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In 2014, while the centenary of the commencement of the First World War drew massive attention in most of Europe, Denmark had another war to commemorate: the Schleswig-Holstein war of 1864. In the fall of 2014, the Danish national broadcasting company, DR, launched a television series about the war, entitled ‘1864’. The series focuses on the siege and battle of Dybbøl (Düppel) in Eastern Schleswig, where the Danish army made its stand against the Prussian invaders. Following the adventures of a few individuals, the series gives a vivid picture of the carnage the war wrought and the lives it destroyed, both at and behind the front. But it does little to explain the political background to the war, except for a stereotyped opposition of the cold calculations of great power diplomacy to the nationalist frenzy of some misguided, overtly religious, and/or naive Danes. In the grand narrative of 19th-century European history, the war of 1864 normally only receives a cursory mention as the first and smallest of the three wars the Prussian Prime Minister, Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), plotted and through which he achieved German unification. For Denmark, it was a national tragedy.

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Image credit: The Battle of Dybbøl, 1864, by Jørgen Valentin Sonne (1801-1890) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

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