It was an odd battle. Those who fought against the imperialist side were less personally free than those who fought for the imperialist side. It’s also clear that whatever moral principle might been at stake in Belgium, 1815, generally didn’t hold good outside the boundaries of Europe.
Some people think a Napoleonic Europe would have been a good thing. It’s easy to be pro Napoleon if your last foreign invaders arrived in 1066. Yes, it is true that Napoleon’s laws were rational and his culture egalitarian. However, his handling of Imperial economics was less than optimum. Worse, in my eyes at least, he had an Olympian view of spending the lives of others:
A man like me troubles himself little about a million men.
(My 11-year-old son Kurtzhau picked up on this. Speaking of the Battle of Lodi in which Napoleon basically took a bridge meatgrinder style, he said: “That would have been great if it have been an RTS battle. But those were real men.”)
It’s ironic that while Napoleon’s egalitarian French adhered to the column, the aristocratic British created the Rifle Brigade and ushered in something like modern infantry tactics. Even more so that the appallingly snobbish Wellington liked to put his men — who he famously once referred to as “scum” — safely on reverse slopes. It was Wellington, not Napoleon, who wept over the dead and wrote:
Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.
However, my main problem with the Emperor Napoleon was that he was an Emperor.
Even great rulers get old, go sour. At the dog end of a reign, the wolves roam unchecked. Worse, as Machiavelli observed, weak rulers usually follow the strong — the inheritor invariably believes the rhetoric of destiny and divine rule, and shuns the realpolitik and hard work that it masks. Then everything goes to Hell, or should I say Ragnarok?
No. Any Golden Age of Napoleon would have been overshadowed by the apocalyptic struggles of his successors.
A writer’s job is not to judge, just to put imaginative boots on the ground. Even so, I am proud that any of my ancestors who were at that battle would have been wearing a red coat.