Your RDA of Irony

Would ABBA sing “Austerlitz” in France?

Congratulations to any French friends (Catherine Deneuve and Carole Bouquet–if only they would let me) on the anniversary of Austerlitz.

Napoleon considered it his greatest victory; it certainly was his most obnoxious one.

To put it in Jeopardy terms, Napoleon allowed Russia and Austria to pick the categories AND ring in first. And he still smashed them.

Napoleon was inviting and begging the Russians and Austrians to attack; in fact, he seduced them. The French line had initially been situated on a plateau, an excellent defensive position that deterred the Austrians and the more competent Russian officers. So the accommodating Corsican withdrew his forces from the plateau. His enemies gratefully occupied the heights and advanced their lines.

Of course, the Austrians and Russians might have been a little wary about Napoleon’s gift. The eastern side of the plateau formed a formidable defense; however, the west side had the kind of gentle, charming slope that is advertised in real estate brochures. The French had little difficulty charging up the plateau, pushing the Russians and Austrians off the heights. Having smashed the center of the Allied line and regained the heights, the French were then very unkind to the exposed Russian left flank; it was driven into a lake.

The Russians and Austrians lost 27,000 men–one third of their army–at Austerlitz. The Emperor of Austria wrote his wife, “things did not go well today.”

Leo Tolstoy was a little more descriptive. His account of Austerlitz in “War and Peace” was probably longer than the battle.

Here is my abridged translation:

Prince Bolkonsky and Count Bezukhov were so preoccupied in a discussion of life, the soul and agricultural management that they had not noticed that their regiments had been massacred.

A furious General Kutuzov rode up to his esoteric officers and shrieked, “Why didn’t your troops occupy the defensive positions?”

Bezukhov waxed, “The Russian soul longs for suffering as a means of redemption. We gave the orders but those sturdy pure peasants stood in a stoic resignation.”

The exasperated commander asked, “Did you give the orders in Russian?”

Prince Bolkonsky shrugged, “Pourquoi?”

  1. david traini says:

    Actually, the sweet-looking Swedes were not singing about Napoleon’s decisive defeat in 1815. They were simply using their limited knowledge of British slang to describe an incident that happened to Benny Ulvaeus and Bjorn Andersen in London in the summer of 1977. They used a public toilet off Piccadilly Circus but accidentally locked themselves in and were trapped there for nearly two hours until a very young George Michael, or was it Paul Reubens, came in to troll, I mean, go to the bathroom. They went to their hotel and immediately wrote “Water Loo,” what they thought was the slang term for a public restroom. If you listen to the lyrics, this all makes sense:

    Water loo, couldn’t escape if I wanted to…

    You probably think my explanation won’t flush, but I think that it holds water.

  2. Peggles says:

    Au contraire! ‘Tis a tissue of lies, a ballcock and bull story.

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