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The modern German nation was forged on the battlefield; in January 1871, after the Prussian Army led the North German Confederation to victory in a series of battles against the French, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed German emperor and ruled over 40 million central Europeans. His diverse subjects, speaking a dozen languages and dialects and populating a sprawling empire, hailed Wilhelm as kaiser (“emperor”), celebrated the de facto state holiday commemorating German victory over the French, and sang their nation’s glory in the popular “Lied der Deutschen.” The military tradition thrived in the German Empire, determining many social and cultural norms and defining national identity.

The modern German state was born in defeat; in May 1949, conquered and partitioned by the World War II ...

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