An analysis of the war concept in the history of warfare by john keegan

Trebuchet Bows and arrows were often used by combatants. Egyptians shot arrows from chariots effectively. It helped to give the English a large early advantage in the Hundred Years' Wareven though the English were eventually defeated.

An analysis of the war concept in the history of warfare by john keegan

Notes Rather like Cato the Elder, ending every speech with his famous " delenda est Carthago ," the British historian cum journalist Basil Liddell Hart routinely included in his many publications a ringing denunciation of the Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz.

He occasionally deviated from this practice, e. As he painfully rebuilt his reputation after the war, however, he returned to his old habits often word-for-word even though—as his personal correspondence reveals—his privately held view of Clausewitz was a great deal more complex and positive.

And Liddell Hart's sustained attacks bore fruit. For well over a generation, Clausewitz's reputation in the West was the one that Liddell Hart had conjured up: In the last two decades, in a process spearheaded by scholars like Sir Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Clausewitz's theories and concepts have come, in one form or another, to permeate Anglo-American military writing, theoretical, doctrinal, and historical.

It has in fact become difficult to find a recent book on any military subject that does not make some, usually positive, reference to the philosopher. Clausewitz's concepts underlie the most authoritative discussions of America's "lessons learned" from the Vietnam debacle Harry Summers's On Strategy: It has always been central at the U.

Warfightingis essentially a distillation heavily flavored by Sun Tzu. Clausewitz even seems to have done in the poor Easter Islanders and inspired Shaka Zulu and the Mongols. One would hope that Keegan's military-intellectual atavism would receive the short shrift it deserves. Unfortunately, the history of Clausewitz's reception over the past century and a half argues otherwise.

Although Clausewitz insisted that defense is the stronger form of war, it is the attacker who has the easier job when it comes to assassinating ideas.

Most readers and that includes, unfortunately, many professional writers on military affairs and military history take their understanding of Clausewitz from secondary and tertiary works like Keegan's. The signs of confusion stemming from Keegan's treatment are already evident.

As one example, Keegan's reviewer in The Economist provided its readers with what is probably the first new misinterpretation of Clausewitz in forty years: The discussion in A History of Warfare, however, is a sustained assault both on Clausewitzian theory and on those who promulgate it, and Keegan has made that assault quite unnecessarily, I think a central aspect of his own argument.

Presumably, therefore, Keegan has made some effort to understand the ideas he attacks so vociferously. In this, he has clearly failed.


I am intrigued by two questions. Insofar as Keegan's treatment represents an intellectual failure, what is it, exactly, that he has failed to understand? Keegan's treatment represents something more, however, than an intellectual failure.

More, that is, than a mere inability to comprehend Clausewitz's arguments. Keegan is, after all, a very bright and creative fellow, and an accomplished writer.

The three core chapters of his book, The Face of Battle, constitute one of the glories of English-language military historical literature. And, for those who actually read On War, Clausewitz is not all that difficult to fathom.

A History of Warfare by John Keegan

Three minutes thought is usually sufficient to clarify any one of Clausewitz's many interesting propositions. Housman once said, "thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time. There is no logical thought process that could account for Keegan's simultaneous arguments that, first, On War's ideas have thoroughly determined the Western way of war and, second, that no real soldiers at least, none "of the thousands This paradox is demonstrably wrong on both counts.

One must ask how, precisely, did Clausewitz's efforts to subordinate war to rational policy teach the world that "those who make war an end in itself are likely to be more successful than those who seek to moderate its character for political purposes"?

So my second question, inevitably a speculative venture, is Why? The remainder of this article, therefore, will use Keegan's intellectual errors as a vehicle for exploring the true meaning of Clausewitz's work.Keegan does not examine the personal political aspects of Roman military policy, either external nor internal.

And it is internal politics as well as external, sometimes even more than external that is what it meant by the concept that war is the extension of politics. Keegan's A History of Warfare argues, in essence, that war is a cultural rather than a political activity.

Warfare clearly is not a rational pursuit, since it does so much more harm than good even to the victors; it "is wholly unlike politics because it must be fought by men whose values and skills are not those of politicians and diplomats.".

A History of Warfare presents a look at the whole European/Western history (with substantial incursions into other cultures, notably China and Japan) from the perspective of warmaking. The book varies in how detailed its account of actual events, dates and battles is in relation to a more general discussion of developments in warfare.

For a generation now, John Keegan's histories have been lucid, literate, and enjoyable. I joined the legion of his fans upon reading his classic, The Face of Battle, longer ago than I like to admit. Indeed, I took his latest, Intelligence in War, on a pair of flights recently and was not.

See a Problem?

Introduction. In , the well-regarded military historian John Keegan published a book "The History of War" which gives a magisterial survey of this topic.

In it he describes and analyses the development of war from the Stone Age onwards. Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Reviews several attempts to apply cultural analysis to military history, especially the violence of the American Civil War and World War II, as well as the stalemate of World War I.

Van Creveld, Martin.

An analysis of the war concept in the history of warfare by john keegan

The Culture of War. New York: Presidio, E-mail Citation».

Military history - Wikipedia