A History of Warfare
by John Keegan
Critique prepared by John Sloan
I propose to examine Keegan's book on the three levels in which it is
written: that is,
(1) the presentation of specific facts describing the content of military
(2) the development of generalizations about the nature of warfare in specific
times and places as well as the course of its development during prehistoric
and historic times, and
(3) the philosophical outlook and conclusions Keegan wants the reader to draw
from his exposition.
From even a quick read, someone who has read very many books on military
history will realize this book is quite different from the usual sort, that in
general seek to present the development of military affairs over time by
narrative exposition, treating subjects sequentially in relation to their
importance on subsequent developments, without attempting to make judgements or
to draw any moral conclusions from their narration. Here the factual material
is organized thematically. Although the major themes are introduced in roughly
chronological order, within each topical discussion the author draws on
examples from any time and place he deems appropriate and relevant. Keegan is
quite explicit in making judgements and in seeking to draw moral conclusions
that will serve as a basis for action in the future. There is nothing wrong
with this purpose, and Keegan can be congratulated for having such an objective
as well as for having written such a powerfully passionate treatise to achieve
it. I only wish to caution the casual reader that there is something "for
sale" here and he should be consciously aware of what it is throughout.
Keegan's line of argument is so effectively and densely presented with a welter
of facts, comments, generalizations, and conclusions, that it can only be
analyzed on a line by line basis. A chronological or even topical analysis is
inadequate because the author jumps around in time and place and draws on such
a rich lode of ideas that each of his remarks can only be evaluated "in
situ" in the context of the page on which it appears. Thus I will provide
a page-by-- page commentary, skipping most of his points with which I agree and
largely ignoring the many sections (such as Chinese warfare) about which the
reader should rely in Ralph Sawyer.
At the level of specific facts I find Keegan has made a number of errors,
whether many or few in a work of this scope I won't judge. These include such
simple points as - the role of cannon in the battle of Fornovo, - the location
of the headwaters of the Dnieper - the location of Dacia - the weapons and
organization of the army of Middle Kingdom Egypt - the role of chariots in the
later Persian army - and etc. Some of the errors can be traced directly by the
footnotes to the secondary sources from which the author derived his
information. As a history of warfare the coverage is episodic and highly
selective, rather than comprehensive. The topics of interest to the author's
purpose are explored in great detail. The question to ask is not the number of
mistakes but rather is there a pattern in their nature. Do mistakes of fact
serve to support generalizations that are crucial links in Keegan's line of
argument? The second question is what purpose does the extent of coverage of
topics serve? Why are some topics, usually not found in a standard military
history, covered in very great detail, while others are hardly mentioned or
ignored. To my way of thinking every word written has a purpose and equally
every word not written serves the same purpose. I will attempt to point out all
the specific factual points with which I disagree, limiting myself to fields
that I have studied at some depth. Others readers doubtless will find more
errors from the fields with which they are familiar.
At the level of generalizations I find that Keegan has based his theory on
three major hypotheses, which I consider contentious, as a minimum. There are
many other broad generalizations as well, some of which I think are brilliant.
The three foundation stones as it were are:
(1) that the Greeks developed a peculiarly "western way of warfare",
which underlies "total" or "absolute" warfare. A corollary
to this is his statement that there was a "line" he draws through
Greece and that peoples living north-west of the line fought in hand-to-hand
fashion while those living south-east fought only with missile weapons. Number
(2) is that this "western war of warfare" was transmitted via Romans,
Teutonic barbarian successors, medieval knights, etc. down to modern Europeans
who then exported it around the world.
Number (3) is that Clausewitz somehow became the prophet calling his followers
to practice this "total" warfare, which they did with disastrous
results for mankind.
As is typical in this kind of writing, the author employs plenty of caveats of
the form "might have been" "surely was" "could be
seen" etc. Some generalizations are breathtaking in sweep. Some are well
supported by information provided in the book. Some appear quite at variance
with the very data supplied by Keegan. I will discuss the generalities I
consider most dubious.
The third order of meaning in the book is the author's general philosophy of
the nature of war itself and its role in human history. The author's thesis and
point of the book is to denounce Clausewitz or at least the foolish masses who
have blindly followed him. Keegan passionately believes war must be eliminated
by international action. He especially denies the idea (that he ascribes to
Clausewitz) that (war is "the continuation of politics").
At this level, a philosophical conclusion and call for action, the book is a
sophisticated effort to blame the "horrors" of modern warfare on
Western culture of warfare itself and its practitioners. In my opinion it is
the crisis of modern culture and the all encompassing nature of its
hand-maiden, politics, that is the actual source, and it is certainly not
limited to 'western culture'. Keegan's effort is based on several propositions.
1. politics is not related to warfare, or warfare is not related to politics;
2. modern politics and the culture that spawns it is liberal, hence benign, and
even humanitarian in purpose and nature;
3. the horrors besetting modern society therefore are generated by an
autonomous "warfare" run amok in a cultural setting that fostered it;
4. this situation may be corrected by establishment of a class of
"warriors" dedicated to the common good of world civilization who
will be able to suppress whatever violence is manifested by evil minded
As support for this effort, Keegan attempts to blame the escalation of the
scope and violence of warfare in the 20th century on the uniquely horrific
"Western Way of Warfare" and its remarkably all-powerful prophet and
The solution, only hinted at in the final pages, is to turn all control over to
a one world state, which will deploy a corps of specially trained
"warriors" who, like Plato's Guardians, will enforce civilized
behavior on recalcitrant mankind.
Keegan will no doubt prove to be the darling of the deconstructionist set who
blame dead white European males for all evil. Feminists, however, may be
ambivalent in that Keegan not only strongly exempts women from having had
anything to do with the sorry state of modern society, but also at the same
time refuses to accept that they could ever be proper soldiers.
A general examination of the footnotes and bibliography reveals that the author
relied heavily, if not exclusively, on tertiary or secondary sources, including
some works of broad synthesis similar to his own. For example he clearly has
not read (or perhaps remembered) Machiavelli's views on a well ordered army as
they appeared for instance in his _Art of War_. Keegan's comments about
Machiavelli don't even cite major secondary studies but are from a third order
essay (granted a fine one). His quotations on Clausewitz's views of the
Cossacks and the campaign of 1812 are drawn from Roger Parkinson's biography
and not from Clausewitz's own memoir on the campaign. (More on that later.) And
he seems totally ignorant of the extensive corpus of academic study of Chinese
At the third level, my main objection is that he seems to confuse or merge
combat and warfare. They are separate and distinct categories. He also fails to
define politics or even discuss what he thinks politics is as a category. Thus
his denial that war and politics are related or linked is based on one-sided
Keegan shows extremely effectively that the forms in which warfare has been
practiced in various times and places are related to the "culture" of
the society in question. This is all fine. The problem is that he leaves it at
that by saying in essence "see how different warfare was in different
cultural settings". This links warfare directly to culture, without the
complementary category - POLITICS. For politics too assumes different forms and
methods in different cultural settings. The book is actually filled with
examples of the way the nature of war was directly related to the nature of
politics in a cultural setting at a given time and place, but Keegan glides
right past these examples. I suspect that my own argument with Keegan on this
score is not due to a different view of what war is about, but to a different
view of the essential characteristics of politics. I will endeavor to
illustrate the differences while commenting on Keegan's text.
In addition I have to question Keegan's view of the influence of Clausewitz and
his book - On War. I also question if Clausewitz actually believed what
Keegan says he believed. It has been many years since I read _On War_, but I
don't remember that Clausewitz's ideas about warfare were as one- sided as
Keegan presents them. From more recent reading of Roger Parkinson's biography
of Clausewitz, I retain the impression that Clausewitz did not believe what
Keegan says he did. Before commenting on Keegan's views on Clausewitz I will
have to reread at least major portions of _On War_. On top of that, I question
if people who really adhered to Clausewitz's ideas were that influential and
conversely if the influential people Keegan rightly mentions were close
adherents of Clausewitz.
Comments by page number
Page xi: Acknowledgments:
Keegan starts out fast on the first page of acknowledgements, revealing several
themes that are developed throughout the book. He writes that these are
reflected in the recent wars in Yugoslavia and the Persian Gulf. "In the
Gulf a Clausewitzian defeat was inflicted". "robbed the coalition's
Clausewitzian victory of much of its political point". (This is written in
Leaving aside for the moment what a "Clausewitzian victory" may be -
in fact the survival of Iraq and Hussein is completely a result of the
subordination of war to politics and the belief of the winning side that their
own political interest required the continued existence of a sufficiently
strong Iraq as well as the concern of the political leadership to appear
magnanimous in the eyes of their own political supporters. From start to finish
the Gulf War is a clear example of a war being a continuation of politics and
of the subordination of war-making to politics. It demonstrates the connection
of war to both external and internal politics. Hussein's survival has nothing
at all to do with him being an example of "a different military
culture" of his refusal to share its cultural assumptions, nor is it an
example of the "in-utility" of "the Western way of
warfare", (we will come back to what this "Western way" is and
is not throughout the book).
Keegan continues on events in Bosnia, "the horrors of the war... are
incomprehensible as they are revolting ... defy explanation....." This is
absurd. Revolting as they undoubtedly are, the horrors are not incomprehensible
at all. Their explanation lies precisely in the political nature of the
conflict and objectives of the warring parties. They are a repetition of
similar events in WWII and before. The war in Bosnia is another fine example of
the inter-relation of war and politics. "Ethnic cleansing" is a
political act. Machiavelli described the kind of war that results from the
desire of a people to supplant another in possession of a territory in Book I,
Chapt 8 of The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy and
remarks that "This is war of the most cruel and terrifying kind". It
is his category of total war versus limited war fought for lesser political
The Gulf war was clearly a continuation of domestic politics in the U.S. as
well. It was undertaken in large measure for its hoped for effects on domestic
politics in the US. Many of the public speeches and posturing President Bush
made on the eve of the war were for domestic consumption. On Hussain's side, it
is obvious that his military actions during the war, from his initial invasion
on, were heavily determined by domestic politics in Iraq. The conclusion of the
war also demonstrates its relation to domestic politics. When the television
showed the destruction wrought by American aerial firepower on the retreating
Iraqi forces, it was the effect on American politics that was the deciding
factor on which military decisions to end the conflict were based. The whole
issue of possible casualties that were expected in some quarters prior to the
campaign played a role throughout the war on the military decisions. The
deployment of the Patriot missiles in Saudi Arabia and in Israel were driven by
political considerations. The Allied aerial campaign in Iraq was diverted from
planned military targets in a futile effort to hunt for SCUDS due to the
political impact that militarily ineffective weapon was having in the USA and
Israel. One can read Bob Woodward's and Rick Atkinson's books on the Gulf War
to find pages filled with examples of how the war was a continuation of
Not only is the war in Bosnia political from start to finish internally in
Yugoslavia, but also the actions being taken by America and European powers
with respect to it are driven by internal politics in each country. For
instance there is no particular "state interest" for Russia in the
events in Bosnia, but there are tremendous implications for domestic politics
in Russia, which govern the military actions the Russian government take. And
American as well as NATO actions in turn are driven by assessments of Russian
sensibilities. Many of the military actions taken by the Serbs and Muslims are
based on their estimate of what the political results will be in America or
As for the pattern of local hatreds - "they reveal being unfamiliar to
anyone b..." I take that to mean Keegan has not heard of Northern Ireland
or Cyprus, not to mention numerous examples throughout his book. One wonders
what Keegan has to say about the killing in Rwanda.
Keegan says there is no such thing as a "nature of war" and with this
I agree. War takes on many forms and has no universal "nature". But
that is precisely because the "nature" of war is strongly influenced
by the political culture in which it is conducted. And one of Clausewitz's main
points was that the nature of war had changed with the coming of the French
Page xiii: Introduction:
Keegan introduces the concept of "warrior", a category that appears
throughout the book. This is a category he develops in his previous book
Soldiers and elsewhere. He self-consciously remarks that he is no
"warrior" but has cast his life among "warriors". He
conjures up an "entirely different world" of the warrior.
In my opinion there is something to his view, but not to the exaggerated level
he takes it. Granted the British officer still lives a very special kind of
life with his regimental dinning in and all that. I too had the pleasure of
living with British officers during two years duty at Whitehall and think I
understand Keegan's sense of awe. I have to say that four years as a cadet,
five years as an instructor and six more years as two of my sons have proceeded
through their education at West Point failed to reveal to me anyone I could
categorize as a "warrior" in Keegan's sense, distinct from the rest
of society. Nor has 40 some years of association with the American military led
me to the view Keegan expresses so eloquently in this introduction. No doubt
the British Army regimental system creates much more of a "tribal"
society that so enamors Keegan, than the US Army does. He writes, "
soldiers are not as other men". Many commanders may wish that it were so.
Page XVI: Keegan continues, "culture of the warrior can never be that of
civilization itself". War is wholly unlike diplomacy or politics".
How can Keegan explain all the military leaders who were simultaneously
diplomats and politicians while leading troops in combat? What about the very
ordinary Greek citizens who from time to time marched out to conduct a kind of
"warfare" that Keegan takes as the archetype of the 'western way of
warfare'? He mentions Socrates for instance.
This whole section is in my opinion an example of Keegan's exaggeration of an
idea that has a kernel of truth into something far wider. This conception of
the "warrior" is one of his fundamental tenets basic to the point
that war is not related to politics.
Page 3: War in Human History: What is War:
Keegan notes that "War is not the continuation of policy by other
means". Keegan's purpose in writing this book is to prove that thesis. In
my opinion he not only fails, but also supplies many specific examples that
tend to prove the opposite.
Is Clausewitz's _On War_ really the most famous book on war ever written?
Keegan writes, "It implies the existence of states, of state interests and
of rational calculation about how they may be achieved." Why does
Clausewitz's "thought imply the existence of states, of state interests,
and of rational calculation"? Does politics refer only to inter state
relations? Is politics only rational?
Of course Keegan is correct that war antedates the state, by millennia, but
then so do diplomacy, strategy, and political activities in general. He
continues "This is not an idea any easier for modern man to confront than
it was for a Prussian officer..." etc. Why Not? I personally have
recognized it all my adult life. Maybe my outlook was colored by reading both
Clausewitz and Machiavelli by age 15. This is a "strawman".
He continues "We prefer, none the less, to recognize human
nature...." .." the expression of violence is a cultural
aberration". Who does this? I never have and don't believe most others do.
This is the outlook of the pacifist and the person who denies the existence of
evil. He says we believe the expression of violence is a "cultural
aberration". Well I don't.
All this section on what "we tell ourselves" is false. The remark
"the lawful bearer of arms is respected..." is a cheap shot.
Pacifism has been elevated as an "ideal". It seems this is true only
"War as the continuation of policy" again. It is clear from the
context and rest of Keegan's remarks that he is thinking only of war between
states and policy between states - foreign policy - but war relates also and
most significantly also to internal domestic policy. So does foreign policy for
He goes on to put a lot of words in Clausewitz's mind about the "narrowly
definable forms" of war.
Why does this concept "assume that war had a beginning and an end". I
"What it made no allowance for at all was war without beginning and
end." The endemic warfare of non-state etc. Why not? In my long held view
it certainly did allow for and include that and not only non-states.
The ancient Greeks believed that war was continuous and had no beginning or
end, but only truces.
The remarks about recruitment of irregular warriors is based on a romantic view
of their role - and the remark that "over drilled armies" of the time
"would scarcely have been able to keep the field" without them is
simply nonsense. The functions he equates to these irregulars were not
exclusively performed by them.
etc not believable
Then "War the continuation of policy once Clausewitz had formulated the
thought proved to offer the thinking officer a convenient philosophical bolt
hole from contemplation of the older, darker, and fundamental aspects of his
In the first place Clausewitz did not even write till well after the era of
these irregulars; more significant, officers did not even read Clausewitz until
many years later. Third, as Keegan notes in another context, Clausewitz did not
obscure or hide the horror of war, but noted that war could reach that level of
"..yet Clausewitz himself saw with half an eye"
This is an example of Keegan's way of ascribing to someone - Clausewitz in this
case - a view the person did not have, and then quoting a passage that shows
the person did not believe his own self. Thus Keegan can have it both ways.
First he denounces someone for holding an abhorrent view and then he later
quotes the same person to prove how terrible the first view was. Sometimes he
uses this technique to show Clausewitz is confused.
"he was struggling to advance a universal theory of what war ought to
Sorry, I never got that idea from the study of Clausewitz that he was advancing
"what war OUGHT to be" as opposed to what it really is. It seems
Keegan totally twists Clausewitz clear distinction between the idea of pure war
as an unobtainable Platonic ideal and the idea of real war as its actual
manifestation in the practical world. Keegan makes it appear that Clausewitz
sought what in fact he declared to be impossible.
Keegan then writes that Clausewitz did not write "could have
The burning of Moscow was "an event of European significance".
Really? I thought it was rather remote from the concerns of Western Europe.
"Clausewitz could not believe it was deliberate." Keegan does not
list Clausewitz's own book on the 1812 campaign in his bibliography. He quotes
Clausewitz's words from sources like Parkinson. But when you check Parkinson's
description of Clausewitz observing the burning of Moscow it turns out that
Parkinson faithfully reports what Clausewitz wrote in his memoir on the 1812
campaign. Keegan grossly exaggerates Clausewitz on the idea that the Cossacks
deliberately set Moscow on fire, because Keegan is trying to make a point about
the "primitive" nature of the Cossacks' methods of warfare. Actually,
Clausewitz reports (and Parkinson repeats) the view that from discussing the
matter with Rostopchin Clausewitz concluded that the Russian governor just
might have ordered the fire at that.
"...yet Clausewitz must have known..."
Of course he did - but why write it this way? This is the kind of writing the
tabloid press indulges in. It is designed to appear that Clausewitz knew
something he would not admit knowing. One only has to read Clausewitz' own
description of his eye-witness to the burning to realize he knew what happened.
"Cossacks was not politics but a culture and a way of life" This
reveals Keegan's narrow conception of politics.
Keegan's footnotes on cossacks are to McNeal and Seaton, who themselves are 3rd
hand sources, too bad he did not cite primary sources. They present a different
"Cossack cruelty" -
This is romantic writing. Clausewitz would be better quoted from his own book.
It turns out that Clausewitz left the main army after the withdrawal from
Moscow and traveled via St. Petersburg to join the northern army under
Wittgenstein. Thus he witnessed only portions of the French retreat phase.
Moreover he describes the Cossacks going into action before his eyes at
Borodino in quite a heroic fashion.
I agree wholeheartedly with Keegan that there have been decidedly different
ways of fighting - heavily culturally influenced - as well as by technology
etc. But Keegan does not recognize that one reason for the widely different
styles of combat he notes is precisely in the different political objectives
being sought by the combatants. His point that combat and warfare have taken on
different forms is itself the evidence of its relation to politics, if he would
only observe and analyze the correlations.
He writes, "Cossacks, were cruel to the weak and cowardly in the face of
the brave..." This is simply false as Clausewitz' account of the cossack
attack at Borodino shows.
The irregular cossacks and Greek nationalists, whose reluctance to fight
according to the conceptions of Prussians or Englishmen he well notes, had
different views on the utility of fighting, because in their own conception
their political goals were not worth their lives.
Keegan says philhellenes tried but failed to make the Greeks accept their
military culture. Maybe so - but the real gulf between the two was their
political outlook, which in turn was influenced by their cultural outlooks.
Another issue - Keegan equates "Western way of fighting with "what is
war". Keegan says Clausewitz's answer on what is war is defective at the
It is exactly that Clausewitz's concept spans different cultures that makes it
Keegan confuses style and way of combat with way of warfare. Combat is only
part of war.
Keegan writes, "It is at the cultural level that Clausewitz's answer to
his question, What is War? is defective."
It seems to me that it is Keegan's understanding of the relation of culture to
politics that is defective.
He continues after some condescending remarks about Clausewitz's shortcomings,
"he might have been able to perceive that war embraces much more than
politics: that it is always an expression of culture, often a determinant of
cultural forms, in some societies the culture itself."
It seems it is Keegan who apparently does not perceive that politics embraces
much more than he seems to include in it. Although he never explicitly says
what he thinks politics is all about. Politics is itself also an expression of
culture and in some societies the culture itself.
We can put culture at the top in a chart. Then politics=war is on the next
level down as a category - an indissoluble unity on one side - and economics is
the category on the other side. Economics comprises human activities in pursuit
of maximum happiness without coercion and politics=war is the activities in
pursuit of maximizing happiness with recourse to coercion.
Keegan discusses Clausewitz as a regimental officer and describes the origin of
the regimental system.
Keegan discusses the categories "real war" versus "true
war", but when he says that the Cossacks waged "real war" in
contrast to a "true war" that Clausewitz "convinced himself a
professional soldier should make his end" he shows he misunderstands
Clausewitz completely. For Clausewitz "true war" was an abstraction
like Plato's "real table".
The whole discussion of Clausewitz's motives in supposedly advancing "true
war" as opposed to "real war" is fallacious.
Keegan notes that Clausewitz has been much a favorite of Marxists, especially
Lenin, but he fails to understand why and gives a fallacious reason.
Keegan compares and contrasts Marx and Clausewitz as well as their books - On
War and Kapital. He says Clausewitz was a "apostle of a revolutionary
philosophy of warmaking, which sought to depict war as a political activity to
a caste that held politics to be anathema." The two books are
"ultimately of a kind." He ignores the many differences including
that Marx published and had an active influence during his lifetime, while
Clausewitz's book was not influential until much later. (He points out that it
was a "book of long-delayed effect" on the next page.
Keegan finally notes that Clausewitz pointed out the difference between
"true war" and "real war", but Keegan persists in claiming
that Clausewitz advocated the former to the extent possible.
Keegan writes that it was after von Moltke mentioned he had read On
War that "the world seized on the book itself, read it, translated
it, often misunderstood it, but thereafter believed that it contained the
essence of successful warmaking."
Keegan writes, "Politics played no part in the conduct of the First World
War worth mentioning." It was "an aberration" "the outcome
of a decision to turn Europe..... into a warrior society."
Every history book I can recall studying about the origins of World War I
stressed various political causes and none even mentioned Clausewitz or his
However, the political theories ascendent during the 19th century, which hailed
the glory of the nation state, certainly did have a lot to do with its
militarization. It was Engles who pointed out that the wars and military
policies of the governments in Europe were doing more to advance the cause of
socialism than all the agitation of the 1st or 2nd International.
Keegan again, "The purpose of war, Clausewitz said, was to serve a
political end; the nature of war, he succeeded in arguing, was to serve only
itself. By conclusion, his logic therefore ran, 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." Keegan tries to make "Clausewitz
into the ideological father of World War I."
can't understand where Keegan gets these notions from.
Keegan remarks, "Good historian though he was, Clausewitz allowed the two
institutions - state and regiment - that circumscribed his own perception of
the world to dominate his thinking so narrowly that he denied himself the room
to observe how different war might be in societies where both state and
regiment were alien concepts."
I don't see the point of this comment. If true, it would be irrelevant for a
theory of war in Europe. But Clausewitz's concepts do not rest on the existence
of either states or regiments. Keegan's brief remarks on this page about Easter
island, Zulus, Mamelukes, and samurai Japan are summaries of views he expresses
in more detail later, so I won't point out their fallacies here.
But Keegan's comment that Clausewitz's "decision to ignore Ottoman
military institutions flawed the integrity of his theory at its roots," is
wrong. I know of nothing about Ottoman military history that places it outside
the universe of Clausewitz's concepts.
He continues that looking at these societies "whose forms of warfare
defied altogether the rationality of politics as it is understood by
Westerners, is to perceive how incomplete, parochial and ultimately misleading
is the idea that war is the continuation of politics."
In the first place, what makes Keegan think politics is rational. I find
nothing in the forms of warfare as conducted by any of his example societies
that is outside the explanatory power of Clausewitz's theory.
Page 24: War as culture:
With this section Keegan launches into anthropology. I won't attempt to
evaluate his descriptions of these societies or their military methods.
I have to say that Keegan's idealistic view of Polynesia is questionable.
Keegan writes that "the islanders appear to have taught themselves the
full logic of Clausewitzian warfare by bloody experience."
Keegan continues "Politics is practiced to serve culture". Whatever
gave him that idea.
He describes Bougainville's reports about Tahiti and their effect in creating
the myth of the noble savage as if this conception was still believed today.
The rest of the discussion on this page about Clausewitz is speculation and
supposition. He says the regiment was a device for restraining warriors, a
peculiar notion. He faults Clausewitz for failing to see that "his
philosophy of warfare was a recipe for the destruction of European
culture." And I fail to perceive it also.
Page 28: Zulus:
Keegan feels it necessary to point out that Clausewitz can be excused for not
knowing about the Zulus. I won't comment on his description of Zulu origins or
developments. He reveals his biases on page 31 in writing, "These awful
effects of Zulu imperialism"...
He also reveals that one of the book's themes is why it is that successful
warrior systems... become fossilized. On page 32 he notes that "Shaka was
a perfect Clausewitzian", but that the eventual fall of the Zulu nation
"offers an awful warning of the shortcomings of the Clausewitzian
I would have thought that is was rather more a warning that you should not go
to war with spears against an opponent with cannon and machine guns.
Page 32-40: Mamelukes:
Keegan's view is that "Clausewitzian analysis, in their case as in that of
the Zulus, was stood on its head. The holders of power made politics a
continuation of warfare. Practically that was a nonsense. Culturally the
Mamelukes had no alternative."
Keegan misunderstands the fundamental nature of the Mameluke state and the
political position and policies of its rulers. He thinks that the phenomena of
Mamelukes in Egypt was due to some fundamental Islamic prohibition of fighting
among Moslems. For one thing we should not confuse a picture of slaves laboring
on plantations or in mines with the status of the "slave" armies in
Islam. As Keegan points out the individuals recruited for these armies were the
best fighting men available - Turks from beyond the frontiers. In the case of
Egypt the Arab rulers were not about to arm and train any more of the real
slaves - the peasants who worked the fields - than absolutely necessary and the
city populations were a mixed bag of multi-nationality and dubious loyalty at
Later, the Mamelukes took charge and having done so put themselves in a similar
position to the Spartans. They became rulers over a subjugated population, not
its defenders. Thus, by the time Mameluke power was seriously challenged by the
Ottomans and then by the French they were not a military force organized to
defend Egypt. Rather Egypt was a subjugated territory whose value to them was
as a source of wealth. Thus the political relationships between Mamelukes
themselves and between them and the rest of Egyptian society determined the
nature of the military responses they could make.
Keegan states that no son of a Mameluke could become one. But this prohibition
did not last very long.
Keegan faults the Mamelukes for not taking up firearms but recruiting gunners
and musketeers from outside. This is a valid military criticism but doing so
would have been politically impossible. His description of the battle of Marj
Dabiq is different from that in Oman.
Keegan comments that Clausewitz was aware of the Mameluke defeats at the Battle
of Pyramids and later as if this should have made a difference. He writes,
"Each ought to have been an indication that culture is as powerful a force
as politics in the choice of military means, and often more likely to prevail
than political or military logic."
But it was the nature of the Mameluke political position which prevented them
from mounting a European style military defense. To have instituted military
reforms adequate to defeat the invaders in the name of defending Egypt would
have required first of all the elimination of their political power and of the
institution of Mamelukes itself. They were not Egypt's defenders but its chief
exploiters. They are not the only military regime to risk destruction at the
hands of external foes rather than commit sure suicide in the name of reform.
He can't resist digs, "But Clausewitz, if he knew the facts, did not draw
the inference." "how much more persistent culture is than political
decision as a military determinant."
It seems to me that the case of the Mamelukes is but one more fine example of
the tight interrelationship of politics and military affairs.
Although Keegan views it as the opposite, the case of Ottoman Turkey before
World War I is another example of the influence of politics (resulting from
culture) on military affairs.
Page 40: Samurai:
Keegan writes that the Japanese sword-bearing class "contrived means to
rid Japan of firearms and thereby to perpetuate its social dominance for
another 250 years."
This should be an object example for the American people and should be stressed
in all discussions of gun control today. For "social" read also
"political". He points out that the purpose of the arms control edict
in 1587 was to pacify Japan by restoring a monopoly of arms to the military
Keegan continues, "the achievement is evidence that political logic need
not dominate warmaking, that, on the contrary, cultural forms, when they find
strong champions, may prevail against the most powerfully besetting temptations
But the story of the samurai and the rise of the shoguns that Keegan himself
tells is political from end to end. I don't see much difference between the
samurai wars in Japan and the War of the Roses in England, for one example.
Why he considers the samurai any less thugs than their equivalents in medieval
Europe is beyond understanding.
Keegan writes, "The Tokugawa shogunate was more than a political
institution. It was a cultural instrument." He quotes Sanson about how it
"undertook to regulate the morals of the people and prescribe their
behavior... It is doubtful whether previous history records a more ambitious
attempt on the part of a state to interfere with the private life of every
individual and so to control the thoughts as well as actions of a whole
Sounds like communism in Russia or Cuba of China to me; and this is not
politics!!!. I won't comment about other theocracies in history.
Keegan makes much in this discussion about the value of firearms to the lower
classes and he repeats this later with respect to late medieval and Renaissance
Europe. But he does not note the relationship of the distribution of an
effective weapon that the ordinary citizen can use with the development and
security of democratic political institutions.
Keegan remarks that,"In ensuring that warriors had a monopoly of swords,
the Tokugawa were guaranteeing the samurai's place at the pinnacle of Japanese
society." Exactly, and what could be more political than that!. By the way
the Mamelukes were doing the same thing for themselves by refusing to arm their
But Keegan says, "The Tokugawa's logic was not Clausewitz's logic."
To me the case proves just the opposite. And "war may be, among many other
things, a perpetuation of culture by its own means." Certainly it may be,
the perpetuation of a highly politicized culture.
Page 46: A Culture without War
Keegan again, "Clausewitz's belief in the primacy of politics rather than
culture was not, however, personal to him."
But I just don't see the relevance. With culture in the background as a
determining force for both politics and war, they are still manifestations of
the same broad category of human activity.
Keegan on this page indulges is outright twisting of his sources to fit his
preconceptions. He quotes from Giambattista Vico's quotation in turn from
Voltaire and then thoroughly misrepresents what Voltaire meant in the passage.
"If you have no more to tell us", Voltaire declared, "than that
one barbarian succeeded another on the banks of the Oxus or Ixartes, what use
are you to the public?"
Keegan takes this to be a "contemptuous dismissal of the importance of
events on the banks of the Oxus" which "strikes Clausewitzian theory
To me Voltaire is not dismissing events on the Oxus as such but historical
writing that limits itself to recounting events in whatever place without
analysis. Keegan seized on this because the Oxus is one of his favorite locales
to show military culture. He continues, "Military historians now recognize
that the banks of the Oxus are to warfare what Westminster is to parliamentary
democracy or the Bastille to revolutions."
I have never previously seen the Oxus region so described in reading many
military history books.
He continues, "It was across the Oxus that successive waves of Central
Asian conquerors and despoilers .... borne into the Western world.
But the Oxus is not between Central Asia and Western Europe. It is between
Central Asia and Iran.
He says the Ottoman sultans recruited their slave soldiers on the Oxus and from
this jumps to the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 which was a traumatic event
for Clausewitz's contemporaries, and from that to the statement that, "A
theory of war that did not take into account the Oxus and all it stood for was
a defective theory. Clausewitz constructed such a theory, none the less, and
with calamitous effects."
The chain of reasoning is defective in each of its parts. Events on the Oxus
were not so unique. The Ottoman sultans recruited slave soldiers (Janissaries)
in the Balkans, not on the Oxus. And in what way does Clausewitz's theories
fail to take into account whatever the Oxus stands for?
Keegan cites Liddell Hart's view of Clausewitz written after World War I as
indicative of a general view blaming the course of the war on Clausewitz. He
goes on to say that after World War II academic strategists were "seduced
by Clausewitz". "In Clausewitz they found ready to hand a philosophy
and vocabulary of military extremism to which history had given currency."
I have no interest in supporting the proponents of nuclear deterrence theory,
which I always considered the worst kind of scholasticism. But I don't think
Clausewitz should be faulted for their sins either.
Keegan presents more generalization linking Clausewitz with the regimental
system that was designed to isolate warriors with their unique ethos from
Keegan writes at his most passionate level describing what he calls the
"remilitarization of society" that had been somehow demilitarized in
the 17th century. He notes two kinds of "remilitarization" that from
above in the industrial states and that from below in the poor countries. It is
generalization piled on generalization ending with the observation that
"War, it seems to me.... may well be ceasing to commend itself to human
beings as a desirable or productive, let alone rational, means of reconciling
their discontents." He says, "this is not mere idealism", but it
is hard to believe this when one looks around the world today.
He concludes the section by stating his major objective in writing.
"Charting the course of human culture through its undoubtedly warlike past
towards its potentially peaceful future is the theme of this book."
Page 63: - Limitations on Warmaking:
Keegan begins this chapter and page with the statement of the core of his
philosophy and by inference the purpose of the book. " to look forward to
a future in which recourse to war has been brought under rational limitation
should not lead us into the false view that there have been no limitations on
warmaking in the past."
The book itself is a passionate effort by Keegan to provide support for this
effort to bring warmaking under rational limitation. By implication he believes
such an effort is critical for civilization.
He goes on to point out that the "higher political and ethical systems
attempted to impose legal and moral restrictions both on the use of war and its
usages from early times." Despite pointing this out, he persists in
denying that war is a "continuation of politics".
He writes, "the most important limitations on warmaking however, have
always lain beyond the will or power of man to command." Keegan goes on to
show that he means by this that geographical factors place natural limitations,
but the sentence itself sounds like he thinks that absent such factors
"beyond man's control" man would be unable or less likely to restrict
warfare. He ignores quite a few eras in which warfare in the West was in fact
restricted by mutual agreement of the parties involved.
He points to "what the Soviet General Staff used to call 'permanently
operating factors' - he lists such factors as weather, climate seasons,
terrain, vegetation" etc. But these are not the factors the Soviet
military considered "permanent operating factors" following Stalin's
formula, which was based on Svechin.
Keegan again, "if the earliest form of fighting at sea was piratical
rather than political in motive". This remark indicates Keegan has a
rather too elevated opinion of what politics is all about. It reminds me of the
famous anecdote from Roman history. When Pompey the Great was ordered to clear
the Aegean of pirates he captured one of the most notorious leaders. Pompey
interrogated him and upbraided him "how dare you commit piracy?" The
Pirate chief replied. "Well the only difference between you and me is that
you have the more and more powerful ships."
"nihilists like the Vikings".. What makes Keegan think the Vikings
were nihilists? Again, perhaps his conception of politics is narrow.
"The inshore wing of a galley fleet normally hinged on the coastward flank
of an accompanying army, in operations that were amphibious in the strict sense
of the term. The fleet maneuvered so as to isolate an enemy coastal base from
support by its own naval forces, while the army advanced with supplies to
positions from which the galleys could be re-provisioned". He bases this
idea on Guilmartin, whom he extols.
This was a feature of a large proportion of naval warfare in classical and
Hellenistic times, but by no means all or necessarily the most important
portion. There were certainly purely naval battles waged for purposes other
than cooperation with a land force. Richard Nelson provides detail on these in
his book on Greek naval warfare. We will come back to this in sections where
Keegan's general discussion of naval warfare through the ages is excellent. His
point that much of the land surface is also too inhospitable for the conduct or
war is also well taken.
The discussion of the geographic location of Adrianople is almost but not quite
right. It is, as he notes, at the European end of the land bridge between Asia
and Europe. But it is not strictly speaking only on the avenue starting north
of the Black Sea with the Carpathians on the right flank. It is also at the
terminus of the routes coming down through the Balkans west of the Carpathians
and across the northern part or Greece.
Writing about the rivers of western Russia, Keegan claims that "the rivers
that cross that enormous and almost treeless plain tend to flow with the line
of advance rather than across it." This is quite false. The situation is
the opposite. The main rivers cross at right angles to the line of advance
between Warsaw and Moscow. There is only a relatively narrow "land
bridge" between origin of the rivers flowing north and those of the rivers
Keegan then claims that the Niemann and the Dnieper rise in and flow out of the
Pripet Marshes. The Niemann does, but not the Dnieper. It rises in the Valdai
Hills in the same swamp from which flow the Volga, the Western Dvina, and the
Lovat. But the Pripet Marsh is considerably to the west of the Dnieper.
(Perhaps Keegan is thinking of the Pripyat River itself, which flows eastward
and joins the Dnieper above Kiev.
Keegan writes, "David Hanson, in his breathtakingly original study of
warmaking in classical Greece, is persuasive that it was the small landholders
of the Greek city states who invented the idea of the "decisive
Here we come to one of the foundation stones of Keegan's edifice. The reader
should be aware that we have something of a "mutual admiration
society" confronting us in that Hanson extols Keegan for his attention to
the action and thought of the individual soldier on the field of battle (page
24-25) while Keegan, for his part, wrote an adulatory introduction to Hanson's
book. But Hanson writes himself that "If there is a theme to this brief
essay, it is, I confess, the _misery_ of hoplite battle." Indeed that is
the whole extent of his book and it is a fine piece of writing for what it
examines. But "hoplite battle" is not the entirety of a Greek battle
and battle certainly is by no means close to being the entirety of Greek
warfare. Hanson and his publishers expanded the putative scope of his fine
study beyond recognition by titling his book "The Western Way of
War". And Keegan has jumped on this theme and twisted it even more to suit
his purposes. Hanson's study of the psychological essence of hoplites in combat
relates to the study of warfare as a handbook on carburetor repair relates to
the study of national vehicular transportation policy. He does not describe any
battles and doesn't even mention the wars. And he does not discuss the
religious, cultural, economic, or social aspects of Greek society on a macro
scale or how warfare fit into society.
Hanson's book and John Keegan's introduction were thoroughly reviewed by John
Buckler in the _Journal of Military History_. Buckler notes the extreme limited
scope of Hanson's objective. He goes on with the following. "It gives no
pleasure to say that it (Keegan's introduction) is unfortunately incompetent
and misleading regarding the political and social aspects of Greek military
There is more in the review, which we may come back to later.
Hanson has produced a subsequent volume, building on the popularity of the
first. It is titled _Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience_. It is a
volume of essays by experts, but again focused on the particulars of hoplite
combat. I will by buying this as soon as possible. For now all I can offer is a
published review. Raul Lonis in his review remarks that "one of the
principal merits of this book - its originality, really - is that it is not
content to approach these aspects from a traditional standpoint, It draws the
reader into the very heart of battle..." Just like the first book. But
Lonis continues, "Do we have to think, as Hanson writes (p 11) 'that
battle is simply battle, that battle is only fighting, that fighting is always
killing and dying, nothing more, nothing less'?" To which I can only add,
and that warfare is only battle?
Keegan writes, "the Russian cherta lines running for 2000 miles from the
Caspian Sea to the Altai mountains as a defense against steppe raiders.
This is a considerable shift of the Zasechnaya cherta, which actually was
originally between the Dnieper and the Volga. It was built to help with the
defense of Moscow and central Russia from the Tatars. What a line between the
Caspian and the Altai mountains could have protected is hard to imagine. It is
true that several centuries later the Russians built blockhouses and brought in
Cossack settlers along the border between Siberia and Central Asia, but that
was long after the cherta line had been made unnecessary.
Keegan comments, "none of the regimes founded by Genghis or his immediate
successors lasted for more than a century."
The Golden Horde lasted considerably longer than this and its successor, the
Khanate of Crimea, ruled by a direct descendent of Genghis, lasted until 1785.
"The tide of war tends to flow one way - from poor lands to rich, and very
rarely in the opposite direction".
This is a great over generalization. There are plenty of examples of the
expansion from relatively richer areas to poorer, especially the expansion of
Europe around the world, the European powers movement into Africa, the advance
of Muscovy and then Russia south to the Black Sea and east across Siberia, and
the whole expansion movements of the United States and Australia.
"War is always limited, not because man chooses to make it so, but because
nature determines that it shall be".
This is another grand over generalization, repeated from prior pages, that
neatly defines Keegan's attitude. While nature certainly limits combat
operations, it is not so, as this statement implies that man himself never
chooses to limit war. Machiavelli draws a clear distinction between limited and
unlimited warfare and shows the relation of each to the nature of politics. And
warfare after his time was purposely limited, for instance during much of the
"Half of human nature - the female half - is in any case highly ambivalent
I agree. Keegan's views on the exclusion of women from the military are sure to
arouse intense antagonism from the "feminists" today. "women
however, do not fight. They rarely fight among themselves and they never, in
any military sense, fight men. If warfare is as old as history and as universal
as men the supremely important limitation that it is an entirely masculine
Boy - what the feminists will do with this comment.
Page 79: Chapter - Stone
Why do men fight?
Discussion of behavioralists and sociologists and their views of man's nature.
It is violent?
Keegan says that the majority reject the idea that man is naturally violent and
also that they reject the Christian belief in original sin. Here I must be in
the minority because I firmly believe both.
Points out that the UNESCO condemns the belief in man's violent nature. Since
UNESCO's opinions are notorious on many fronts, I consider that a good
indication that man is indeed violent.
The American Anthropological Association can be counted on also to deny the
violent nature of mankind. No comment necessary.
Keegan indulges in wishful thinking, "At a hopeful time in human history,
a time of effective disarmament and of the adoption of humanitarianism as a
principle in world affairs, the layman naturally seeks reassurance that the
drafters of the Seville Statement have right on their side".
Another clear statement of Keegan's point of view and bias in preparation of
this book. I don't think the drafters are right at all, nor that they ought to
Keegan points out that the accepted view might be a mere expression of
optimism. This is one of his ways of hedging his position. Such hedges are
found too often in the book.
War and Human nature:
Keegan goes back to fundamentals of human physiology to locate the centers of
aggression. Unfortunately he does not discuss the extensive literature on the
war and human nature. The members of the Military Conflict Institute have been
discussing this for some years and collecting references and papers on this
He rightly points out that both sides in the ideological struggle go too far.
My point is that it is indeed an ideological struggle rather than a scholarly
War and anthropologists.
In this section I am delighted to see that Keegan has studied Robert Ardrey and
Konrad Lorenz, and others. For instance, I recommend _Territorial Imperative_.
Keegan notes that there is a difference between family and state, but fails to
build on this throughout the book. The distinction was probably brought out
first in the context of political science by Jean Bodin as part of the reaction
to the religious wars in France in the 16th century. That Bodin felt impelled
to develop this concept itself was an outgrowth of the difference in the nature
of the modern state from the classical Greek or Roman state. This changed
nature of the state has had significant impact on the nature of warfare.
Keegan gives an excellent summary of the development of anthropology and its
views on this issue. He mentions Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead.
He rightly notes the great influence Margaret Mead's _Coming of Age in Samoa_
had. But he never mentions that Margaret Mead has been exposed as a fraud and
her book as a figment of her over active imagination as well as cover up for
her own sexual propensities.
Another delight, Keegan discusses in great detail the views of Harry Turney-
High, whose _Primitive Warfare_ was among my earliest texts on warfare. He
notes on page 92 that Turney-High was a unreformed Clausewitzian, which I
consider to be a complement even though Keegan did not mean it that way. Keegan
then remarks "Clausewitzian victory in the nuclear age has come to seem,
even to the least sentimental of strategic analysts as very dubious aim" I
wonder if Keegan can explain this to the Serbians.
Keegan again, "combat is the heart of warfare, the act by which men are
maimed or killed in numbers, the activity that divides war from mere
The statement is quite true, but throughout the book it seems that Keegan
thinks combat is not only the heart of warfare but war itself, (all there is to
war). In my opinion combat bears the same relation to war as roasting a side of
beef does to serving a full banquet. It is an important aspect, but by no means
the whole. Moreover, sometimes merely the threat of combat is sufficient to
accomplish the objectives of war. The point was made by Clausewitz, among
Keegan describes warfare and forms of combat among various primitive peoples.
The discussion seems quite straight forward. I don't know the sources or have
any basis for comment.
But on page 98 Keegan remarks, "The Yanomomo in short seem to have got
intuitively to Clausewitz's point and to have passed beyond it".
Implicit in this remark is the idea that because the Yanomomo conduct limited
warfare they are beyond Clausewitz in evolution, whom Keegan never ceases to
insist ADVOCATED unlimited warfare. Of course Keegan never delves into the
political objectives for which the Yanomomo or the other primitive peoples
fight or he might see the inter-relationship between limited political
objectives and limited warfare. Nor does he use the opportunity to compare the
Yanomomo to others who practiced limited warfare to see if they had similar
reasons. Actually, for Keegan, politics is a category of activity that is
absent from such primitive peoples. "they have preferring mutual prudence,
they have settled for a routine of endemic fighting, much of it symbolic in
character, which brings death to some but spares the majority to live, even if
to fight another day." What clearer example of the relation of politics to
war does Keegan demand? Sounds like Machiavelli's description of warfare among
the condotierre or Clausewitz's comments on warfare of Frederick the Great.
Continuing on page 103, Keegan remarks about another primitive people, "If
the Maring showed reluctance for the decisive battle, showed indeed that they
did not consider the point of battle necessarily to be outright victory on the
battlefield, then it is permissible to suppose that other peoples at a similar
level of material culture did likewise?"
Brilliant idea, but why does Keegan not grant this capability also to more
civilized peoples, nor indicate the relation of culture to politics?
In this section Keegan indicates the Maori also limited their warfare. He notes
also that the main occasion for war was "always the desire for
revenge". But he does not make the obvious connection that this political
objective would itself lead to limitations on the means used to achieve it.
Machiavelli emphasizes revenge as one of the most powerful of POLITICAL
motivations. Not knowing anything about the Maori's I pass on most of what
Keegan writes. As a minimum we need to study Andrew Vayda's article
"Maoris and Muskets in New Zealand: Disruption of a War System",
before reaching final conclusions.
In his discussion of the education of the Maori youth to take maximum offense
at disrespect he brings to mind the culture developing in American cities
Speaking of the Maori's limited warfare, Keegan writes,"here is another
example of how a cultural ethic, even of the most savage sort, may have the
paradoxical effect of limiting the harm warriors will do to each other."
and "Meanwhile in pre-Columbian America ... a cultural ethic limited its
greater potentiality for Clausewitz's decisive battle to an even more arresting
degree." Clausewitz is again equated with the decisive battle but
limitation is ascribed to culture rather than politics.
Keegan's very fine description of warfare among the American Indians and the
brutality of the Aztecs won't endear him to the political correct crowd today
any more than his comments on women in warfare. He also points out the regime
of limitation on warfare that the Aztecs imposed on themselves. He considers
the Aztec practice of fighting a pitched battle but then capturing rather than
killing the defeated as a limitation. He devotes an inordinate amount of space
to description of Aztec society considering their marginal role in history or
the history of warfare because he likes to use them as an example of
"ceremonial warfare" and warfare divorced from political purposes. He
simply ignores the central political purposes of the Aztecs in conducting war.
Keegan writes, "It does not suffice as an explanation of what the warriors
were about en masse on the battlefield, not at any rate for moderns who expect
wars to have a material point, and loss of human life to bear a proportionate
relation to it".
Well, Aztec warfare certainly had a very material point, he just does not
Keegan again, "the temptation is to dismiss Aztec warfare as an
aberration, having no connection with any system of strategy or tactics that we
would consider rational." I would not dismiss it at all and it certainly
had strategic and tactical purposes and methods. He continues to note that
Aztec warfare was limited by a belief about the object it should achieve - the
taking of prisoners - who would be victims at ritual sacrifice. "It was an
enormously rich society, which could afford the wastefulness of sacrificing
captives in thousands, rather than putting them to productive work or selling
them into slavery elsewhere."
This idea is questionable. for one thing there was no other group to sell the
captives to in that there were no customers who had anything that the Aztecs
wanted for trade in exchange for prisoners. Moreover, they did not need the
labor of the captives, having plenty of their own working class and slaves. The
fact is that they were harvesting captives for the highest economic use they
could conceive - propitiating gods upon whose favor their entire civilization
depended. There could be no less wasteful use of captives than that. This
political goal is behind the nature of Aztec warfare and it has a very rational
economic objective, given the Aztec religious belief. A similar example is the
warfare of the Crimean Tatars against the Slavs. They avoided any effort at
conquest and tried to avoid killing opponents in battle, but used continual
raiding as a means for collecting captives, just as the Aztecs did, but the
Tatars did have a lucrative market for the sale of slaves.
"The Aztecs who fought were warriors, not soldiers; that is to say, they
expected and were expected to fight because of the place they held in the
social order, not because of obligation or for pay". I don't understand
the distinction between "obligation" and "expectation based on
place in the social order". What connection does this definition of
"warrior" have to professional officers today, whom Keegan considers
"warriors"? It is an interesting definition to say the least.
Beginnings of Warfare:
The several pages of discussion of prehistoric man also appear straightforward.
This section follows that on warfare among primitive peoples. It seems to me it
ought to precede it, just to establish chronological order.
It is good to see that Keegan has quoted Arther Ferrill extensively in this
Writing about warfare in the new stone age, Keegan says,"organize
themselves for conquest and occupation they almost certainly did not". The
inference is that without conquest and occupation as motives, fighting is not
Pages 123 on:
The discussion of Jericho, Catal Huyuk, and Sumer and Early Egypt is fine.
Keegan points to the unique features of early Egyptian military style. He notes
the lack of external threat for much of the period. He notes that there was
internal warfare at the very earliest period, prior to the unification of
Egypt. But he steadfastly refuses to note the connection between Egyptian
warfare and its politics.
"Until the founding of the regular army under the New Kingdom, Egyptian
warfare remained strangely old-fashioned." .."the reason for the
Egyptian's tendency to cling to a superseded technology is hard to find"..
It would not be so hard if one looked at politics, but that is off limits for
This chapter starts out with a typical bold generalization.
"Charioteers were the first great aggressors in human history."
Moreover, they "altered the world in which civilized arts of peace had
begun to flourish."
Page 143: Keegan has a fine categorization of fortification by purpose -
refuge, stronghold, and strategic complex.
"Egyptian frontier policy in Nubia was a model for later
imperialists". Perhaps Keegan means that we can use the Egyptian method as
a kind of model in our examination of the methods of imperialists. Otherwise
this makes no sense, because the nature of Egyptian frontier policy has only
become known to the world recently and was certainly not a model known to
It would be wrong to surmise, however, that the principles that underlay the
construction of Jericho or Semna (Egyptian frontier) were rapidly or widely
True - but what does this do to the idea of their being a model? This is an
example of a maddening tendency of Keegan to reverse himself within a few
"Alexander conducted at least twenty sieges between 335 and 325."
Worth remembering when we get further along in the book.
"The Romans conducted one siege after another when building their
empire." Interesting comment in light of Keegan's contention that siege
warfare was unimportant.
Keegan notes the controversy between Edward Luttwak's conception of Roman
strategy promoted in The Grand Strategy of the Roman empire and
several of his critics, Benjamin Isaac and C. R. Whittaker. We may now benefit
from the fine demolition job done on Isaac and Whittaker by Everett Wheeler in
Journal of Military History.
Keegan comments, "The cherta, a line of improvised fortifications pushed
eastward by the tsars from the 16th century on into the cold lands of the
steppe, intended to press the nomads south of the Ural mountains and to open a
path of settlement into Siberia."
This repeats the false conception of the cherta given in page 73.
Keegan again writes, "Eventually western Europe was re-fortified, but in a
pattern that would have rightly caused a Chinese dynasty nothing but
No doubt true, but we may ask why and what is the point? Might politics be
rearing its unseen head again? The refortification of the 10th and later
centuries would have caused a Roman dynasty alarm as well, or a French king of
the 18th century for that matter.
He continues, "The newly walled towns, however, used their immunity not to
underpin royal authority but to demand rights and freedoms..."
Keegan again walks right by politics, practically stepping in it, without
seeing it. What better example could he want of the link between politics and
Keegan gives a good description of castle building in Europe also, but without
mention of the connection to politics.
Page 150 - 151:
Keegan comments, "All the works of siegecraft available to commanders
before the invention of gunpowder were, therefore, devised between 2400 and 397
What about the trebuchet? What about the significant siege engines invented by
"The taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 with a siege tower was
an exceptional event."
Really? I disagree.
He goes on, "We ought therefore, to treat with extreme reserve all
representations of siegecraft and siege engines, if offered as evidence of
their importance in the art of war at any time before the gunpowder age.
"Assyrian wall-paintings and sculpture reliefs of royal triumphs under the
walls of cities are no more to be relied upon as testimony of contemporary
actualities than the heroic portraits of Napoleon by David and Le Gros..."
Well, propaganda they certainly were along with the Egyptian depictions of
battles like Quadish, but that does not mean sieges were not conducted using
siege engines. There is plenty of physical evidence such as arrow heads,
slingshot lead weights. There are also literary descriptions including manuals
on siegecraft. Keegan grossly understates the importance of siege warfare. One
wonders why. Might it be because fortifications and sieges show politics at
work too clearly? If sieges are significant throughout the Middle East and
elsewhere, what does that do to Keegan's theory of a unique "Western Way
of Warfare"? Because sieges certainly entail hand-to-hand combat.
Keegan does not give up, "strongholds were difficult to take at all times
before the gunpowder age"
Well they were taken nevertheless, especially by well organized armies such as
the Macedonians, Romans, Mongols etc. And they were not necessarily much easier
to take after the introduction of gunpowder, once their form was altered.
But he fails to consider political ramifications, "such strongholds were
often as much instruments of defiance of central authority or a means to
overawe free citizens or cultivators as components of strategic defense".
Precisely - but there is that nasty politics again.
Page 155: Chapter 3 Flesh:
After the digression on fortification Keegan returns to the charioteers.
He remarks, "The adoption of the war chariot and the imposition of the
power of war charioteers throughout the centers of Eurasian civilization in the
space of some 300 years is one of the most extraordinary episodes in world
One of Keegan's best generalizations.
Keegan devotes much attention, and properly so, to the military role of the
chariot and its charioteers. He presents the accepted view of the origin of
chariots. He spends rather more space than I might have on early horses and
donkeys etc., but that is fine.
Keegan agrees with Stuart Piggott on the revolutionary nature of the chariot.
"it lead to the emergence of a chariot-warrior group, skilled fighters who
specialized and extremely expensive vehicles".
He wonders where they came from and accepts the standard view that they were
the Indo-European invaders from north of Iran. I have to wonder about the
farmer's "lack of skill as a butcher" but that is a minor issue -
Keegan devotes much attention to farmers versus pastoralist and hunters as
social types with specific skills. In this he is echoing Vegetius and
Machiavelli without attribution.
Keegan suddenly switches to a discussion of the composite bow. His discussion
is standard, no new insights.
Keegan points out that the rule of the chariot-driving peoples over the settled
peoples was short-lived.
He points out that the chariot was then taken over by Assyrians and Egyptians
who had not used them before. He comments "the role of kings in the
civilized world that we must regard as the most significant, lasting and
baleful effect of warrior domination of the ancient theocratic states."
Why baleful? He says the chariot people taught the Assyrians and Egyptians the
techniques and ethos of imperial warmaking. In my opinion this is giving the
few chariot warriors much too much credit for teaching societies that were far
more advanced than they. Apparently without the arrival of these mysterious
charioteers the Egyptians and Assyrians would have not harbored any aggressive
ideas. On the other hand, what is so wrong with the expansion of political
boundaries made possible by the increased mobility of chariot and horseback
transportation? Wider political boundaries made possible the accumulation of
capital upon which advancing civilization was based and it reduced the endemic
local warfare between the various cities.
"The legacy of the chariot was the warmaking state". I think this is
a bit extreme.
Keegan does not discuss the social and political impact of the chariot on the
societies that began to use it. He does not discuss the training of charioteers
or what results if any their development as a social class may have had.
Chariot and Assyria:
Keegan gives a straightforward narrative of the major events in the rise of
Assyria and good description of the early Assyrian army.
Although Keegan has cautioned us not to believe the artistic depictions of
sieges, he apparently accepts without question the written description of
Sennacherib's combat against the Elamites.
It seems to me that the quotation on page 172 is an example of propaganda by
poetic language. But Keegan likes it as an example, because of its bloodthirsty
"Chariot grandees, like later cavaliers, thus may have already begun to
reckon that quarrels between them were best settled by chivalric
encounter." Keegan cites some examples from China.
I Ralph Sawyer describes the very ancient use of chariots in China, but for
Assyria and Egypt the charioteers were professionals formed into regular units
and fighting as combat teams, not nobles engaging in one-on-one duels.
Keegan discusses the Egyptian army at Quadish saying it "appears to have
had fifty chariots and 5000 soldiers". This is the strength of each of the
divisions of the Egyptian army. There were approximately two and a half such
divisions engaged at Quadish.
Keegan notes that the chariot was overtaken in importance by the horse itself,
when used as cavalry.
Keegan writes, " border of their empire - to the north in Palestine"
Palestine was at the far western border of Assyria, not to its north.
Keegan says the Persian army continued to rely on the chariot. He remarks that
it was as charioteers that the Persian monarch - Darius went into battle
against Alexander. Actually chariots already played a minor role in the Persian
army by that period. Just because Darius was riding in a chariot did not mean
that he went into battle as a charioteer any more than Wellington being on a
horse at Waterloo meant he went into battle as a cavalryman.
"We may regard the steppe nomads as one of the most significant - and
baleful - forces in military history." Why baleful? This is another biased
Keegan shifts directly from chariots to the cavalry of the steppe horse
peoples. He does not discuss in the course of treating the Assyrian army the
introduction of iron, which was extremely important in changing the nature of
warfare and ending the dominance of the chariot. He comes back to iron in a
later chapter on page 237, but then hardly mentions its significance to the
Horse peoples of the steppe:
Keegan begins this section with one of the devices he uses repeatedly. This is
to state a false premise as if it is the view accepted by most people and then
to turn around and point out it is incorrect.
In this case he comments."To those who live in settled and temperate
lands, the steppe means the enormous expanse of empty space that fills the map
between the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Himalayas to the south... "
On the civilized man's mental map, it appears as not only featureless but
climatically undifferentiated, a zone of sparse and uniform vegetation, without
mountains, rivers, lakes or forests.." Then he says "This impression
is quite incorrect." My point is that I don't know who could have the
false view Keegan first presents, certainly not anyone who had even Geography
Commenting on the "gateways" between Europe and Asia, "the
western gateways - at each end of the Caucasus mountains, in the gap between
the Caspian and Aral seas, and around the top of the Black Sea into the
Adrianople corridor - which are narrower and easier to defend." One gap is
not between the Caspian and Aral seas but between the Caspian and the Ural
The discussion of the steppe peoples greatly short changes the Scythians. I
believe much more is know about them than Keegan chooses to mention. "The
first steppe people of whom we have any detailed knowledge were the Huns."
"nature seems to impose limits on the depth of penetration that nomads can
make into settled land." Where does this generalization come from? The
Goths moved from one end of the Roman empire to the other. The Vandals moved
from north-east clear across Roman territory to the far southwest in Africa.
The Celts and Cimmerians and others crossed Asia Minor or the Balkans to the
full depth of the regions.
Keegan comments on the Hun invasion of Italy saying their departure was related
to their economic base being in the lower Danube valley. Later he gives better
"the province of Dacia (modern Hungary)" Actually Dacia was mostly in
Here Keegan gives more cogent reasons for the Hun withdrawal from Italy.
Writing about the horse peoples, Keegan comments, "theirs had been an
extraordinary rise to power in little more than 1500 years." Remarkable, a
1500 year period to come to power can hardly be considered rapid.
Keegan writes, "Attila had shown an ability to shift his strategic center
of effort - schwerpunkt, as Prussian general staff doctrine later
denoted it -".
This is an anachronistic use of one of the most overused buzz words so popular
recently. Using this favorite word of the "military reform" clique
shows the audience Keegan is appealing to.
He continues, "No such strategic maneuver had been attempted or had been
Well, I don't know about that. Athens and Sparta shifted the center of their
operations several times over longer distances during the Peloponesian wars.
Hannibal and Scipio shifted the theater of operations several times over great
distances. Caesar did likewise against Pompey and Antony.
Commenting on the objectives of horse peoples in waging war. Keegan correctly
notes that "they wanted the spoils of war without strings", in that
they sought to collect booty rather than occupy settled areas. But this does
not necessarily mean that "they were warriors for war's sake..."
Collecting booty is a perfectly rational purpose for war.
He continues, "the horse and human ruthlessness together thus transformed
war, making it for the first time 'a thing in itself'. We can thenceforth speak
of 'militarism', an aspect of societies in which the mere ability to make war,
readily and profitably, becomes a reason in itself for doing so."
First, this is not the only definition of militarism. Second horse peoples were
not the first 'militarists'. Both Spartans and Roman Praetorian guards are well
recognized forms of militarism. Third the nomadic societies were not making war
as an end in itself.
Keegan again, "yet militarism is a concept that cannot be applied to any
horse people, since it presumes the existence of an army as an institution
dominant over but separate from other social institutions. "
Again this is but one of the several types of militarism.
He elaborates, "All the horse peoples.. fought 'true war' by all the tests
- lack of limitation in the use of force, singularity of purpose and
unwillingness to settle for anything less than outright victory. Yet their
warfare had no political object in the Clausewitzian sense, and no culturally
This is another set up of a straw man. "Horse peoples" certainly did
accept less than outright victory when it suited them. When they did fight
relatively unlimited warfare, it was because their political purposes for the
war were unlimited, as Machiavelli clearly show.
Page 191 and following: Arabs and Mamelukes:
Keegan seems to mix together Arabs and Bedouin; as well as Arabs and Moslems.
Not all Arabs were Bedouin nor were all Moslems Arabs.
Keegan discusses the origins of the Islamic institution of slave armies. I
think there was more too it than the question of finding a way to avoid Moslems
Page 200 following: The Mongols:
Keegan writes about the ideas of Sun Tzu. "In its emphasis on avoiding
battle except with the assurance of victory, of disfavoring risk, of seeking to
overawe an enemy by psychological means, and of using time rather than force to
wear an invader down (all concepts recognized to be profoundly
anti-Clausewitzian by twentieth-century strategists".
The only point of dragging Clausewitz in at this point is to beat him up by
implying that Sun Tzu's concept of warfare is superior to Clausewitz's. For one
thing there is nothing so special about Sun Tzu's ideas. Machiavelli and many
others made similar recommendations in similar circumstances. And I am not so
sure that Clausewitz would not have done likewise. Besides, read Ralph Sawyer
for a much different interpretation of Sun Tzu.
Keegan comments that is unlikely that Mongol armies "included contingents
of armored cavalry." But this is well attested as far as Mongol-Tatars in
Russia is concerned. All standard texts on Mongol armies show heavily armored
Keegan persists in the view that "siege warfare in the pre- gunpowder age
was a laborious and time consuming method of breaking into strongholds whose
defenders were determined to resist. But the Mongols "nevertheless
overwhelmed a whole succession of fortified places in the East and West ... we
must conclude that the garrisons generally gave up without a struggle."
What a case of sticking to pre-conceptions in the face of accounts of the
terrific battles these sieges required. This is nothing short of libel on many
In the first place sieges since the introduction of gunpowder have often also
been laborious and time consuming. In the second place the length of time a
garrison is able to hold out is no measure of the intensity of its resistance.
The Mongol system "included no means for legitimizing the rule of a single
successor". This is false. They had a fine, elective system. Of course the
ambitious descendants were not always content with the results of the
elections, but that is no different from the struggles over succession in
western kingdoms or empires.
Keegan mentions the Mongol capture of Baghdad without saying that it involved a
Battle of Ain Jalut:
Keegan writes, "by the end of the 14th century Mongol power had
effectively been extinguished wherever it had spilled over the edge of the
Well, the Crimean Tatars remained in control of their small area under the rule
of direct descendants of Genghis Khan until 1785.
Keegan comments, "it is not fanciful to suggest that the awful fate of the
Incas and the Aztecs - at the hand of the Spanish conquistadors ultimately
harked back to Genghis himself."
This is another of these amazing generalizations. I imagine Keegan has in mind
the incredible population losses suffered by the Incas and Aztecs during the
Spanish conquest. But these were due to the introduction of new disease, not
Spanish ruthless killing. Disease had already terribly weakened the Incas
before Pizarro even got to Peru and it did a job on the Aztecs during the
period between Cortez's initial arrival and his return for the final battle.
Once victorious the Spanish were determined to convert the Indians, and were
remarkably successful at doing so. True Spanish intentions and actions toward
the native populations can be seen in the practically immediate foundation of
universities in both Mexico and Peru, not to mention marriage. Naturally Keegan
would ignore one of the most significant events in human history, the
apparition of the Virgin Mary to the Aztec peasant, Juan Diego, in 1535 which
resulted in rapid conversion of millions.
Keegan discusses the "Chinese Way of Warfare" in relation to
Confucian ethics. He consistently ignores internal politics in China in
relation to warfare.
Pages 216 217:
Clausewitz again among the Cossacks.
Keegan continues, "Clausewitz himself owed much more to it than his
ordered mind would ever allow him to recognize." Another example of Keegan
Page 221: Interlude 3: Armies:
Keegan just won't give it up, "Clausewitz was unable to recognize an
alternative military tradition in the Cossacks' style of warmaking because he
could recognize as rational and worthwhile only one form of military
organization, the paid and disciplined forces of the bureaucratic state. He
could not see that other forms might equally well serve their societies, and
well defend them."
This is pure speculation and putting ideas into Clausewitz's head.
Keegan keeps bashing Clausewitz, "He could not foresee the stalemate they
would impose on each other as they multiplied their firepower during the next
century in pursuit of those battlefield victories he laid down it was their
purpose to achieve."
So what? No one can foresee the future. But Clausewitz certainly did not lay
down battlefield victory as the only purpose for war.
Keegan refused to credit Clausewitz with a brain, "Inadvertently, he
admitted the part the opolchenie played in driving the Grand Army
Why presume this was inadvertent on Clauswitz's part? He was right there
watching them in action. Why call it "admitted"? Keegan just can't
bear to think Clausewitz knew more that Keegan says he knew.
Apparently Keegan has not read Clauswitz's own memoir on the 1812 campaign.
Keegan speculates wildly, "It is not fanciful to trace a descent from the
paintbox little army of Berthier's principality to the praetorians of the
Waffen SS panzer divisions".
Sorry, but I think it is fanciful in the extreme.
"Military sociologists take as their premise the proposition that any
system of military organization expresses the social order from which it
springs." Here Keegan mentions Stanislav Andrzejewski (he calls him
Stanislav Andreski) and describes his ideas at some length. Good idea. But
Keegan says Andrzejewski's work is "not accessible". I can't imagine
why. I found it a fine and useful read many years ago.
Keegan considers Andrzejewski's scheme too mechanistic. He thinks the fit of
societies to categories is not exact. Well, it is no worse than the sweeping
generalizations Keegan indulges in.
Keegan comments on the male and female principles are epitomized in the warrior
He writes that some men can only be warriors - soldiers. "the intoxication
of the warpath" the "allure that the warrior life exerts over the
Keegan gives a generally good discussion of the place of warriors in civilized
society. But then says Tamerlane did not descend to the bloody level of the
Vikings. This is pure bias without any basis. Who says the Vikings were more
bloodthirsty than Tamerlane?
Keegan lists six forms for military organization "warrior, mercenary,
slave, regular, conscript and militia ". He gives several pages of good
explanation for these categories.
Keegan notes that the Assyrian army included contingents of all varieties of
soldier types including infantry, charioteers, mounted archers, engineers, and
transport and it had a regular service of royal bodyguard. This tends to
contradict his earlier emphasis on the charioteers. On page 231 he gives a
clear description of the mercenaries in Italy. He does not investigate the use
of these military organizations in relation to the political systems or
political objectives of the societies.
Keegan again, "it is even more tempting to propose that the Greeks'
principal contribution to warmaking - that of the pitched battle, fought on
foot at a fixed site until one side or the other conceded defeat - made its way
back to the Germans via Rome, in barbarian times. The evidence, however, may
not stand such a weight of supposition."
This is another one of Keegan's efforts to have it both ways. He can say that
the evidence may not support his thesis, but that does not prevent him from
repeating the very same thesis over and over. In addition this takes as a given
the proposition that the Greeks invented the pitched battle. This is not so.
However, here he rightly points to the Greek contribution to combat - not
Keegan mentions Machiavelli and notes he drafted the ordinance for the
Florentine militia. But he probably never read it. On page 233 he says the
military defect in the militia system was that the duty was placed on property
owners alone. This is certainly not the case of the Florentine militia, which
was recruited exclusively from outside the city. The city property owners were
However he is correct about the Greek citizen militia and the early Roman
militia army being composed of property owners.
Keegan provides a good discussion of conscription versus a militia. He says
that the French revolutionary conscript armies were what "prompted
Clausewitz to argue that 'war was the continuation of politics' - the grave
drawbacks of the system - that it militarized society and entailed enormous
costs went unforseen or were disguised".
There was a lot more evidence than the French revolutionary armies to prompt an
observation that was is the continuation of politics. Machiavelli and even
Xenophon pointed this out. The striking thing for Clausewitz was the
correlation of military affairs (methods and objectives in warfare) with the
variations in political system and political objectives.
Keegan notes that conscription is a form of tax - a great point.
Despite himself, the discussion shows the relation of military to politics.
"Politics had become the extension of war and the age-old dilemma of
states - of how to maintain efficient armies that were both affordable and
reliable - had revealed itself to be as far from solution as when Sumer had
first laid out its revenues to pay for soldiers. " Great passage and
exactly on the mark.
Page 237: Chapter 4 Iron:
Keegan backtracks to pick up the discussion of the role in warfare of the
invention of iron weapons. But he passes by the results of iron weapons in
ancient near eastern Assyria and Persia etc., and jumps quickly to the Greeks.
He gives a good summary of the early Greeks and the Dorian invasion.
He leaves out the religious basis of the Greek city state and the inherent
limitations it had from the political point of view on expansion or absorbing
Here Keegan takes up in detail the so called "western war of warfare"
popularized by Victor Hanson. He discusses phalanx warfare. He points to the
intense attachment of the Greek citizen to his smallholding but fails to point
to the powerful religious reason for this. He continues to describe Hanson's
idea about the short, pitched battle and its relation to the Greek farming life
etc. He seems to equate the escalation of battle into a particularly bloody
business with warfare as a whole being of this sort.
Hanson and Keegan completely ignore the many lengthy sieges and extended
campaigns conducted during the Persian and Peloponesian wars and after. The
concept that Greek warfare consisted exclusively of short, sharp, set-piece
battles is false.
Here Keegan is discussing combat, not warfare.
As for the Greek reasons for fighting and conducting war, he ignores the
political situation all together. He comments on the influence of competitive
athletics on the battlefield as a contest.
Here is a good discussion on the mechanics of a Greek battle. Keegan even notes
the religious sacrifice that preceded it as well as the religious funeral that
followed, but without tying this to the nature of warfare as a whole.
"Hanson has brilliantly and imaginatively reconstructed this ghastly and
wholly revolutionary style of warmaking."
I disagree, he has clearly described a particular style of combat - not
Keegan notes that Socrates fought as a citizen in the battle of Delion in 424.
How does this square with his view of the warrior not being a civilized person?
Here Keegan describes the aftermath of a Greek battle in detail. But he cannot
explain what happened because he refuses to consider the political purposes of
the combat and warfare.
He notes that the casualties in battle and close pursuit might reach 15%, then
notes that the losses might have been much greater if the winners had pressed
home their victory. "Generally they did not."
I wonder why?
"both sides were content to exchange their dead under truce".
Quite true, but why?
Keegan himself asks "Why since Greek battle partook of such unprecedented
ferocity, did Greek war lack what moderns would see as a justifying culmination
in destruction of the defeated army?"
We should not assume the Greek battle had "unprecedented ferocity".
Why does combat ferocity necessitate culmination in destruction of the defeated
army? Perhaps the political objectives don't warrant it. Perhaps the ability to
be ferocious in combat can't be translated into the capacity to inflict
decisive defeat in a war.
He quotes Hanson that "Ultimate victory in the modern sense and
enslavement of the conquered was not considered an option by either side."
Keegan proposes two explanations for this "strange incompleteness of Greek
Note here is does differentiate combat from warfare. But enslavement of the
conquered population was indeed expressly considered an option, as the long
speeches on this very subject in Thucydides narrative expressly show. In fact
examination and commentary on this discussion has been one of the centerpieces
of classical scholarship.
Keegan says Greek warfare retrained traces of primitivism - that is ritual
warfare that included revenge "the taking of satisfaction, also a very
primitive emotion, may then explain why the response stopped short of
Clausewitzian decision. " face to face fighting with death dealing weapons
defies nature." Then he notes as a second reason "Moreover, it is by
no means certain that the idea of conquest in the modern sense was acceptable
to the Greeks, at least as between Greek and Greek." He is talking
nonsense, but he does not know why.
For one thing he is trying to tie any Greek failure to destroy the defeated
enemy outright to his assessment of the value of ritualized warfare that he
believes was a hallmark of primitivism. For another he again insists that total
destruction is uniquely Clausewitzian. For another he is simply wrong to say
"face to face fighting defies nature."
There are two fundamental reasons for the nature of Greek warfare, both lie in
its political system. First, the Greek city was a closely knit association of
people having a common religion and worshiping a set of common gods, exclusive
to them and not shared by any other Greek city. It was inconceivable to a Greek
that a person born in a different town who had a different set of ancestral
gods could be a citizen of another city. He would have to be adopted first into
a specific family in the city and accepted by the clan as well etc. Thus they
could not conceive of conquering another Greek city for the purpose of
incorporating the citizens into a new, amalgamated state. At best, as Keegan
notes, they could form various alliances. But they certainly could and did wipe
out a particularly offensive enemy city and sell the population completely into
slavery and then repopulate the area with colonists. This was a kind of
"ethnic cleansing." Thus in a very real way Greek political concepts
and organizations directly influenced warfare.
But the second political reason is also clear. In virtually all Greek cities
the citizens were divided internally into two parties, one supporting more
democracy and the other favoring more oligarchy. In Sparta oligarchy
predominated practically all the time. In Athens democracy was more dominant,
but by no means all the time. In the other cities the balance was often more
even. Thus Greek wars between cities were usually actually civil wars within a
city in which both parties appealed for support to their like party in other
cities. Therefore when a Spartan army came for instance to battle another town
it was generally in support of the oligarchs in that town and the Athenians
generally sent an army to support democrat political elements in another town.
The political purpose of the combat was to impose the favored political party
on the defeated town, not to destroy it or kill all the citizens. This also
strictly limited Greek warfare, as opposed to Greek battlefield combat.
The religious sensibilities of the Greeks also played a part. For a Greek it
was of the absolutely highest priority that he be buried properly and that his
soul be continuously fed by his legitimate male descendants. Otherwise the soul
was doomed to wander etc. Since this was recognized by all parties, a truce was
essential following a battle so that the dead could receive the religious
burial that all demanded. This is why the Athenian assembly executed several of
their own admirals who were victorious in a naval battle but who failed to
retrieve the dead bodies of some of the citizens who had drowned during the
Another factor in Greek warfare and combat is the Greek perception and
philosophy that war is actually the constant and natural state of mankind.
Peace is the unnatural and artificial condition that could be created by
political acts like truces. Thus they were acutely aware of the concept of
"balance of power" and carefully avoided inflicting too heavy a
defeat on one rival, because they knew that at some future date they might want
to have today's rival as an ally against some other city.
Keegan gives a good summary of the Persian and Peloponesian wars, but does not
mention the importance of sieges. He notes the decisive Spartan victory at
Aegospotami, when the Athenian fleet was destroyed and the city cut from its
grain supply. This naval battle had nothing to do with an adjacent land battle
or army. This contradicts Keegan's earlier assertions about Greek naval battles
being tied to land campaigns.
He then mentions as well the Athenian-Persian naval victory over Sparta's navy
at Cnidus in 384: another naval battle not tied to a land campaign or ground
Keegan says the Persian army was still centered on a chariot nucleus. This is
simply not so. The chariots were no more significant than the elephants by that
Keegan says Alexander found Darius dead from wounds just inflicted by his
courtiers. I believe Darius was beheaded.
Keegan jumps from Alexander to the early Roman army, thus ignoring much
important development in Hellenistic times.
Keegan says "Rome's imperial motives are much disputed by scholars."
He seems to agree with the William Harris, whom he quotes "Economic gain
was to the Romans an integral part of successful warfare and of the expansion
Keegan does not examine the 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. Moreover, many would say that it was desire for
glory that motivated much Roman offensive warfare.
Keegan rightly remarks that Roman ferocity in warfare is comparable only with
the Mongols or Timurids. And here it is warfare rather than combat that is
"Romans preserved from somewhere in their primitive past sufficient of the
psychology of the hunter to fall on fellow humans as if on animal prey, and do
their victims to death with as little regard for life as is sometimes shown by
one wild species for another." And Keegan does not even mention what went
on in the circus and coliseum.
But Keegan now writtes, "yet Roman warfare for all its episodic extremism
never achieved the levels of inhumanity and destructiveness reached later by
that of the Mongols and Timurids."
In terms of organizing the mass sale of slaves I think the Romans may be
considered to equals of the Mongols and Timurids.
He says Caesar's conquest of Gaul was an isolated exception. But the Roman
actions in Spain were at least as violent.
The Roman "army lacked the mobility of the horse peoples." Well it
had mobility by sea instead.
Keegan discusses the Roman military without noting the political relationships.
Writing about the officer corps, Keegan notes "for the first time in
history, as an esteemed and self-sufficient profession". But I think the
Egyptian and Assyrian officers were esteemed professionals also.
Writing about Hasdrubal Barca's movement from Spain to Italy, Keegan calls it
"a fighting retreat to the Adriatic". Actually Scipio let Hasdrubal
give him the slip in Spain after which Hasdrubal went on an offensive campaign
to bring reinforcements to his brother, Hannibal, in Italy. He was not
"run to ground" at the Metaurus, but intercepted while on an
"to forestall the first recorded large-scale migration the Romans had
encountered, that of the Helvetii from modern Switzerland,.." Actually the
Romans faced two major large scale migrations before this one in 58 BC. One was
the Celts who defeated the Romans in 390 BC on the Allia River and forced them
to pay tribute. The other was the Cimbri and Teutones who were defeated by
Marius in 104-101 BC.
Keegan notes that the Romans "had formidable experience of and skills in
siege warfare" but in the earlier chapter he discounted siege warfare. But
whether they benefited from knowledge about the Assyrians is questionable.
"the very success of imperial expansion had thrown the social and
political order at home into crisis."
But I thought there was no connection between war and politics.
Octavian was Caesar's nephew
Keegan says Claudius was the successor of Augustus. Actually Tiberius and
Caligula were emperors between Augustus and Claudius.
Keegan again says Dacia was modern Hungary, when it was mostly in Romania.
"The notion that Roman warmaking any more than Alexander's was
Clausewitzian in essence bears very little weight." "Rome, perhaps
also vain-glorious, certainly entertained no conception of 'war as the
continuation of politics' since it granted to none of its enemies, not even the
Parthians or Persians, the dignity of civic status."
It is difficult to fathom here what Keegan means. What does the civic status or
lack of it of an enemy have to do with war being a continuation of politics? As
politicians repeatedly point out in Washington these days "all politics is
local". The Roman politics of which warfare was an extension took place in
Rome, not in Parthia.
This passage reveals as well as any Keegan's peculiar view of the nature of
politics. From it stems his idea that warfare can only be conducted between
entities called "states" and only for purposes related to differences
between them. He thinks war in related only to "foreign policy or politics
when it is more related to domestic politics".
"while they sometimes of necessity resorted to diplomacy they did so for
reasons of expediency alone, not as one state treating with its
equivalent." This again reveals Keegan's circumscribed view of what is
meant by politics.
Keegan discusses the ideas on Roman strategy advanced by Edward Luttwak and his
several critics. I am not sure just where Keegan stands on this issue.
"on the lower Nile, where the Romans found the Numidians as implacable as
the Pharaohs had done - he means upper Nile and Nubians rather than Numidians.
"raised respectively in Gaul and Pannonia (modern Hungary). here is gets
it right - Hungary is now in part where Pannonia was, not Dacia.
"institutions of the Christian church, firmly established in its Roman
rather than Nestorian form thanks to the conversion of the Franks in 496."
The struggle was not with the Nestorian Christians but with the Arian
Christians such as the Visigoths etc.
Keegan discusses the change from Roman empire to Carolingian feudalism but does
not investigate the many ways in which these changes show the connection
between war and politics.
Keegan writes that "Burgundian duke became king of Jerusalem". But
Duke Godfrey of Boullion did not become king, his brother was the first king
and Boullion at the time was not in Burgundy.
Militarily, the Crusades provide us with the most accurate picture we possess
of both the culture and the nature of European warfare in the long interregnum
between the disappearance of the disciplined armies of Rome and the
reappearance of the state forces in the sixteenth century."
Really? I hardly think the Crusades were the epitome of medieval warfare.
"Medieval battles defy reconstruction from the evidence".
That is news to the editors of The Journal of Medieval Military History, among
The idea that armored knights riding knee to knee with couched lances in dense
waves of successive ranks, could have charged home against each other without
instantaneous catastrophe to both sides at the moment of impact defies
Why? heavy cavalry engaged in similar combat in Napoleonic times and even in
the Crimean War. The Swedish cavalry of Charles XII formed in
"chevron" shaped lines with each man's knee behind that of the man to
his left of right toward the center of the line.
"The iron warfare of the Middle Ages, like that of the Greeks, was a
bloody and 'horrible affair', made all the worse by its relentless regularity
and the bloodthirsty courage of those who bound themselves to it." a
"certain hard primitivism" lurked beneath the surface.
This is another example of confusion of combat and warfare. Actually in
medieval warfare the great majority of people were not impacted at all. The
courage of the knights was not bloodthirsty." Frequently prisoners were
taken for ransom, and it was anything but regular in structure.
"but in either case, the power of iron, that delusively cheap and common
metal, had run its course."
Well, iron armor and swords were quite expensive as Keegan well knows. Iron
forms an interesting metaphor for Keegan, but steel is still prominent in
Page 301: Interlude 4 Logistics:
The chapter on the importance of logistics is quite good. Keegan mentions the
requirement for food for horses or oxen and the limitations on distance for
transport. He notes some of the campaigns in which river transport figured.
There were many more.
Keegan notes that "it was Roman roads that made the legions who built them
so effective an instrument of imperial power. " Well, yes and no. Actually
it was control of the Mediterranean Sea with the ability to transport by sea
that provided unity to the Roman empire.
He comments "decay (of the roads) meant the end to strategic marching
everywhere for more than a thousand years".
(Does this mean from 453 to after 1453?) What about the length of Crusader
marches? What about campaigns of Huns, Franks and Ostrogoths? What then about
the Crusades, the Norman invasion of England, Charlemagne's campaigns, English
campaigns in France, etc?
Keegan's discussion of the importance of logistics in Alexander the Great's
campaigns is excellent.
More well chosen examples of the influence of logistic factors.
Keegan mentions that potassium nitrate, (saltpeter) was "found in places
where bacterial action on urine and faeces had deposited it into the
earth". I believe he has in mind naturally occurring deposits. Unless I am
mistaken, it was also collected by armies which provided cheap wine in quantity
to the troops for the purpose of stimulating its production.
Keegan describes the French mitrailleuse and mentions the Nordenfeldt and
Gardner, but leaves out the much more successful Gatling gun.
Keegan remarks that the American government effort in World War II was
"financed out of revenue rather than borrowing". I don't know the
true proportion, but there was certainly a lot of borrowing as well, what were
the War Bond campaigns all about.
Page 319: Fire:
Keegan jumps back in time to pick up the impact of the introduction of
gunpowder. He presents the accepted version of the early Chinese use of
Page 320: Gunpowder and Fortification:
Keegan discusses the interaction of gunpowder weapons and development of
fortification in the 16th century and later, but does not mention the important
contributions of fortification engineers who built defenses against the Turks.
He points out that the exact time and place of the first use of a firearm in
battle is not known but that the well-known illustration of a proto-cannon in a
manuscript of 1326 is proof for the existence of cannon at that date. The
significance of this illustration is still disputed by experts.
He states that cannon were present on the battlefield at Agincourt.
Of this I am not convinced. While Henry V had cannon at the siege of Harfleur,
it seems likely that he shipped them all by sea to Calais rather than drag them
along his most difficult route of march across rivers and swamps between the
two cities. It would have been better to cite Henry's extensive use of cannon
in Wales as well as Normandy before and after 1415. But it is more often stated
that Edward had some cannon at Crecy in 1346.
Keegan states about Charles VIII's victory "his artillery gave him victory
in the main battle of the ensuing War of the Holy League, Fornovo..."
This is flat wrong. Cannon played no significant part in this engagement, nor
was it the 'main' battle.
He remarks "Opposed weight engines (catapults) threw projectiles that
struck only glancing blows at such walls, while torsion-machines, ..."
The opposed weight engines were called trebuchets, catapults were of two types,
one employed the potential energy stored in twisted rope or springs (torsion)
while the other employed the potential energy in tension of bent arms ( often
called a ballista).
Keegan describes a crossbow as being a mechanical device with clockwork wound
against a spring. No illustration I have seen fits this description. He notes
the appearance of crossbows in ancient China and says they did not appear in
Europe until the end of the thirteenth century AD. Apart from the fact that
Greeks and Romans had very large crossbows, one must wonder at the unfortunate
demise of Richard I in 1199 to a bolt fired from a non-existent weapon.
More fanciful is Keegan's generalization that "The mechanism and shape of
the crossbow readily lent itself to adaptation for gunpowder use. The
crossbow's stock, which was held against the shoulder and had to be strong
enough to support the sudden shock of the spring's release, provided a pattern
for a similar wooden shape into which a lightened cannon barrel could be laid.
The crossbow's recoil, when the trigger was pulled, would have accustomed its
user to the sort of blow against the shoulder a firearm threw at the moment of
A marvelous attempt at psychology, but unfortunately based on wrong premises.
The crossbow was not always held to the shoulder, but well in front, as any
number of contemporary illustrations show. Moreover, the "recoil" on
discharge is forward, away from the shooter, not back against the shoulder.
Keegan writes that Machiavelli did not specify how the infantry in his model
army should be armed. Evidentally Keegan has not read Machiavelli's The Art
of War, in which the number of pikemen, swordsmen and arqubusiers in a
standard regiment are spelled out in detail.
Keegan characterizes the battles of Ravenna (1512) and Marignano (1515) as
"unprecedented, rarely to be repeated and quite bizarre in nature".
What about Castillon (1453)? Keegan's description of Ravenna does not agree
with that of Oman and Spaulding. Nor does he mention the political aspects of
Marignano and its aftermath. The American Civil War battles in the Wilderness
and before Richmond were much the same kind of thing. Keegan says "it was
clear that giving battle could not persist for ever along lines where one side
entrenched itself and awaited attack." Perhaps not, but such a tactic is
not out of the question either.
He continues the discussion of the mounted nobility "trapped in the ethos
which accorded warrior status only to horsemen and to infantry prepared to
stand and fight..." Not only "ethos" but a clear understanding
of the relation between their warrior status and political power was involved.
He continues "If guns had to take their place on the battlefield, then let
it be behind ramparts, which was where missile weapons had always
Considering the relative lack of mobility of the early cannon, the use of
fortification was not due to such philosophizing. Both the Hussites and the
Muscovites also placed their cannon in mobile field fortifications. As for
missile weapons he totally ignores horse and foot archers.
Keegan makes much of the "cultural roots" of the mounted aristocrat's
resistance to gunpowder weapons. "As we have seen, the Greeks of the
phalanx age were the first warriors of whom we have detailed knowledge who cast
aside the evasiveness of primitive warfare and confronted their like-minded
enemies face- to-face.... The Romans of the early republic accepted the logic
of Greek methods also, indeed probably learnt them from the Greek colonists of
southern Italy. One might suppose that it was the Romans' encounter with first
the Gauls, then the Teutonic peoples from beyond the Rhine, which progressively
transmitted the habit of face-to-face fighting to them as well."
This is all backwards, as well as based on a false assumption about who fought
face-to-face and what "primitive warfare" was all about. The Romans
themselves said they learned from the Celts (Gauls). The Assyrians and
Egyptians fought on occasion face-to-face. And so did the Chinese.
Keegan himself continues shortly, "However, it seems clear that the Gauls
fought face-to-face before they even met the Romans... and the Germans ...were
also doing so before they met the Romans..."
Why does he write this way? He makes some grandiose generalization and then has
to refute in immediately. But later he will continue to base the larger
premises of his theory on the original (wrong) generalization.
From this switching around about Romans and Celts, Keegan emerges with this
"A line of division between that battle tradition (the Western way of War)
and the indirect, evasive and stand-off style of combat characteristic of the
steppe and the near and Middle East: east of the steppe and south-east of the
Black Sea, warriors continued to keep their distance from their enemies: west
of the steppe and south-west of the Black Sea, warriors learned to abandon
caution and to close to arm's length." "All that can be said is that
if there is such a thing as the "military horizon" there is also a
"face-to-face" combat frontier, and that Westerners belong by
tradition on one side of it, and most other peoples on the other."
He continues "The reasons for this final abandonment of the psychology and
conventions of primitivism in the West and for their persistence elsewhere
No wonder it "baffles analysis" since it is not a true description of
reality. This whole concept is one of the cornerstones of Keegan's grand
scheme. All this is repeated from elsewhere. There is no such frontier. There
are so many misconceptions intertwined into these two pages it is difficult to
dissect and analyze them clearly. But he totally misses again warfare in
Keegan ascribes the "warrior crisis" of the 16th century to this
But what was this 'crisis' anyway?
Keegan writes that John Guilmartin has proven that galley warfare "was an
amphibious undertaking in which not only were the sea battles a variant of
contemporary land battles but the campaigns themselves were normally an
extension of operations on shore."
But there were quite a number of naval battles in Classical Greek and
Hellenistic periods that were pure naval engagements without accompanying land
Writing about Incas and Aztecs versus Spaniards, Keegan says, "Their
ritualized style of combat also unfitted them to confront Europeans who fought
to win rather than to take sacrificial captives; but in a contest of hundreds
against thousands, it was their horses that gave the invaders the decisive
No doubt the horses (few as they were) generated an advantage, but no so much
in house to house city fighting, firearms and personal armor plus small ships
on the lake were advantages as well.
Some contemporary writers did believe the horses were critical for the Spanish,
but this seems to me to be too simplistic. There were not that many horses.
Some of the key battles were in cities or on causeways. The Aztecs and Incas
could not bring their massive numbers to bear in one place and time. The exotic
diseases (smallpox) brought by the Spanish were more decisive. The Aztecs
fought in a style designed to enable them to capture prisoners, but how can
this be called ritualized or not a fight to win? Besides Cortez had more Indian
allies than Spaniards.
Keegan writes, "It is conjectured that the Macedonians drilled their
phalanxes, though the simplicity of phalanx tactics makes that hard to
But there are existing copies of drill manuals and references to elaborate
drill in the written sources. And the drill required to execute even simple
phalanx tactics was quite elaborate and precise indeed.
Keegan writes, "The opposed properties of these three elements of
eighteenth-century armies, musketry, artillery, cavalry, thus brought about a
strange equilibrium on pitched battlefields, leading to what Professor Russell
Weigley has identified as a persistent indecisiveness in the succession of
struggles fought by the dynastic monarchies in western Europe...."
It was not mainly due to conditions on the battlefield, but off the field in
the realm of politics and economics that the equilibrium was generated. But
Keegan does not want to mention the effect of political reality on warfare. It
was exactly the contrast between the kind of warfare conducted by Frederick the
Great and his contemporaries and the kind of warfare brought by the French
Revolution and the connection between this contrast and the changed political
environment that led Clausewitz to focus so much attention on war as a
continuation of political struggle.
Keegan points out that battles of the period were "notable rather for the
number of casualties suffered among the docile ranks of the participants than
for any permanency of outcome achieved. It was exhaustion of reserves of money
and manpower that brought 18th century wars to an end rather than decision by
clash of arms."
Quite so, and the same might be said of World War I. But in the 18th century
monarchs limited their political objectives to the means they had available and
recognized the superior priority of preserving their civilian populations for
development of state economic power to squandering them in battle. Moreover the
political objectives of warfare were those of the absolute monarchs, not those
of the people, whose opinions were not a factor.
Keegan continues, "In an effort to diminish the indecisiveness of their
warmaking, European armies turned increasingly to the enlistment of traditional
warrior peoples, hoping that their irregular methods would sharpen the
offensive qualities of the liveried masses."
But Keegan continues by pointing out that their influence was nil. Actually
they were hired because no one wanted to take any more citizens away from
productive economic activity than absolutely necessary. It was cheaper to hire
marginal types wherever they could be found. The monarchs preferred indecisive
outcomes to the kind of disruptions to the state system than the French brought
Keegan writes that, "The North American colonists' war with Britain.....
was the first truly political war..."
It certainly depends on what one means by political and politics. I guess
Caesar, Justinian, Charlemane, Charles XII, William I and hundreds of other
military leaders had no political motives.
Keegan writes that, "Bernadotte (who, trumping any of Alexander's
generals, ended his career as king of Sweden)."
It is hard to understand just what Keegan has in mind. Several of Alexander's
generals ended their careers as emperors of states vastly larger than Sweden,
and the Ptolemy's ruled Egypt for centuries.
Keegan comments, "Meanwhile the urgency was to discover means that would
strip musket and bayonet warfare of its besetting indecisiveness and invest
confrontation on the battlefield between revolution and the ancien regime with
the same dynamism by which the popular will had overthrown royal
government." He goes on to say that critics were deeply impressed with the
achievements of Frederick the Great. But Frederick was the master of just the
kind of warfare that Keegan says was to be overthrown.
It seems Keegan mixes causes and effects in this discussion. He studiously
ignores the fact that Suvorov soundly trounced revolutionary French armies with
Russian regulars of the old style. He also ignores the critical relation of the
changed political objectives brought to warfare on the way it was conducted and
the results obtained.
Keegan returns to Clausewitz. He properly notes that Machiavelli had much to
say on the "well regulated army" centuries earlier.
But I don't think the rulers contemporary to Machiavelli were really
"genuinely confused about how best to raise reliable armies." They
more likely were confused about who would be politically reliable to
Then Keegan really goes overboard. He writes, "Machiavelli had modest
objectives, however, He merely sought to give practical advice to other men
like himself, members of the political class of rich Renaissance city states.
Clausewitz's intellectual ambitions verged on the megalomaniac.. Like his
contemporary Marx, he claimed to have penetrated the inner and fundamental
reality of the phenomenon he took as his subject. He did not deal in advice; he
dealt in what he insisted were inescapable truths. War was the continuation of
politics by other means, and any government which blinded itself to that truth
doomed itself to harsh treatment at the hands of an unblinkered opponent."
Wow!!. In the first place, Machiavelli was very self conscious that he was NOT
a member of the rich ruling class, although while an active civil servant he
did occupy a position in the Florentine defense establishment much higher than
any Clausewitz was to hold. While he did seek to give advice, he was also very
self-conscious that he was a revolutionary discovering new realms on a par with
Columbus. His pretensions to having written for the ages were at least as great
as Clausewitz, actually greater, since he published his work while Clausewitz
did not. As for states that did not follow his advice, Machiavelli showed them
chapter and verse on what doom awaited them. Moreover, failure to recognize the
intimate relationship between politics and war was precisely one of the faults
Machiavelli also noted would bring failure.
Keegan continues his diatribe against Clausewitz, now with reference to World
War I. He writes, "Since the objects of the First World War were
determined in great measure by the thoughts that were Clausewitz's, in the
war's aftermath he came to be regarded as the intellectual begetter of a
historical catastrophe; B. H. Liddell Hart, then Britain's most influential
military writer, pilloried him as "the Mahdi of Mass". Then Keegan
again engaged in typical waffling, "This estimate of his influence seems
He rightly points out that it was the European culture in which service in the
state's military forces was popular, which enabled states to create mass
armies. (Although ther was a lot of involuntary conscription as well.)
Moreover, at least one commentator claims that von Moltke explicitly rejected
Clausewitz's advice to subordinate warfare to politics.
Keegan discusses universal military service and mass armies of the 20th
century. He claims that never before has "such a high proportion of any
population been engaged in combat."
But what about the citizen armies of Greece and Rome? What about the warrior
nations such as Celts and Vandals, Huns, Tatars, and Goths? The proportion of
the population engaged in combat is smaller than in many ancient periods. He
retreats behind the excuse that casualty rates for periods before very modern
times are not known.
On a very emotional page Keegan generalizes again, "Warrior peoples might
have made every man a soldier, but they had taken care to fight only on terms
that avoided direct or sustained conflict with the enemy, admitted
disengagement and retreat as permissible and reasonable responses to determined
resistance, made no fetish of hopeless courage, and took careful material
measure of the utility of violence."
He tries to exclude the Greeks and Romans from this group, ignoring other
warrior peoples again. But in general Keegan is correct in indicating the
differences in the nature of armies at different times. But he persists in
ignoring the differing political and cultural objectives behind these
differences in warfare. Courage and close combat were not avoided, amazingly
Keegan can simultaneously describe Victor Hanson's accounts of Greek combat.
Keegan ascribes Hitler's objectives to his being a "Clausewitzian".
"Revolutionary weapons, the warrior ethos and the Clausewitzian philosophy
of integrating military with political ends were to ensure that, under Hitler's
hand, warmaking in Europe between 1939 and 1945 achieved a level of totality of
which no previous leader - not Alexander, not Mohammed, not Genghis, not
Napoleon - had ever dreamed."
It is hard to cope with such emotional writing. But one can certainly find
plenty of examples of total war to equal Hitler's concepts. After all, he did
not even put Germany on a total mobilization basis until late in WWII. And
again, Clausewitz's point was that warfare was properly subordinate to
politics, not integrated with it so as to preempt political considerations.
Keegan continues his critique of contemporary military developments and
doctrines with such as the following. "Nuclear weapons preyed upon the
mind of man, and the fears they aroused exposed the hollowness of the
Clausewitzian analysis once and for all. How could war be an extension of
politics, when the ultimate object of rational politics is to further the
well-being of political entities?"
Leaving aside the dubious nature of Keegan's assertion on the purpose of
politics, we should rather say, "Thank God that all those in positions of
political influence with the capability to start a world war recognized that
war could only be an extension of politics and that no conceivable political
objective could justify the risk of nuclear war."
Keegan indulges in a political pitch for the ascendancy of the United Nations.
He exhorts,"It teaches us to what afflictions war may subject us when we
refuse to deny the Clausewitzian idea that war is a continuation of politics,
and refuse to recognize that politics leading to war are a poisonous
intoxication." " To turn away from the message Clausewitz
preached,..." "The habits of he primitive - devotees themselves of
restraint, diplomacy and negotiation - deserve relearning."
Page 386-392: Conclusion:
In this section Keegan sums up all his generalizations. He bases his conclusion
even on the very generalizations he had been forced to modify, question, or
discount in the previous chapters. He gives high marks both to primitive and to
Chinese methods of warfare. He paints a remarkable picture of the
"neighborliness" of civilized mankind. He again asserts that,
"Culture, is, nevertheless, a prime determinant of the nature of warfare,
as the history of its development in Asia clearly demonstrates." He says
Oriental warfare has different traits from Western, without ever pointing out
the differing political contexts in China and Europe. "Restraint in
warmaking was a also a feature of the other dominant civilization of Asia, that
of Islam." He repeats the previously written generalizations about Islamic
warfare, which "eventually became almost as circumscribed as within
Chinese civilization." He repeats the accusation that it is Western
culture and civilization which is responsible for inventing a uniquely lethal
kind of warfare. "The emperor Darius is a genuinely tragic figure".
He again asserts that "The ethic of the battle to the death on foot - we
must say on foot for it is associated with infantry rather than cavalry
fighting - then made its was from the Greek to the Roman world via the presence
in southern Italy of Greek colonists. How it was transmitted, as it certainly
must have been, to the Teutonic peoples with whom Rome fought its conclusive
and eventually unsuccessful battles for survival has not been, and perhaps
never will be reconstructed. The Teutonic invaders were, nevertheless,
face-to-face warriors without doubt; but for that they would surely not have
defeated Roman armies ... A peculiar achievement of the Teutonic successor
kingdoms was to assimilate the face-to-face style with combat on horseback, so
that the Western knight, unlike the steppe nomad, pressed home his charge
against the main body of the enemy..."
There is more - but this shows how he refuses to give up concepts he himself
has questioned when not to do so would have been simply too obvious.
He notes that Asian culture adhered "to a concept of military restraint
that required its elites to persist in the use and monopoly of traditional
weapons, .... and that this persistence was a perfectly rational form of arms
I would rather point out that Oriental despotisms disarmed their populations as
a means of excluding them from any political influence and were generally
successful in perfecting absolutist control over the entire region of their
cultural boundary - Japan or China.
He continues, "The Western world, by forsaking arms control, embarked on a
different course, which resulted in the form of warfare that Clausewitz said
was war itself; a continuation of politics, which he saw as intellectual and
ideological, by means of combat, which he took to be face-to-face, with the
instruments of the Western technological revolution, which he took for
Here he purposely mixes Clausewitz concept of ideal versus real war with the
idea of war being related to politics to assert that Clausewitz believed ideal
war was the political objective. Actually Clausewitz believed that ideal war
was not even possible in the real world.
He continues, "Politics must continue; war cannot." A clear summary
of the emotional position which generated this entire book. The culmination of
Keegan's offensive is reached in the final paragraphs.
"That is not to say that the role of the warrior is over. The world
community needs, more than it has ever done, skilful and disciplined warriors
who are ready to put themselves at the service of its authority. Such warriors
must properly be seen as the protectors of civilization, not its enemies. The
style in which they fight for civilization - against ethnic bigots, regional
warlords, ideological intransigents, common pillagers and organized
international criminals - cannot derive from the Western model of warmaking
alone. Future peace keepers and peacemakers have much to learn from alternative
military cultures, not only that of the Orient but of the primitive world
also.... There is an even greater wisdom in the denial that politics and war
belong within the same continuum..."
In other words Keegan would have a world authority institute an Oriental style
despotism by disarming all the civilians outside its exclusive
"warrior" police force. This force would wage its war on all manner
of political incorrectness in the name of civilization. Plato considered
something of this sort to be an ideal for a small, homogenous city. Lenin has
something of the sort in mind on a world scale in "State and
Revolution". We may be thankful that Keegan's vision will also founder on
the intractable human desire for individual freedom.