Boys and their Toys

When the Riskies asked me to guest blog during their Waterloo Week, I was excited. There were so many things I could write about.

I could write about the events of the battle, and its impact on world history.

I could write about the nature of Napoleonic combat–the three arms of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and the weapons they used; how those weapons affected the tactics of the battle; how Marshal Ney’s attacks illustrated the imperviousness of infantry squares to cavalry, and how the defeat of the Imperial Guard demonstrated the superiority of line over column.

I could write about the decisions that were made, how Napoleon might have won the battle, and what the likely consequences would have been.

But then a sobering thought occurred. In a rare moment of self-reflection, I suddenly wondered: “Why do I know about this stuff?!”

I mean, I’m a peaceable guy. I’ve never served in the military. I’ve never used a weapon in anger. I’m not a historian, or a historical novelist. Heck, I don’t even play one on TV. And yet I’ve done many, many hours of research, read countless books, visited innumerable museums. Why? Just for fun? Am I a mutant, or what?

No, I’m not a mutant. The truth is much worse than that: I’m a guy. And what’s more, I’m not alone in this. The world is filled with guys. And we guys, insofar as we like to read at all, like to read about war, weapons, and general mayhem.

That explains those men who spend a fortune on period costumes and weapons and drive hundreds of miles to line up in the hot sun and recreate important battles of history.

It explains the wargamers who argue for hours about the relative merits of chain mail versus plate armor, and whether or not a halberd is a purely offensive weapon.

It explains why a quick glance at my bookshelves turned up 102 books on military history, books on dueling, drill manuals and period fencing books. And it explains why I have precise knowledge of how to load and fire a flintlock musket, of the differences between smallswords and spadroons, and of the different kinds of shot used in a man-of-war, but only the vaguest idea of how to change the oil in my car.

Why this fascination? Is it in our genes, inherited from our primitive, warlike ancestors, who fought for recognition, territory, and to pick up chicks (perhaps literally)?

Is it the appeal of military virtues like courage, discipline, duty, camaraderie, and honor?

Is it the fancy uniforms, the deadly weapons, the glittering array, and the idea that somehow these will help us to pick up chicks?

Or is it the very horror of the battlefield–the closest thing mankind (and I do mean mankind) has devised to hell on earth? Sometimes a thing is so terrible that it is hard to look away even at hundreds of years’ remove.

The truth is, I don’t know why I’m fascinated, but I am. I don’t watch football. I don’t drink beer. I don’t do stupidly risky things to impress girls (at least, not anymore). I like fluffy kittens, and Notting Hill is one of my favorite movies. Be that as it may, I’m still a guy. I quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and I flip to The History Channel to look for reruns of Conquest and Mail Call (which could equally be called Male Call). And the story of Waterloo grips me: the bravery, the excitement, the terror, the discipline, the suffering, and the death. It brought in a new era then lasted nearly a hundred years, finally ending on another battlefield in Belgium. It’s war; and, like it or not, it’s part of who we are.


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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