As a historian, a student of warfare and warriors, and a former soldier, I am deeply saddened by the passing of John Keegan, the preeminent military historian of our time.
Keegan was a soldier’s chronicler; rather than obsessing over the mind-numbing facts and figures that typify conventional campaign histories or producing outsized profiles of near-mythical leaders, John Keegan gave us The Face of Battle, warts and all. And he did it with grace and aplomb. He was capable of producing prose that bordered on the poetic—consider his reflections on the desk-bound scribe: “… the military historian, on whom, as he recounts the extinction of this brave effort or that, falls an awful lethargy, his typewriter keys tapping leadenly on the paper to drive the lines of print, like the waves of a Kitchener battalion failing to take its objective, more and more slowly toward the foot of the page.”
Though Keegan never experienced the sheer terror/pure exaltation of combat, he wrote compellingly and prolifically at the “pointy end of the spear”—he grappled with the nature of the beast, he understood the warrior’s heart. He kenned that technology will never trump the cultural imperative to test ourselves in the crucible of armed conflict: We are as insatiably drawn to it as we are revulsed by it. And today’s assault rifle is still equipped with a bayonet…
Keegan’s legacy extends far beyond his impressive corpus of nearly two dozen superlative treatises on why (and how) men make war; he has inspired a generation of historians to dig deeper and tell the human side of the story.
John Keegan was truly a scholar, a gentleman, and a gentle man.
Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.