A 1297 Original of the Magna Carta at the National Archives in Washington on March 3, 2008. The Magna Carta dates to 1215 when England's King John acceded to the demands of his barons acknowledging the concept that no man is above the law. It is considered a milestone in constitutional thought and formed the basis of the American Bill of Rights 500 years later. (UPI file photo/Pat Benic) | License Photo
2015 is indeed an event filled year that could help put some of the "great" back into Great Britain.
Today commemorates the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta or Great Charter. In three days time, Britain will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in which the combined armies under the Duke of Wellington finally defeated Napoleon, who would be permanently exiled to St. Helena in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. And October 25th marks the 600th year since the Battle of Agincourt in which King Henry V's relatively tiny "band of brothers" vanquished a numerically superior French army possibly ten times larger.
The story of Magna Carta is well known. Forced on King John of England on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede near Windsor, the document made peace between the unpopular king and a group of rebel barons and lords of the realm. The agreement promised to protect church rights, keep barons from illegal imprisonment and guarantee access to swift justice with trials by juries of peers. Implementation was to be carried out by a council of some two-dozen barons.
Neither side stood behind their commitments and Pope Innocent III annulled the document. The short First Baron's War followed. At the end of the war in 1217, John's son Henry III reissued the pact, which was called Magna Carta. Magna Carta has since taken on great historical stature as the first relatively modern document to specify rights and safeguards for certain lords at the expense of the ruling sovereign.
Waterloo marked the end of Napoleon's dominance in Europe. Returning from exile in March 1815, Napoleon formed an army and two days before the Sunday battle at Waterloo, defeated the Prussian Army under Field Marshal Gebhard von Blucher at Ligny. Hence, Blucher had to reform his army and move it to Waterloo. While both sets of combatants had roughly equal numbers of about 70,000 each, Britain only mustered just over a third of the coalition. A former British Chief of the Defence Staff said not long ago that this was the first example of a NATO-like military alliance in which the allies did much of the fighting.
The battle raged all day. Wellington was to remark that the battle was "the nearest run thing you ever saw." Fortunately, the coalition line held long enough for Blucher to engage and it was au revoir Bonaparte.
Aside from Shakespeare's dramatization of Agincourt on St. Crispin's day and Henry V's famous oration, that battle is less well known than Magna Carta or Waterloo. Henry's army probably numbered between 5,000 to 10,000 and closer to the smaller figure. The battle was fought on a relatively small field that had been made sodden by the rain.
While actual accounts differ, the heavily armored French knights and foot soldiers would become trapped in the muddy quagmire. And the thousands of English archers were armed with the "long bow" and arrows that penetrated protective armor. As the cavalry charge was contending with the largely impassable ground, flights of arrows mowed down horses and riders alike. French knights drowned in standing water. More were slaughtered by English foot soldiers as they lay helpless in the mud trapped in heavy armor that rendered them immobile.
Aside from the coincidence of each of the above events occurring in year fifteen of a new century, are there other takeaways? Certainly from Agincourt, several come to mind. As new dangers and threats emerge, particularly radical groups energized by the most perverted distortions of Islam to justify horrific practices, countering them has proved difficult.
As the longbow and an impassable battlefield allowed England to win a major victory against seemingly overwhelming numbers in 1415, we need to determine what is the modern equivalent of the longbow to fire against these merchants of death. And more importantly, we need to learn how to turn future geostrategic battlefields into quagmires that trap our enemies, not us. These require a new mindset for the 21st century that takes into account not only the possibility of state versus state conflict reflected by Waterloo but defeating groups such as the Islamic State -- aka Da'esh -- with political visions of building a new Caliphate on perverted interpretations of Islam.
Here, a new Magna Carta for the civilized world is needed that declares these radical terrorist organization enemies of civilization and Islam and rallies the rest of world in a campaign to defeat these agents of death. And we better get started now.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist as well as Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.