“He met his Waterloo” is one of those phrases that has been quoted many times and probably is losing it’s true meaning and history, especially with the younger generation. They don’t realize the human tragedies and difficulties that birthed this expression.
Whenever one encounters an external force greater than themselves and one that they cannot overcome, we say, “They met their Waterloo.” This describes a disappointing defeat in some aspect of life. A young man I spoke with said, “So, it’s like saying, ‘You met your match.'”
So, how did this expression come to be? It came as a result of the Battle of Waterloo in what is now Belgium. Waterloo is a town that was close to the battlefield, about three miles. Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, desired to be the emperor of the Europe. His ruthless advance was stopped by a coalition force, led by the Duke of Wellington of England, on June 18, 1815.
It was a devastating loss to Napoleon and his French supporters and a truly world changing event of history and since then, students of history remember that Napoleon “met his match” in a humbling defeat at Waterloo.
Some interesting facts that revolve around the Battle of Waterloo:
. A Belgium historian and former resident of Waterloo, told the Wall Street Journal, “Napoleon never set foot in Waterloo – it’s a fact.”
. The battle was known to the French as the “Battle of Mont Saint-Jean.” It became known as the Battle of Waterloo because the victorious Duke of Wellington headquartered there and in his report to the British government the name was mentioned in the dateline.
. Some claim the reason that Napoleon lost the battle was due to a bad case of hemorrhoids that prevented him from sitting on his horse during the battle and directing his troops as he always had. Others say this is just an excuse that was made up by the French, Napoleon supporters.
. One gruesome tragedy that came from this battle was that locals, only hours after the battle, took pliers, hammers and chisels and began extracting the teeth from the thousands of dead soldiers. The demand for teeth was high and they sold them to dentists to be crafted into dentures. These dentures were known and advertised as “Waterloo Teeth.”
. Napoleon was forced to abdicate the throne on June 22, 1815. He attempted to escape to the United States (which had just secured the victory over England in the War of 1812) at the port of Rochefort. But the British had blockaded the port and he was seized and eventually exiled to the remote island of St Helena.
. For his faithful service and victory, the British Parliament awarded the Duke of Wellington 200,000 British pounds, around 15 million British pounds today.
. It is interesting to me that the Battle of Waterloo is associated with Napoleon (the loser) immediately, not the Duke of Wellington (the victor). That’s one for the shrinks, I suppose. But to me, it reflects our world. The negative is dwelt on more than the positive. Bad news, not good news sells; traffic slows down on both sides of the freeway to gawk at a wreck; you can’t make me believe that a NASCAR fan watches the race just to see a bunch of guys make left turns! No, they are waiting to see some driver smash into the wall – but, that’s just me…; the “L” column in baseball is more important in the standings than the “W” column; political campaigns are fueled by negatives of the opponent (you get the point). It would seem strange to refer to Waterloo in a positive, victorious light.
So the expression has carried over through the years to all aspects of life. Have you ever “Met your Waterloo” in certain circumstances and situations of your life?
Let’s face it. We aren’t all-powerful and all-knowing, although we scurry through life as though we are invincible. Life is replete with challenges to overcome and uncertainties around each corner. Some of them are insurmountable obstacles that overpower us and bring us back to the reality of just how fragile life is and how it can change in an instant. We can easily meet our Waterloo at any given moment.
But for the Christian who is trusting in the care of his or her Heavenly Father, the Waterloos that threaten do not defeat. The Bible tells us that, “We are more than conquerors through Him Who loves us.” The Apostle goes on to say in Romans 8 that nothing can separate the child of God from the love of God in Christ.
The dangers and uncertainties of this world will come into each of our lives and that is a certainty. Sadly, the masses do not realize that there is hope. Despair, worry and stress are devastating and have led to many desperate and tragic situations and ends. Shame on us Christians if we pass up an opportunity in this mad world to offer hope.
Waterloos come and Waterloos go in our lives. One wise man said, “That which does not kill you will make you stronger.” I would say yes, be strong, but be strong in God’s power. He is the only place for real answers and security in this dangerous and wacky world.