This video is the trailer of the Danish TV drama 1864.
By Allan Lloyd in Britain:
Sacrificed for imperial ambition
Saturday 30th May 2015
The bloody context to the Danish TV drama 1864 currently showing on BBC4 is vividly brought to life in an excellent book by Tom Buk-Swienty, reports ALAN LLOYD
1864: The Forgotten War That Shaped Modern Europe
by Tom Buk-Swienty
(Profile Books, £8.99)
IT SEEMS extraordinary to think that it has taken 150 years to properly consider a war whose outcome, arguably, still affects the politics of Europe today. But with this excellently written book and the accompanying TV drama currently showing on BBC4, the origins and outcomes of this conflict now get the exposure they deserve.
Until the second battle of Copenhagen in 1807 Denmark had been one of the world’s great powers, largely through the might of its navy. Although after that defeat by Nelson and the British navy forced them to begin again from scratch, this did not curb the ambitions of the Danish ruling class to recover past glories, culminating in the adoption of a new Danish constitution in 1863 which annexed the largely autonomous Duchy of Schleswig.
This move coincided with the coming to office of Otto von Bismarck as Minister-President under King Wilhelm I. Von Bismarck saw the annexing of this largely German-speaking area as an ideal chance for a successful war which would advance his agenda for a unified Germany and to finally ensure Prussia’s prominence over their natural allies, Austria.
Denmark was also in the grip of a political class gung-ho for a war that anyone with a clear mind could see was hopelessly unwinnable. Sadly, the general population were also whipped up by the usual jingoistic ploys used by a ruling class whenever they wish a nation’s working class to sacrifice themselves for their vanity, ambition or egos in a war. They were also misled into believing that Britain or France would come to their aid as an underdog. Denmark had broken an international treaty by its actions and Britain was also worried about the rise of Prussia and the delicate balance of power that existed in Europe.
Palmerston, as Britain’s prime minister, did his best to broker a peaceful outcome. But Denmark refused to accept any compromise to its position.
When hostilities commenced in February 1864, they quickly centred round a huge Danish defensive emplacement at Dybbol in the south of the country. After a massive two-month artillery barrage the Prussians and Austrians launched a final assault on April 18 of that year. The Danish army had long recognised the hopelessness of its position but the political class in Copenhagen was adamant that there should be no retreat.
Although the Danish army fought with great bravery and inflicted heavy losses on the assailants, the result was something of a massacre. Peace, when it came, resulted in Denmark ceding a third of its territory and a million of its population. The population was forever relegated to rule by a minor monarchy, while the rise of Bismarck and then a united Germany began.
As one of the bloodiest battles in European history, this account by Tom Buk-Swienty is made all the more poignant and sad by the fact that it is told through a host of eyewitness accounts, from those of the humblest private up to generals. All of them were needlessly sacrificed on the altar of imperialist ambitions.