from the reenactment in 2015

On the cover of the June 2015 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine I found this Tease: Napoleon’s Last Charge: Why Waterloo should never have been fought.

Here was the challenge in the headline of the article on p. 66: “Napoleon’s Last Charge; On the bicentennial of the most famous battle in world history, a distinguished historian argues that Waterloo never should have been fought.”

Om the website, the copy of the article is headlined: “Why We’d Be Better Off if Napoleon Never Lost at Waterloo”.   To read the article, click here. You’ll get an ad, but click on the upper right to go straight to the story.

Provocative. Controversial. Shabby. Maybe insulting. Surely irritating to Victoria. and I assume Kristine. So understand, dear reader, that my teeth were on edge before I read a word of the story.

It takes eight paragraphs for the author to stop reciting the details of Napoleon’s defeat and ask the headline questions: “Why was the Battle of Waterloo even fought? Was it really necessary to the peace and security of Europe?”

Whose fault was it?

To reach an examination of the author’s answer, read another eighteen or so long paragraphs, ignoring for the moment the claim of Napoleon’s innocence of any previous provocation in the twenty-some years of carnage (“Napoleon started none of those wars; but he won all of them” — REALLY??). 

The author quotes Napoleon’s message to the Allied Powers, including the representative of the legitimate current ruler of France, Louis XVIII: “…from now on it will be more pleasant to know no other rivalry than that of the benefits of peace…”

The author writes; “The foremost motive that the British, Austrians, Prussians, Russians and lesser powers publicly gave for declaring war was that Napoleon couldn’t be trusted to keep the peace.” Seems they knew Napoleon better than he knew himself.

The author then makes several claims about what Napoleon wanted now — that the leopard had changed his spots and now was content with peaceful aims for France. Which begs the question — did the Allies declare war on Napoleon?  They indeed declared him an outlaw.  But who was assembling an army, putting armament manufacturers and tailors to work forging cannons and creating musket, outfitting the army splendidly…was this for the purpose of peace? Napoleon did this as the Allies cobbled together their troops.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg??

Talk about revisionist history! What nonsense.

Daniel Maclise’s version of the meeting after the battle of Blucher and Wellington

From the perspective of 200 years later, we do indeed see that the eventual settlement of European borders and governments was reactionary, repressing the ideals of liberty and equality, of representative powers for the masses. Those were the ideals Napoleon claimed to represent, but when you see what he DID and not what he merely said, what hollow words he uttered.  How could anyone with the responsibility for the welfare of many peoples and nations believe that the returned emperor of the French would be satisfied with peace?

The author of the Smithsonian Magazine article is Andrew Roberts, who has written many books on the great characters in history, including most recently Napoleon: A Life.  If you can tolerate a rather smug interviewee, click here for a segment by Charlie Rose.  Again, I regret you will probably have to endure an ad.

In this interview, and in his book Waterloo: The Battle for Modern Europe (Harper Perennial, 2005) Roberts made no claim that Waterloo should not have been fought at all.  In the interview, he affirms that Napoleon was indeed guilty of war crimes — if indeed marching large armies into neighboring countries for a dozen years was not fact enough to cause the Allies to doubt his newly-proclaimed dedication to peace in 1815.

It certainly appears to me, that whatever the claims to peaceful intentions, the army that crossed the border from France into the Kingdom of the Netherlands was that of Napoleon.

After the Battle, by J.M.W. Turner

As for the claim that Napoleon didn’t start any of his battles, I believe it is already obvious without further elaboration that one should laugh off this ridiculous claim.

Smithsonian Magazine — for shame!  Andrew Roberts –  what were you thinking?  I guess I thought better of both the author and the magazine. I didn’t think they would stoop to such obvious baiting and taunting the reader — seems a cheap way of enticing readership.  Next month, they could do an article comparing Josephine to whats-her-name Kardashian.  Pure trashiness again.

Click here for a more reasonable approach.

By the way, I sent a shorter version of this message to Smithsonian magazine but in the July issue they published others.  One was a paen to Roberts’ faulty views, praising Napoleon’s “progressive politics” while the other found Roberts’ “admiration for Napoleon is far too rosy.” Gee, how insightful.

What do you think?  Do you think the Allies should have trusted Napoleon not to attack ever again and stay within French borders?  Or were they wise to prepare to defeat him once and for all?


  1. After having gone to the 200th Anniversary on the battlefield, I'm wondering if the author isn't Belgium. Because after touring the museums(even Wellington's HQ, if I didn't know anything else, I wouldn't be sure who won.

    My personal feeling is that the biggest mistake made was when a Rifleman told Wellington that he had Napoleon sighted and could take him out. And Wellington chastised him that it would be ungentlemanly. That perverse sentiment cost 47,000 lives.

  2. Yet another historian falls to the lure of politically correct revisionist history. History is not a manuscript. You don't get to go back and edit out the parts that might offend or insult a particular portion of the population. Nowhere in the Constitution or in any other body of law in the world does it grant any of us the right not to be offended. I work at Walmart. I am offended every day. I walk away. I agree to disagree. I roll my eyes. I shrug my shoulders. I laugh it off. I do NOT force anyone to rewrite those things that actually happened during my workday that offended me.

    In a society where we are spoon-fed what to think, what to believe, what to count as talent, who to raise up as celebrities and we are told history which actually happened never did you may rest assured those are the first steps to the taming of a society right before you put a leash and a muzzle on it.

    As John Addams once said "It's a revolution. You are going to have to offend SOMEONE!"

    One does not learn from the mistakes of revised history. One learns from the mistake of real history.

    The person who wrote this Smithsonian article is either an idiot or someone who has been given an agenda. I despise agendas. We do not evolve as a species by serving someone's agenda. We do so by realizing even the greatest of men is flawed and a product of his era. We don't throw out the good men do by painting them with the brush of the sins they share with the nature of the society in which they lived. Nor do we throw out the bad evil men do by couching their tyranny in the words of politically correct subterfuge. A tyrant bent on world domination is a tyrant. There isn't an eraser in the world big enough to erase what Napoleon did nor what he intended to do. Anyone who doesn't see that has been drinking WAY too much of the revisionist kool-aid.

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