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Mar. 22 2010 - 3:50 pm | 47 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

Wait, not Waterloo…what was that battle called again?

Lots of amusement going around over the Waterloo metaphor and whose it turned out to be (Yglesias, Frum, Benen). In the latest twist, the Sunny Idiot is proclaiming that actually health-care reform isn’t Obama’s Waterloo, it’s his Borodino; he won, but with significant casualties, and presumably he will find his victory over health-care to be empty and pointless, like Napoleon’s occupation of the burnt-out Moscow, and soon see his shrunken armies retreating across the landscape, harried by Russian partisans and diphtheria. (Who’s fond of czars now? Eh?)

I’ve had enough of this. It seems to me that in the context of a year-long campaign punctuated by striking victories where the invading forces were in sight of their ultimate goal and confident of gaining a crushing symbolic victory, only to fall just short, be unexpectedly held off, and finally driven back in a disastrous rout, a different battle metaphor may be more apt. I think Godwin’s Law considerations prevent me from getting any deeper into this issue though.


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  1. collapse expand

    Every metaphor is martial, including this one.

  2. collapse expand

    Do you know the great stanzas from Byron’s Don Juan?

    In twice five years the “greatest living poet,”
    Like to the champion in the fisty ring,
    Is call’d on to support his claim, or show it,
    Although ’tis an imaginary thing,
    Even I—albeit I’m sure I did not know it,
    Nor sought of foolscap subjects to be king—
    Was reckon’d, a considerable time,
    The grand Napoleon of the realms of rhyme.

    But Juan was my Moscow, and Faliero
    My Leipsic, and my Mont Saint Jean seem Cain:
    “La Belle Alliance” of dunces down at zero,
    Now that the Lion’s fall’n, may rise again,
    But I will fall at least as fell my hero;
    Nor reign at all, or as a monarch reign;
    Or to some lonely isle of jailors go,
    With turncoat Southey for my turnkey Lowe.


    • collapse expand

      I did not. Fantastic. I won’t pretend I get all the references, but I’m trying to remember where I’ve heard “the fisty ring” before — I have a feeling John Plotz was using it in some conversation…though why we would’ve been talking about boxing escapes me.

      The funny thing is how “Juan was my Moscow” would have meant something fairly clear in Byron’s time, but within a century the meaning of “my Moscow” had surely become too undetermined for clarity except with further Napoleonic context. I feel like there may already be some slippage of “Vietnam” from bloody quagmire to post-Communist emerging economy, so we might start to hear hopeful references to North Korea becoming “another Vietnam” even while we’re still anxiously wondering whether Afghanistan is “another Vietnam”.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I've reported from Vietnam since 2003. I'm now the Hanoi correspondent for the German-based, English-language wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and was previously a Hanoi-based stringer for the Boston Globe and for Voice of America. Before that I reported from West Africa, and before that from the Netherlands; my articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Nation, the New York Times Magazine and the New York Times. I've got a thing for languages, and have picked up Russian, French, Dutch and Vietnamese. I used to write scripts for the children's cartoon shows "Arthur", "Doug", and a few others. I got a degree in interactive telecommunications back when most people had never sent an email. In April 1991 I predicted the USSR would collapse into its constituent republics and that Boris Yeltsin would become president of Russia. Since then most of my predictions have been rather less accurate, so it was probably a fluke.

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