This Wednesday gave us a fun mid week break from security lectures in which we were able to focus more on some of the historical background that led to the creation of the European Union. With a meeting time of 10:40, we were able to sleep in a little more than usual before taking a bus ride to our first stop of the day, Waterloo. After learning so much about the famous battle that led to Napoleon’s downfall, we were all excited to see where the battle actually took place as well as learn more about the background and details of the battle. We first stopped in the interactive museum, which took us all the way through the battle, beginning with the Enlightenment and rise of the French Revolution. From here, the museum began to focus on the rise of Napoleon and his conquests throughout Europe. With portraits and details from many of the major battles during his rule, the museum gave strong context for the growing tensions from all of the other major European powers that led to the battle of Waterloo. Further, maps from different years showed Napoleon’s conquests around Europe and his growing power, as well as growing number of enemies. With this historical context in mind, the museum continued with a detailed description of the battle of Waterloo. What I found particularly unique about this battle was the vast number of different nationalities working together against a single common enemy. Many of the soldiers fighting against France had previously been under the control and leadership of Napoleon in the past, adding another layer of complexity to the battle. The partnership against Napoleon shows a strong forge against a common enemy that overcame language and cultural barriors and previous conflicts. Further, Waterloo as a whole is a strong representation of the need for a European Peace Project, as the Congress of Vienna (which took place after the defeat of Waterloo in an attempt to re-establish European borders) serves as an early example of an attempt to prevent major European conflict. Overall, our visit to the museum at the Battle of Waterloo site helped put the necessity of the EU into stronger historical context. After visiting the museum, we all decided to climb the nearly 300 stairs to the top of the battlefield memorial. While we were all exhausted after the small hike, the view from the top was beautiful and provided a great view of the memorial and the surrounding area of Waterloo.
After our visit at Waterloo, we then boarded a bus and began the hour and a half trek from Waterloo to Ypres. Once arriving in the quaint Belgian town, we immediately went to In Flanders Field, a museum focused on the major World War I battles in the area. While we have already spent some time learning about WWI and its European and worldwide consequences, this museum was a great reminder of the real-life human consequences war had on this area of Europe. Different interactive activities, like videos with “doctors” from the war further emphasized the deadly impact of the war. Further, the museum featured a fake trench that we could walk through, meant to accurately display the dire conditions soldiers lived in during the war. A small, but touching detail at the end of the museum was a list of major conflicts (civil wars, genocide, battles, etc.) that have occurred since the end of World War I. While we could find no description for this list, we interpreted it as a representation of how WWI was not truly the “war to end all wars”. This helped to directly tie the museum into our studies on the EU as a peace project, and how ultimately its purpose is to prevent Europe from being engulfed in such dangerous conflict again.
After a day full of travel and museum visits, we were all starving and excited for dinner in the beautiful town of Ypres. Dr. Birchfield treated us all to a delicious Italian dinner, and then we were all ready to head home after an exhausting but exciting day. Can’t wait to see what else the rest of our time left in Belgium has to offer!