". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, June 14, 2014

History Sneaks Up In Huge Footprints: Next Year Waterloo and the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennials

The Battle of New Orleans was January 8th, 1815, after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed December 24, 1814, between Britain and the United States, officially ending the War of 1812. However, as this was some years prior to telegraph cables and steam ships, communications between the Old World and the New lagged far behind treaty agreements.

Waterloo was June 18th, 1815, interrupting the wind-down the Powers of Britain and Europe thought was happening with the Congress of Vienna, in which the Powers (among whom Talleyrand had managed to insert himself as representative of France -- which speaks volumes of what an effective diplomat-negotiator he was!) were dividing up the spoils of the defeated Napoleonic empire.

Louisiana is ready! we are told, with many events of reenactment and commemoration scheduled.

Surely Brussels has much planned to commemorate and reenact Waterloo, a perennially favorite battle of military buffs. Presumably it is Brussels doing the planning and hosting, since Waterloo took place near there, though then what we know now as Belgium was part of the United Kingdom of Netherlands until 1830. Prior to that, the throne of Holland had been occupied by Louis Bonaparte, Napoleón's older brother. And, previous to the Kingdom of Holland the region had been the Batavian Republic. Just this small bit of Europe dramatizes the extent by which  Napoleón redrew the maps of old Europe, almost inventing for the average person a sense of history, a sharp demarcation of before and after, on a scale previously unfelt by an average Brit or European.

There is a reason for thinking of these two battles together.  The Congress of Vienna assembled in September 1814. Lord Castlereagh, representing Britain, possessed with signing power, was seen generally as disappointingly ineffective. Thus the
Wellington on Copenhagen at Waterloo

Duke of Wellington replaced him in the winter of 1815.

In 1814 some in Britain had a vague idea that General Wellington should lead an invasion out of the Gulf (involving a huge number of HMS transports) into the U.S. southlands (the northern New Englanders had never wanted this war, and indeed traded licitly and illicitly with Britain whenever it could) and trounce the miserable excuse of an independent nation as he'd done the French armies in Spain. Wellington wisely declined to lead any invasion into ground he knew not at all and was vastly unlike Europe's. Moreover, he was a ground tactician, not a naval commander.

Considering the trackless, tangled landscape he'd have had to hack through, lacking farms, towns and markets, filled with hostile Indians, Wellington surely intuited he would not have done well against Old Hickory, who intimately knew these lands, handled Indians like no one else before or since, who burned with his terrible black fire of hatred for the Brits in general dating back to his family's suffering at the hands of the British army in the War of Independence.

Instead, the Duke joined the Congress in Vienna, which fortunately placed him on the ground, in easy contact with the generals of the other European powers, when Napoleón canceled his abdication and the 100 days began, which were finished decisively at Waterloo.

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