The War Comedy

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 4 June 1848

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 7, p. 42;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 5, June 5, 1848.
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung
Keywords : War, Denmark, Germany

Schleswig-Holstein. Indeed, the annals of all history know of no such campaign, no such striking alternation between the force of arms and diplomacy as our current unitedly-German-national war against little Denmark! All the great deeds of the old imperial army with its six hundred commanders, general staffs and military councils, the mutual chicaneries of the leaders of the 1792 coalition, the orders and counter-orders of the blessed Royal and Imperial War Council, are serious and touchingly tragic events compared to the warlike comedy which the new German federal army [1] is performing in Schleswig-Holstein to the resounding laughter of all Europe.

Let us briefly trace the plot of this comedy.

The Danes advance from Jutland and land troops in North Schleswig. The Prussians and Hanoverians occupy Rendsburg and the Eider line. The Danes, who, in spite of all the German bragging, are an alert and brave people, quickly attack and in a single battle drive the army of Schleswig-Holstein back towards the Prussians. The latter calmly look on.

At last, Berlin gives the order to advance. The united German troops attack the Danes and at Schleswig overwhelm them by their numerical superiority. The victory was brought about primarily by the Pomeranian guardsmen who handled their rifle-butts as skilfully as they had done previously at Grossbeeren and Dennewitz. [2] Schleswig is conquered once more and Germany is jubilant at the heroic deed of her army.

In the meantime, the Danish fleet which numbers less than twenty ships of any size, seizes the German merchant vessels, blockades all German ports, and covers the crossings to the islands to which the army withdraws. Jutland is abandoned and partially occupied by Prussian troops who demand an indemnity of 2 million speciestaler.

Before a single taler of the indemnity has been received, however, England sends proposals for mediation on the basis of a withdrawal and the neutrality of Schleswig, and Russia sends threatening Notes. Herr Camphausen falls right into this trap and, on his orders, the Prussians, drunk with victory, withdraw from Veile to Königsau, to Hadersleben, Apenrade and Flensburg. The Danes, who till then had vanished, reappear at once. They pursue the Prussians day and .night, throw their withdrawal into confusion, make landings everywhere, defeat the troops of the 10th Federal Corps at Sundewitt and retreat only before superior numbers. In the engagement of May 30, rifle-butts, swung this time by the solid arms of Mecklenburgers, again proved decisive. The German inhabitants flee with the Prussians, all North Schleswig is . abandoned to devastation and plunder, and the Danebrog [Danish flag] flies once more over Hadersleben and Apenrade. It is obvious that Prussian soldiers of all ranks obey orders in Schleswig just as they do in Berlin.

Suddenly there comes an order from Berlin: the Prussians are to advance again. Now they. merrily advance northward once more, but the comedy still, has long to run. We want to wait and see where the Prussians will this time receive orders to retreat.

In short, it is a genuine quadrille, a military ballet which the Camphausen Ministry is having performed for its own amusement and for the glory of the German nation.

We must not forget, however, that it is the burning villages of Schleswig which supply the illumination for the stage and that it is the cries for vengeance from Danish marauders and partisans which provide the chorus for this performance.

The Camphausen Ministry has on this occasion demonstrated its high calling to represent Germany abroad. Schleswig, twice abandoned to Danish invasions through the fault of this Ministry, will gratefully remember the first diplomatic experiment of our “responsible” Ministers.

Let us have confidence in the wisdom and energy of the Camphausen Ministry!

  1. Concerning the German-Danish war over Schleswig-Holstein see Note 28 In this article Engels describes one of the episodes in the war between Germany and Denmark over Schleswig and Holstein. By the decision of the Congress of Vienna (1815) the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were incorporated into the Kingdom of Denmark in spite of the fact that Germans constituted the majority of the population in Holstein and in Southern Schleswig. Under the impact of the March revolution, the national liberation movement of the German population grew in strength and assumed a radical and democratic nature, becoming part of the struggle for the unification of Germany. Volunteers from all over the country rushed to the aid of the local population when it rose up against Danish rule arms in hand. Prussia, Hanover and other states of the German Confederation sent to the duchies federal troops, under the command of the Prussian General Wrangel, who entered Jutland on May 2. The Prussian Government, however, declined to take a firm stand on the Schleswig-Holstein issue, for it feared a popular outbreak and an intensification of the revolution. The liberal majority of the Frankfurt National Assembly also cherished secret hopes of an agreement with the Danish ruling circles, at the expense of national unity. Things were complicated by the intervention of Britain, Sweden and Russia in favour of Denmark, and their demand that federal troops be withdrawn from the duchies. (In this connection, Engels alludes to the Note of May 8, 1848, which Chancellor Nesselrode handed in to the Berlin Cabinet and in which this demand was accompanied by the threat of a break between Russia and Prussia.) All these circumstances had a negative effect on the military operations against Denmark undertaken by the German federal troops and volunteer detachments. The report on the defeat of the German federal troops appeared on May 30, 1848, in No. 11179 of the Börsen-Halle, and was then reprinted in most of the German papers. In English it appeared on June 3 in The Times No. 19880.
  2. The army of the anti-French coalition, in which Prussian forces participated, defeated Napoleon’s army in the vicinity of Berlin at the battles of Grossbeeren (August 23, 1813) and Dennewitz (September 6, 1813)