From Battle to Metaphor: The Meaning of Waterloo in Modern Jewish History

WaterlooTwo hundred years ago sometime after 10 PM on June 18, 1815 the guns at Waterloo fell silent. Of the 76,000 French soldiers who took the field earlier that morning against considerably larger armies of the Seventh Coalition as many as 26,000 lay dead on the blood soaked fields of rural Belgium. Napoleon had been decisively defeated and would be quickly and expeditiously sent into permanent exile. The age of the French Revolution, its social upheavals and radical ideas of liberty and equality was over and a new order based on monarchical power and stability was put into place by the leading rulers of Europe.
The architect of the new order was an Austrian diplomat, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773-1859), who was able to bring the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia into accord and eventually readmit France into the original “European Union.” While Metternich himself was committed to Jewish political emancipation in Western Europe and personally had numerous Jewish friends, many if not most of his conservative colleagues were deeply anti-Semitic. In fact, at the Congress of Vienna concluded in anticipation of Waterloo by just a few days, Jewish civil rights suffered a significant set back with various polities reverting their laws on Jewish political status to the inferior conditions of the mid-18th century. The willingness of Europe’s top leadership in the second decade of the 19th century to sacrifice Jewish concerns for the “greater good” was revisited 170 years later when the leading modern student and admirer of Metternich, Henry Kissinger, himself a victim of extreme instability in European politics, argued that the immigration rights of Soviet Jews was secondary to the need for maintaining global stability at the end of the Cold War.