A HISTORY OF WARFARE
Report for the Military Conflict Institute
The author intends the book to address the r eader on three levels
(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,
(3) the philosophical outlook and conclusions Keegan wants the reader to draw
from his exposition.
PURPOSE OF BOOK
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.
Page 80: "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".
1. politics is not related to warfare;
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
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.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK?
It is not a conventional military history
It is not a refutation of Clausewitz
It is not an inditement of Western (European) Civilisation
It is a passionate and emotion laden plea for an end to war through world
Page 6 - Burning of Moscow
Page 7 - Cossack "cruelty"
Page 21 - Politics played no part in World War I worth mentioning
Page 27 - "Politics is practiced to serve culture."
Page 27 - Bouganville's reports of Tahiti - noble savage - were correct.
Page 32- Mamelukes - A different culture but he ignores the internal and
Page 36 - No son of a Mameluke could become one.
Page 63 - He misunderstands Soviet concept of "permanently operating
Page 65 - Galley warfare was amphibious with fleets tied to land armies
Page 71 - Description of location of Adrianople is faulty
Page 72 - Direction of flow of Russian rivers wrong
Page 72 - Location of headwaters of Dnieper wrong
Page 73 - Location of Russian Zasechnaya Cherta wrong
Page 75 - "none of the regimes founded by Genghis or his immediate
successors lasted for more than a century." - very wrong
Page 86 - 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
Page 147- Location of Russian Zasechnaya Cherta wrong again
Page 150-151 "All the works of siegecraft available to commanders before
the invention of gunpowder were, therefore, devised between 2400 and 397
BC." "The taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 with a siege
tower was an exceptional event." -wrong
Page 151- "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..."
- wrong for ancient military and wrong for medieval military as well
Page 176- The Egyptian army at Quadish "appears to have had fifty chariots
and 5000 soldiers".
Page 178: Location of Palestine wrong.
Page 178: The Persian army continued to rely on the chariot. - no it did not
Page 180: "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."
Page 184: "the province of Dacia (modern Hungary)" - no it was in
part modern Rumania
Page 205: It is unlikely that Mongol armies "included contingents of
armored cavalry." - no, not only Mongols but many Turkic peoples
Page 207 The Mongol system "included no means for legitimizing the rule of
a single successor". - the election system was considered legitimate.
Page 223-4:"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
Page 257: 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
Page 259- the Persian army was still centered on a chariot nucleus. - no it was
Page 262- Alexander found Darius dead from wounds just inflicted by his
Page 272- Writing about Hasdrubal Barca's movement from Spain to Italy, Keegan
calls it "a fighting retreat to the Adriatic". It was a long planned
offensive just as Hannibal's campaign
Page 272- "to forestall the first recorded large-scale migration -the
Romans had encountered, that of the Helvetii from modern Switzerland,.."
Page 273- 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.
Page 274- Octavian was Caesar's nephew
Page 275- Keegan says Claudius was the successor of Augustus.
Page 276- Keegan again says Dacia was modern Hungary, when it was mostly in
Page 279- "on the lower Nile, where the Romans found the Numidians as
implacable as the Pharaohs had done. -
Page 283- "institutions of the Christian church, firmly established in its
Roman rather than Nestorian form thanks to the conversion of the Franks in
496." The Nestorians were far to the east - Keegan is thinking of the
Page 292- "Burgundian duke became king of Jerusalem".
Page 322- Charles VIII's victory "his artillery gave him victory in the
main battle of the ensuing War of the Holy League, Fornovo..." It was not
the main battle
Page 322- "Opposed weight engines (catapults) threw projectiles that
struck only glancing blows at such walls, while torsion-machines, ..."
Page 328- a crossbow ia a mechanical device with clockwork wound against a
spring. 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.
"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 detonation.".
Page 329- Keegan writes that Machiavelli did not specify how the infantry in
his model army should be armed. - He went into detail about this.
Page 341- "It is conjectured that the Macedonians drilled their phalanxes,
though the simplicity of phalanx tactics makes that hard to credit."
Acknowledgements - Description of Gulf War and War in Bosnia
Introduction - Category of "warrior"
Page 3 - What is war "not the continuation of politics"
Page 3 and 5 - War implies existance of states and politics between states
Page 3 - Violence is a cultural aberation
Page 6 - attributes to Clausewitz purpose for making war acceptable to officers
Page 6 - Clausewitz was advancing a universal theory of what war OUGHT to be.
Page 6 -7 Clausewitz "ought to have known"
Page 7 - outlook on Greek war of independence
Page 7 - Clausewitz outlook on war was defective on cultural level
Page 16-19 Discussion of Clausewitz concepts of ideal and real war
Page 18 - Comparison of Clausewitz and Marx
Page 22 - He tries to make Clausewitz into the ideological father of WWI
page 23 - Clausewitz was hindered by narrow outlook
Page 27 - Clausewitz failed to see that "his philosophy of warfare was a
recipe for the destruction of European culture."
Page 28 - Indicates that one of the book's themes is why it is that successful
warrior systems... become fossilised.
Page 39 - Faults Clausewitz for not appreciating significance of Mameluke
culture. 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."
Page 40 - He admires Samurai "culture" for its ability to disarm the
population of Japan. Fails to discuss political aspects or why the samurai
bosses favored a disarmed population.
Page 48 - Quotes Liddel Hart as authority on Clausewitz
Page 50-60 - Remilitarization of society
Page 63 - Earliest form of naval warfare was piratical rather than political
Page 64 - Vikings were "nihilists" He has special dislike for Vikings
Page 75 - "The tide of war tends to flow one way - from poor lands to
rich, and very rarely in the opposite direction".
Page 75- "War is always limited, not because man chooses to make it so,
but because nature determines that it shall be".
Page 75- "Half of human nature - the female half - is in any case highly
ambivalent about warmaking".
Page 79- Discussion of behavioralists and sociologists and their views of man's
nature. It is violent?
Keegan writes 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.
Page 80- discusses anthropologists views on nature versus nurture.
Page 98- "The Yanomomo in short seem to have got intuitively to
Clausewitz's point and to have passed beyond it".
Page 103- "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?"
DUBIOUS GENERALIZATIONS - AZTEC WARFARE
Page 113ff. Aztec warfare "Meanwhile in preColumbian America ... a
cultural ethic limited its greater potentiality for Clausewitz's decisive
battle to an even more arresting degree."
"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
"the temptation is to dismiss Aztec warfare as an aberration, having no
connection with any system of strategy or tactics that we would consider
"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."
Page 114- "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".
Keegan completely misunderstands Aztec warfare.
Page 122- "organize themselves for conquest and occupation they almost
certainly did not".
Page 123- "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
Page 139- "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- "Egyptian frontier policy in Nubia was a model for later
Page 144- "It would be wrong to surmise, however, that the principles that
underlay the construction of Jericho or Semna (Egyptian frontier) were rapidly
or widely disseminated".
Page 149- "Eventually western Europe was re-fortified, but in a pattern
that would have rightly caused a Chinese dynasty nothing but alarm."
Page 155- "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
Page 160- Much generalization about farmers versus hunters as proper warrior
Page 169- "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."
"The legacy of the chariot was the warmaking state".
Page 173- "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.
Page 178- "We may regard the steppe nomads as one of the most significant
- and baleful - forces in military history."
Page 179- 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
Page 183- "nature seems to impose limits on the depth of penetration that
nomads can make into settled land."
Page 188- The Horse peoples - "theirs had been an extraordinary rise to
power in little more than 1500 years."
Page 188- "Attila had shown an ability to shift his strategic center of
effort - schwerpunkt, as Prussian general staff doctrine later denoted
He continues, "No such strategic maneuver had been attempted or had been
Page 189- "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."
"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. "
"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 transforming
Page 202- On 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
Page 205- "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." Absurd in the
extreme, tell that to the Muscovites or the Assassins.
Page 214- "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." Theconquistadors intermarried with Inca and
Page 216- Clausewitz again among the Cossacks.
"Clausewitz himself owed much more to it than his ordered mind would ever
allow him to recognize."
Page 221- "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."
"Inadvertently, he admitted the part the opolchenie played in
driving the Grand Army ..."
Page 222- "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
Page 226- Keegan comments on the male and female principles are epitomized in
the warrior and actress.
He writes that some men can only be warriors - soldiers. "the intoxication
of the warpath" the "allure that the warrior life exerts over the
Page 227- 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.
Page 232- "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."
Page 232- Keegan mentions Machiavelli and notes he drafted the ordinance for
the Florentine militia.
Page 235- "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. "
Page 264- "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 of
Keegan does not examine the personal political aspects of Roman military
policy, either external nor internal. And it is internal politics as well as
external, sometimes even more than external that is what it meant by the
concept that war is the extension of politics. Moreover, many would say that it
was desire for glory that motivated much Roman offensive warfare. And glory was
not only an end in itself but the key to political success.
Page 266- "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."
Page 277- "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."
Page 278- "while they sometimes of necessity resorted to diplomacy they
did so for reasons of expediency alone, not as one state treating with its
Page 293- "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."
Page 297- "Medieval battles defy reconstruction from the
evidence"."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 belief."
"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.
"but in either case, the power of iron, that delusively cheap and common
metal, had run its course."
Page 303- "it was Roman roads that made the legions who built them so
effective an instrument of imperial power. " "decay (of the roads)
meant the end to strategic marching everywhere for more than a thousand
Page 330- Keegan characterizes the battles of Ravenna (1512) and Marignano
(1515) as "unperecedented, rarely to be repeated and quite bizarre in
Page 331- 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..."
Page 332- "If guns had to take their place on the battlefield, then let it
be behind ramparts, which was where missile weapons had always belonged."
Page 332- 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 beyhond the
Rhine, which progressively transmitted the havit of face-to-face fighting to
them as well."
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..."
"A line of division between that battle tradition (the Western way of War)
and the indirect, evasive and stand-offstyle 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 oneside of it, and most other peoples on the other."
"The reasons for this final abandonment of the psychology and conventions
of primitivism in the West and for their persistence elsewhere baffles
Page 338- "Their ritualised 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 advantage."
Page 345- "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...."
Page 345- "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."
Page 347- "The North American colonists' war with Britain..... was the
first truly political war..."
Page 350- "Bernadotte (who, trumping any of Alexander's generals, ended
his career as king of Sweden)."
Page 353- "Machiavelli had modest objectives, however, He merely sought to
give practical advice to othermen 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."
Page 354- "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
waffleing, "This estimate of his influence seems exaggerated."
Page 372- 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
Muhammed, not Genghis, not Napoleon - had ever dreamed."
Page 384- "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 the primitive - devotees themselves of
restraint, diplomacy and negotiation - deserve relearning."
Page 386-392: Conclusion:
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. But he
misunderstands Chinese warfare.
He paints a remarkable picture of the "neighbourliness" of civilized
He again asserts that, "Culture, is, nevertheless, a prime determinant of
the nature of warfare, as the history of its development in Asia clearly
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
He repeats the acusation that it is Western culture and civilisation 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 way 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
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, bu 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 warroirs
who are ready to putthemselves at the service of its authority. Such warriors
must properly be seen as the protectors of civilisation, not its enemies. The
style in which they fight for civilisation - 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 uncorrectness in the name of civilisation.
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
We may be thankful that Keegan's vision will also founder on the
intractable human desire for individual freedom.
EXAMPLE OF TWISTED SOURCES AND LOGIC CHAIN
Page 47 "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
Keegan siezed on this because the Oxus is one of his favorite locales to show
military culture. He continues, "Military historians now recognise that
the banks of the Oxus are to warfare what Westminster is to parliamentary
democracy or the Bastille to revolutions."
He continues, "It was across the Oxus that successive waves of Central
Asian conquerors and despoilers .... borne into the Western world.
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."
But the main Ottoman slave soldiers came from the Balkans. The previous slave
soldiers (mamlukes) came from Ukraine.
KEEGAN AND HANSON
Page 73: Keegan writes, "David Hanson, ( sic, it is Victor) 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 battle". Another illustration of ignorance of
warfare in China.
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
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
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. In this book 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. But he does do this in other books.
Hanson's book and John Keegan's introduction were thoroughly reviewed by John
Buckler in 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
Page 94: 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
hostility". 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 others.
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
Page 244: 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.
Page 246: 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.
Page 248: 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
Page 249: "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
warmaking, and not so 'revolutionary'.
Page 250: 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
Page 251: 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, or how the political was an aspect of the
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."
"both sides were content to exchange their dead under truce".
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
warfare". But some conquered peoples WERE enslaved.
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.