5 kilometers north of the battlefield. The battlefield was located in the area of ​​Mount St. John, and French historians at the time called this battle the “Battle of Mount St. John”. Since the command post of the Duke of Wellington was located in the village of Waterloo, the address he sent back to England was written as “Waterloo”, so later generations called this war the Battle of Waterloo. “Napoleon never went to Waterloo, that’s a fact,” said Belgian historian and former Waterloo resident Bernard Cobbens.

A corner of the circular mural in the Battle of Waterloo Memorial.

War is a mirror that can make people realize the preciousness of peace. In order to let the mirror of the Battle of Waterloo better illuminate future generations, many European history lovers will “travel” back to 1815 in mid-June every year, live in Napoleon’s tents, and live, train, and fight like soldiers back then . On June 18, when the “war” kicked off, the “soldiers” of both sides marched to the battlefield to the sound of drums and took up positions. First came the bombardment, the gunfire flew, and the smoke filled the air. Then the cavalry attacked, followed by the infantry. Fighting between cavalry and cavalry infantry, charging and counter-charging, encircling and counter-encircling, the fight was in full swing. In the end, the “French Army” fought and retreated, protecting the “Napoleon” from retreating hastily.
When watching such commemorative activities of “historical reappearance”, I have an immersive feeling, as if I was in the fierce battle of that year, and I feel inexplicable shock and fear. I am afraid that such feelings cannot be brought to me by any textbooks, classrooms, or museums. “This seems to be performing history, but because it is so realistic, we feel that we are witnessing that terrible battle.” Roman Vadam from Lille, northern France, said that he played a grenadier in the French infantry regiment Corporal, “Through this method, I have a new understanding of war. I hope that human beings will never have war.”
“Even though I knew it was just a show, I felt my adrenaline pumping as we lined up against the enemy,” said Sebastien Vignelon, a 27-year-old Belgian with the physique of a rugby player. Play as a Grenadier in the Dutch army here.
“No matter how shocking the simulated performance of the Battle of Waterloo is, it cannot reproduce the tragedy of the Battle of Waterloo.” Director of the Waterloo Battle Research Association Kruson said that the real Battle of Waterloo was a massacre, leaving behind 27,000 French soldiers and 22,000 soldiers. Thousands of corpses of anti-French coalition soldiers. On the battlefield, corpses piled up like mountains, and blood flowed like rivers. Survivors waded through the blood, past the mutilated bodies and limbs of their comrades or enemies. The victorious anti-French coalition forces were buried collectively for the fallen soldiers, while the defeated French troops were buried hastily or abandoned in the wilderness.

A woman dressed in Napoleonic costumes is cooking for the “soldiers” who set up camp.

In order to reproduce the tragedy of the Battle of Waterloo, the local government built a memorial hall on the ancient battlefield of Waterloo. In this white circular building, there is a circular mural with a length of 110 meters and a height of about 12 meters completed by the famous French painter Du Molan in 1912. On the screen, the warring parties set up a phalanx to launch an attack, and the cavalry cooperated. Some cavalry fought desperately on horseback;

There is an open space in front of the circular mural, where there are physical models of the battles of that year: broken military flags, discarded guns, bloody corpses… The picture is integrated with the foreground object, and the matching includes battle scenes, the sound of sabers, cavalry Surrounding background sounds such as charge and artillery make people feel that they are facing the battle of Waterloo.
Coming out of the Battle of Waterloo Memorial Hall, a conical hill stands in front of you. The hillside is covered with grass, neither dense nor sparse, just shallow enough to cover the hill. The mountain is 45 meters high, and you can clearly see a majestic cast iron lion along the 226 steep stone steps to the top platform. Standing on the platform, it is 4.5 meters long, 4.45 meters high and weighs 28 tons. It is said that it was made of guns discarded by Napoleon’s army on the battlefield. The lion is stepping on a ball with its right front paw, looking up to the south, indicating that it is facing the land of France to “megatron Napoleon”. On the pedestal under the iron lion, only “1815.6.18” is engraved. The designer hopes to use simple numbers to evoke people’s memory of history.
The hill was built in memory of Willem II, Prince of Orange in the Netherlands. When the Battle of Waterloo started, William II led the Dutch army into battle. During the melee, he was hit in the shoulder by a French bullet. In recognition of his son’s heroism, King Willem I of the Netherlands ordered a monument to be erected where he was wounded. The project started in 1820 and was completed in 1826. It was formed by local women taking soil from the battlefield with a basket. Because the lion symbolizing the Dutch royal family is placed on the top of the mountain, this “Memorial Mountain” is called Lion Mountain. Belgium was still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Belgium’s independence from the Netherlands in 1830 led to the abdication of King William I, who succeeded him as King of the Netherlands.
The breeze is blowing, leaning on the fence and overlooking, time has already washed away the traces left by the war. The ancient battlefield where the horses and guns used to be, is now a peaceful, quiet, beautiful and rich farmland. I was lost in thought: How long can the peaceful years last? What is the commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo? Reason immediately told me: Today, although peace and development are the theme of the times, the world is still not peaceful, and the sword of Damocles of war is still hanging over the heads of mankind.
The enlightenment and lessons of history are the common spiritual wealth of mankind. There are no winners in war. After the Battle of Waterloo, when Wellington inspected the battlefield and saw corpses strewn all over the field, he couldn’t help sighing: “Victory is the greatest tragedy after failure.” Precious lives of 5 million people in Europe.
Only when everyone cherishes and maintains peace can there be hope for peace. But looking at the world today, some people in some countries have not learned the painful lessons of war, which makes people in other countries and regions deeply disturbed. The book “American Aggression: How We Invaded or Militaryly Intervened in Almost Every Country on Earth” pointed out that among the more than 190 countries recognized by the United Nations, only 3 countries have not fought war with the United States or suffered military intervention by it. These three countries were able to “survive” because “the United States did not find them on the map.”
U.S. military hegemony has led to a humanitarian tragedy. Since 2001, wars and military operations launched by the United States in the name of “anti-terrorism” have caused more than 900,000 deaths, of which about 335,000 were civilians, millions were injured, and tens of millions were displaced. The Iraq war in 2003 resulted in the deaths of 200,000 to 250,000 civilians and left more than 1 million people homeless.
Past experience guide for the future. The Chinese people are well aware of the hard-won and preciousness of peace, and they have always firmly stood on the right side of history and the progress of human civilization, seeking their own development while resolutely safeguarding world peace and development, and using their own development to better safeguard World peace and development.

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