Sir John Keegan
John Desmond Patrick Keegan
15 May 1934
Clapham, London, England
|Died||2 August 2012 (aged 78)|
Kilmington, Wiltshire, England
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
|Main interests||Military history, history of warfare, First World War|
|Notable works||The Face of Battle, Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle, The Mask of Command and other major works|
Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE FRSL (15 May 1934 - 2 August 2012) was an English military historian, lecturer, writer and journalist. He was the author of many published works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime, and intelligence warfare, as well as the psychology of battle.
At the age of 13 Keegan contracted orthopaedic tuberculosis, which subsequently affected his gait. The long-term effects of his tuberculosis rendered him unfit for military service, and the timing of his birth made him too young for service in the Second World War, facts he mentioned in his works as an ironic observation on his profession and interests. The illness also interrupted his education during his teenage years. However, his education included a period at King's College, Taunton, and two years at Wimbledon College, which led to entry to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1953. Following graduation he worked at the American Embassy in London for three years.
In 1960 Keegan was appointed to a lectureship in military history at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the training establishment for officers of the British Army. In holding the post for 26 years, he became senior lecturer in military history during his tenure, during which he also held a visiting professorship at Princeton University and was Delmas Distinguished Professor of History at Vassar College.
Leaving the academy in 1986, Keegan joined the Daily Telegraph as a Defence Correspondent and remained with the publication as Defence Editor until his death, also writing for the American conservative website, National Review Online. In 1998 he wrote and presented the BBC's Reith Lectures, entitled War in our World.
Keegan was also criticised by peers, including Sir Michael Howard and Christopher Bassford for his critical position on Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian officer and author of Vom Kriege (On War), one of the basic texts on warfare and military strategy. Keegan was described as "profoundly mistaken" and Bassford stated that "Nothing anywhere in Keegan's work - despite his many diatribes about Clausewitz and 'the Clausewitzians' - reflects any reading whatsoever of Clausewitz's own writings." The political scientist Richard Betts also criticised Keegan's understanding of the political dimensions of war, writing that Keegan was "a naïf about politics."
Noting Keegan's works on the Waffen-SS, the military historian S.P. MacKenzie describes him as a popular historian "partially or wholly seduced by [its] mystique". He connects Keegan with the contemporary Waffen-SS historical revisionism, first propounded by HIAG, the Waffen-SS lobby group from the 1950-1990s. Commenting on this contemporary trend, Mackenzie writes that "as older generation of Waffen-SS scribes has died off, a new, post-war cadre of writers has done much to perpetuate the image of the force as a revolutionary European army" and includes Keegan in this group.
On 29 June 1991, as a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, Keegan was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) "in recognition of service within the operations in the Gulf". In the 2000 New Year Honours, he was knighted "for services to Military History".
In A History of Warfare, Keegan outlined the development and limitations of warfare from prehistory to the modern era. It looked at various topics, including the use of horses, logistics, and "fire". One key concept put forward was that war is inherently cultural. In the introduction, he vigorously denounced the idiom "war is a continuation of policy by other means", rejecting on its face "Clausewitzian" ideas. Keegan's discussion of Clausewitz was, however, heavily criticised as uninformed and inaccurate, by writers like Peter Paret, Christopher Bassford, and Richard M. Swain.
He also contributed to work on historiography in modern conflict. With Richard Holmes he wrote the BBC documentary Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle. Frank C. Mahncke wrote that Keegan is seen as being "among the most prominent and widely read military historians of the late twentieth century". In a book-cover blurb extracted from a more complex article, Sir Michael Howard wrote, "at once the most readable and the most original of living historians".
Keegan's Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America, which gave accounts of many of the wars fought on the soil of North America, also contained opening and closing essays on his own personal relationship to America. He continued his interest in American military history with the publication of his book The American Civil War: A Military History (2009, Hutchinson).
I didn't want to change my beliefs, but there was too much evidence accumulating to stick to the article of faith. It now does look as if air power has prevailed in the Balkans, and that the time has come to redefine how victory in war may be won.