Today we commemorate the victory of Waterloo, when allied forces led by Wellington and Blucher defeated Napoleon. They put an end to his ambitions to unite Europe under French domination through his military prowess and the strength of his armies.
It was not an easy victory. For much of that fateful Sunday the British led allied army of some 67,000 men withstood repeated attacks from the stronger French force. The French assembled 74,000 veterans including 14,000 cavalry, compared with Wellingtonâ€™s 11,000 cavalry and 56,000 footsoldiers. Only 7000 of Wellingtonâ€™s army were veterans of his successful Peninsula campaign, and only 24,000 British troops familiar with the great generalâ€™s methods and training routines.
At the end of the battle, after the arrival of Blucher with 48,000 Prussians secured the victory, 25,000 French soldiers were dead or injured and 8000 were prisoners. 15000 from Wellingtonâ€™s army were dead or injured, and 7000 of Blucherâ€™s men. It was heavy price to pay, but it bought a final victory against the most dangerous dictator and the most successful continental General Europe had know for a long time.
What should we make of these sacrifices, almost 200 years later? We can mourn the dead, for they all had loved ones and left behind grieving relatives. We can be grateful the right side won, and Europe was spared more misery at the point of a French bayonet.
We can also take away from the story a reminder of just how much blood and treasure Britain has had to shed in the past to prevent any one power dominating the continent. We have always been the country that has stood up for the rights of smaller countries to self determination. We have favoured democratic and national governments that make sense to people, and resisted strongly over centralised, aggressive and acquisitive powers that wished to unite the continent by force.
Today, fortunately, France and Germany no longer seek to rule the rest of Europe by annexation through force of arms. Our brave Waterloo soldiers, and their successors who fought German tyranny, did put an end to that. But on this Waterloo day, can we not ask our government again to rise to the spirit of what our forbears have done? Should they not abandon the EU centralising constitution, and stand up for the rights and verdict of the Irish people? What better epitaph, what more fitting recognition could we give our long dead Waterloo veterans, than today to say the EU Constitution is dead, long live diversity, long live the independence of smaller countries, long live the right of everyman to have his say and see his vote respected. The new unifiers of Europe are not using force of arms, but they are using the bludgeon of international law codes, the secrecy of international government and bureaucracy to thwart the popular will.