Two hundred and four years ago, in 1815 close to Waterloo in Belgium, about 40,000 men died fighting each other, ‘for their countries’. Many others where maimed for life. These and other victims of war are glorified the world over as heroes.

I call them victims of humankind’s utter stupidity.

They died, indeed, for their respective countries. I wonder, though, if one such hero who would be lying screaming on the ground, dying of a mortal wound, would feel satisfied about sacrificing his life ‘for his country’. And what exactly, pray, is (was) this ‘country’. The various countries had their names, of course, many of them the same names used nowadays, although even these are variable. Just think of Britian/UK/England. Or Prussia. Or Holland/Netherlands/Low Countries. Belgium provided the arena but didn’t even exist at the time. The respective ‘country’ for which tens of thousands of men died a horrible death, if you really think about it, was a ruler, a king or a queen, a kaiser, emperor or megalomaniac who aspired to rule over and control ever larger areas of territory. Using poor wretches who had been duped with the myth of ‘patriotism’ – love of their country – and sent to fight on their behalf. For their country, i.e. for whichever megalomaniac happened to rule over the territory where they were born.

They died, giving up their only life and leaving behind them grieving families trying to patch up destroyed lives. In Britain, they honour them by wearing fake poppies. Poor wretches. ‘Dying like men’. Oh yes. Being born is like winning a lottery with astronomically short odds. And they gave it away for the Kaiser or whoever.

What if people were to refuse to fight? “Good thing not everyone is a pacifist like you, otherwise Hitler would have conquered the whole world!” I’m told. Wrong. If everyone were a pacifist like me, there would be no war as nobody would want to fight.

Alas, we never learn. A hundred years after Waterloo, pretty much the same thing happened on a grossly magnified scale. And the sons of the survivors of that immense conflict killed each other again barely two decades later. We turned this madness into a serial. World War I and World War II. Yet another hundred years later, it seems many people are itching to get at each other’s throats. Maybe now the weapons are so destructive that everyone realises a world war would destroy all semblance of our civilisation. And yet, many countries keep stockpiling weapons instead of spending scarce resources on education, the infrastructure, research, fighting climate change, and helping the ex-colonies of the various previously mentioned megalomaniacs and empires get back on their feet, following so much plunder and destruction. Oh well.

Sorry about that. Well, not really, and I did need to get this rant off my chest.

All the above was inspired by a lovely walk around the Waterloo battlefield, first time round on a gloomy Saturday afternoon in November that gradually transformed into a glorious golden sunset, followed up one week later on a sunny Sunday morning, this time accompanied by friends from our hiking group named Walk Dynasty.

The victorious powers scraped up a large mound of material from the surrounding battleground. They melted the bronze of many cannons used in the battle and moulded it into the shape of a lion, symbolising The Netherlands. La Butte du Lion.

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It’s so peaceful and serene now. Let’s hope it stays like that forever.

 

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