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John Keegan
John Keegan
A History of Warfare
ISBN: 0679730826
A History of Warfare
John Keegan, who has written twenty books about warfare, especially World War II, talked about his book, "A History of Warfare." This book attempts to summarize the story of war over the past 40,000 years. He examines the origins and nature of warfare, the culture of both the primitive and modern warrior, and the development of weapons and defenses from the battle of Megiddo in 1469 B.C. to the nuclear age. This interview was aired in conjunction with C-SPAN's Remembering D-Day special
A History of Warfare
Program Air Date: May 8, 1994

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Keegan, author of "A History of Warfare," when did you start working on this book?
LAMB: When did you first get interested in warfare?
KEEGAN: I couldn't help being interested. Right here, 50 years ago when I was 10 years old, the place was alive with the apparatus of war. We were all interested if you were 10 years old. The streets were crammed with mainly American soldiers -- soldiers, anyhow, but mainly Americans soldiers, American equipment, American airplanes. They had quite a lot of British airplanes, too, but Taunton, where we are now, was almost an American town in April, May and the beginning of June, 1944. They were waiting to go to D Day, and this was one of the main American concentration areas.
LAMB: What do you remember from those days?
KEEGAN: Jeeps. Jeeps are the thing I remember most because nobody in England had ever seen anything like a jeep. And if you were 10 years old, it made an even stronger impression. Every 10 year old English boy wanted to have a drive in a jeep, and I did get to drive in a jeep, too, which was a tremendous excitement. But I suppose it's very difficult not to impose -- particularly if you're a historian, not to impose your subsequent memories on what you actually do remember. But the Americans were different. I think they were, of course, different to older English people, but they were even different to English children. They were American. They were much more extrovert and cheerful and good natured and everything that Americans are supposed to be. And that is a very strong impression from those times.
LAMB: What was this area used for as far as staging is concerned? Why was the military here?
KEEGAN: There was an enormous hospital here. You see, there -- everybody -- all the commanders -- Eisenhower, Montgomery -- they all expected very heavy casualties on D Day. They thought there would be tens of thousands of wounded on the beaches and that they'd have to be treated back here in Britain. So the Americans -- because this was an American area -- they built an enormous hospital here, and it still exists and it is Taunton's main hospital. It shows what American prefabrication of 50 years ago could do. And it was a supply area and there were glider airfields for taking the gliderboard infantry to the whereabouts of Ste Mere Eglise, where the 82nd and 101 Airborne Divisions were going. And I think there was just everything, really. I would have to reconstruct some sort of map, which would probably be difficult to find nowadays, but to a child's eye, there was everything.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
KEEGAN: Counting "Slight of Works," about 20, I suppose.
LAMB: Which one's done the best?
KEEGAN: "Face of Battle," which I published in 1976. In a curious way -- it's always called a classic, so I suppose it is a classic. It was not a difficult book to write. I knew exactly what I was going to say before I began; it just came out. It was not a difficult book to write in the way that this was because I was trying to put so much that I know into such a small space in "A History of Warfare."
LAMB: Your books do better in Great Britain or in the United States?
KEEGAN: The United States, without any question, except, curiously, for this one. This one's been enormously successful in Britain and it's won a major literary prize. But I have a great American readership. It's not the only reason I love the United States, but it's one of the reasons.
LAMB: Why do you think you appeal to Americans?
KEEGAN: I don't know. I went to America when I was very young, and I've been there many, many times in my life and I think I've got a feel for America. It's certainly a country that I am deeply devoted to, tremendously interested in. That's not really an answer to the question. I think Americans like -- they like the practical; they like the human. And I like both those things myself, and I try and put them into my books. I like to try and pick problems to pieces in a practical way and also pick them to pieces in a human way. And I think that's perhaps -- it's not a deliberate formula, but it may be the formula that appeals to American readers.
LAMB: You can't pick up many of your books without learning -- you write that you have a limp.
KEEGAN: Yes, I do, and it's getting worse.
LAMB: What is it from?
KEEGAN: It's from orthopedic tuberculosis, which is, thank goodness, a banished disease now; nobody gets it. But it was very common when I was young. It attacks the bone joints and it leaves you damaged in some way or other.
LAMB: When did you contract the disease or...
KEEGAN: At 13, just the end of the war and just before they invented the drugs which cure the disease -- about two years before. Doctors look at me and they say, “You were unlucky to -- weren't you?” And I say, “Yes. Another two years and I would have been cured.”
LAMB: What impact has it had on your life?
KEEGAN: I'm beginning to regret it now because I am getting rather lame in my -- I'm going to be 60 this year, and in the last year it's been a nuisance. It hasn't been a nuisance the rest of the times. It hasn't scarcely affected my life at all. And in an odd way, it gave me very strange teen age years because I was in flat on my back in bed for year after year and in a ward full of young men who'd come back from the war. I don't regret that in an odd way. I didn't get a proper education, but I did get a strange sort of view on life. And I think people who -- it's commonly said that people who've been ill in childhood and who've had an upset education never really regret that they do, unless they were absolutely deprived. Of course, I wasn't deprived. But I think it's a spur to -- not that one should claim originality, but I think it means that you don't look at the world in the way that other people do, and perhaps if you were inclined to be a writer, that's a help.
LAMB: Why do you mention it in your books?
KEEGAN: Sorry?
LAMB: Why do you mention the limp in the books?
KEEGAN: Because I am a military historian and I've never been to war, and there must be some explanations then. I've never been in the army; I've never worn a uniform. I've never been in the navy or the air force, so I have to have a reason. I have a very good reason, which is that the medical officer, the army recruiting center took one look at me and signed me off. I mean, I'm completely unfit for military service.
LAMB: When did you know then that you wanted to write about war?
KEEGAN: I don't know. I think that it was this wartime thing of being here just before D Day and seeing these extraordinary things happening. I was why are people interested in history? Little boys, some little boys are interested in history; some aren't. I was. I'd always been interested in from five or six, I can remember liking sort of child's history books more than the other sort of child's book.
LAMB: Your parents talk history?
KEEGAN: My father is very interested, indeed, and had been a soldier in the First World War, and that was an influence. But besides that, I can't really explain. You have to choose a subject, eventually, if you go to a university, which I did, and I chose history. It was what I was interested in. And then you had to choose a special subject, a major, I suppose, and I chose military history because that's even the most interesting thing on offer. And then I got stuck in a groove.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
KEEGAN: At Oxford.
LAMB: What school? Which college?
KEEGAN: Balliol.
LAMB: Now is there something special about Balliol that does deal with history?
KEEGAN: It's got some very distinguished historians and it's also got a very strong pacifist tradition -- an anti war tradition, too. So that may have been a bit of an oddity.
LAMB: Are you a pacifist?
KEEGAN: Ninety five percent.
LAMB: What's the 5 percent?
KEEGAN: There are certain wicked people in the world that you can't deal with except by force.
LAMB: The most wicked in your lifetime?
KEEGAN: Hitler, without doubt. I think Hitler was seriously, seriously wicked -- not mad; twisted. A lot of the Bolsheviks were simply dreadful, too: Nazi, terminist, terrible. The great men of power who seek to change the nations they belong to usually are pretty terrible people.
LAMB: That 5 percent, then, allows what?
KEEGAN: It allows the use of extreme force in a measured way -- if possible, in a measured way in order to curtail or extinguish the activities of these wicked men we're talking about.
LAMB: You have a couple of figures in your book, " A History of Warfare." By the way, just a quick question. Why didn't you call it "The History of Warfare?"
KEEGAN: I don't think there is “the” history. I think there can only be history as each one of which ought to be called “a” history, because ultimately, it's a personal view.
LAMB: You pointed out early in the book that some 20 million people had died in the First World War and another 50 million in the Second World War. How?
KEEGAN: Well, because in the First World War, there were many killed by direct military action. There wasn't much collateral death, as it's come to be called -- a bombing or, I guess, civilian deaths as a byproduct of fighting. On the whole, it was people who were in uniform that got killed. Probably 10 million uniformed. It’s a bit difficult to get it quite right. The others were the victims of hardship, deprivation and starvation, disease. There was a huge, for example, influenza epidemic at the end of the First World War, which would have come anyhow, but had a greater effect because there was such malnutrition, particularly in central Europe.
LAMB: How about the Second World War?
KEEGAN: I'm afraid in the Second World War, there are an awful lot of collateral deaths, i.e. what? two million Germans killed by bombing, probably a million Japanese killed by civilians, we're talking about civilians killed by bombing. Civilians find themselves in the direct line of fire for the first time in the warfare of civilized nations, really. And then there was a lot of, again, a lot of death through deprivation, malnutrition and war related disease, but also, of course, a lot of atrocity. Of course, there was the deliberate genocide -- the Hitler genocide policy against the Jews, against various other nationalities, minorities who were on his black list. But there are also the atrocities of partisan warfare, particularly in Eastern Europe and in China. I think you'd probably get 10 million or 15 million battle deaths, and the rest would be collateral deaths, civilian deaths.
LAMB: What's the years range for your book?
KEEGAN: From the Stone Age to modern times.
LAMB: Which is how many years?
KEEGAN: Well, Homosapiens, you and me -- Homosapiens have been about for 40,000 years, and it's the last 40,000 years, really.
LAMB: Has there ever been a book written like this?
KEEGAN: One or two, but not many people have had a go of the whole thing. It is a bit arrogant.
LAMB: Arrogant?
KEEGAN: Oh, yes. I think so.
LAMB: Why do you say arrogant?
KEEGAN: Well, you're pretending that you know most of world history, which I clearly don't.
LAMB: You have chapters that say Flesh, Iron and Stone. How did you block out that book?
KEEGAN: I blocked it out over a very long period thinking about it, thinking about -- I suppose I eventually wanted to write to try and put this extraordinary phenomenon -- I mean, men killing other men and sometimes other women, too -- very, very infrequently women killing men, except in the home, of course, but not for public purposes, and very rarely, women killing women. Men killing other men really is an extraordinary phenomenon. Why does it happen? And how long has it gone on? And have the motives changed? And clearly, the methods have changed, but have the motives changed? I think I wanted to do it before I knew I wanted to do it, but eventually, I knew I wanted to do it. And that meant beginning right at the beginning and it also meant having some means of organizing it. I think you can't do it chronologically. If you start at the beginning and go on to the end, century by century, the book would be that thick.

You had to have some way of chopping it down. And so I, in the end, hit on the idea of what was the dominant technology, really? It's not a technology book, but in the end, I thought that was the only way of simplifying, or of organizing it. So, stone weapons. And then there's this long period when iron weapons have appeared, but the real instrument of war is the horse from about 1000 BC to 1000 AD, but longer, maybe. There were about 2,000 years when the horse peoples were the great warriors of the world and dominated every bit of the world where you could keep large horse herds. Luckily, you can't in Western Europe. But elsewhere, they dominated.
LAMB: Where do you find, if there is such a place, the bulk of the background material needed to write some a book like this?
KEEGAN: Well, for years, I taught at Sandhurst, which is Britain's West Point, which has the most wonderful library. I mean, truly, the most wonderful library. It's a library whose origins go back into the 18th century. It's housed in a very beautiful building. It has very liberal rules about borrowing and working and that sort of thing. It is, as far as I'm concerned, the perfect library. And most of what I know in life, I learned in the Sandhurst library.
LAMB: Where is Sandhurst?
KEEGAN: It's just outside London, about 20 miles west of Heathrow, to orientate American travelers to this country.
LAMB: How big is it?
KEEGAN: It was built just at the end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century, and on a very beautiful piece of park land. It looks like a gentleman's mansion, the old building. It looks as if it ought to have fallow deer grazing in the park. It almost does; not quite. It's about a quarter of the size of West Point. It has less than 1,000 cadets, whereas, of course, West Point now has over 4,000 cadets. West Point has a simply enormous training area in which it sits; Sandhurst has gradually lost that as London has crept out towards it. But it remains, curiously, a tranquil oasis in the spreading suburbia.
LAMB: How long did you teach there?
KEEGAN: Twenty five years, -- far too long. Nobody should teach anywhere for 25 years, but...
LAMB: What did you teach?
KEEGAN: Military history, exclusively. Again, nobody should teach military history for 25 years; I did.
LAMB: Why did you do it?
KEEGAN: I was interested. I loved the place and I liked the people. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen on Earth. Curiously, it has a strange, theatrical quality to it. My children were very happy there. We had eventually, we graduated, as people do, from very humble married quarters. We went up the scale; eventually, we lived in a very nice house. We had four children who grew up there, and I think they loved the surroundings. My wife didn't, but she gave in because the children liked it and I liked it, and so I stayed. But I kept on saying to myself, as time went on, “I must not stay here forever; otherwise, I shall become a vegetable,” and I think I nearly did.
LAMB: When did you leave?
KEEGAN: In 1986.
LAMB: Then what?
KEEGAN: Well, a friend of mine who is a fellow military historian, although he was also an extremely successful and well known journalist called Max Hastings -- telephoned me one day to say that he'd been offered the editorship of The Daily Telegraph and did I think he should take it? So I said, “Well, Max, you don't really think you need to ask me that question.” And anyhow, a conversation developed, in the course of which he said, “If you'd like to be the defense editor when I go to be editor, why don't you come?” So I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well, I'm going to see the new editor and I'll telephone him in two days.” And he did and he said, “If you want to come, do come.” Well, that was the end of it.
LAMB: You're sitting in a room that's a couple hours from London. Do you operate from here as The Daily Telegraph defense correspondent?
KEEGAN: I go to London about two or three days a week, but now, of course, we're all so electronic that you can sit in your house in the west country and type into the paper or fax into the paper. It's scarcely an impediment at all now.
LAMB: This book, "A History of Warfare," is targeted to what audience? Who do you envision buying this book?
KEEGAN: Well, I hope my fellow historians like it, and some do and some don't, but I've never really written for my fellow historians. What I've always wanted to do is write the sort of book which fellow historians would have to take seriously, but which was really a book for the educated general reader who would like to be informed, to have his view of the world enlarged about a particular subject. And I think this is the highest of all historical callings. I utterly -- I almost despise -- in fact, I think I do despise the direction that university history writing has taken, in which enormous effort and years of work are given to writing books which really only interest a few hundred others, address problems which only a few dozen others were aware of as problems at all and increasingly use language which perhaps only other academics can understand.

That seems, to me, to be a perversion of the historian's calling. The historian ought to write for -- the historian ought to be an educated person, writing for other educated people about something which they don't know about, but wish to know about in a way that they can understand.
LAMB: You put the emphasis a couple of times on “educated.” What do you mean, educated?
KEEGAN: I suppose I would mean what Jefferson meant. I've got a sort of an 18th century view of what being educated is, which is having read the major works of literature, having an understanding of the broad periods of history into which the world's past is divided, perhaps speaking another language or at least being aware of other languages, and having some competence. I don't think education -- having some special competence. That often ought to go with it, too. But I don't think education -- I don't look to find an educated person in the ranks of university graduates, necessarily. Some of the most educated people I know have never been near a university.
LAMB: You had a book a couple years ago, "The History of World War II."
LAMB: Was that a different audience you were writing for then than this one?
KEEGAN: Not for me. In fact, my publishers then rather marketed it as such. I won't complain because it sold in enormous numbers. But I did think it was aimed at -- perhaps a slightly -- I don't think a narrower market, but -- no. What I think is this. When I saw what the book looked like, it didn't seem to be the sort of manuscript I'd written. It looked a more popular book than I had intended it to be.
LAMB: Clausewitz. The name is almost on every page in the book.
LAMB: How come?
KEEGAN: Well, I think perhaps I may have overdone that a bit, but this awful German, who died in 1830, born 1780, he absolutely dominates the way military history's written, and what's worse, state military policy is formed. He relentlessly argues that war is the military. Well, the famous phrase is, “War is the extension of policy by other means,” that war is a form of political activity. I don't. Of course, sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn't. I don't think that what's going on in Bosnia at the moment is political activity. It's partly political, but it's partly atavistic as well. People are behaving in a way which doesn't bear political explanation, but it does bear anthropological explanation or cultural explanation.
LAMB: What does atavistic mean?
KEEGAN: Going back to one's earliest forefathers. I think the Mongols or the steppe Turks, who created the -- well, the steppe Turks, who created the empire to which the Muslims in Bosnia belonged, would understand what's going on because they were violent, cruel, clever, cunning people.
LAMB: Go back to Clausewitz. Who was he?
KEEGAN: He was a Prussian, son of a clergyman, born 1780, served in the Prussian army, captured by the French, changed sides when Poland invaded Prussia, went to fight for the Russians. Never made a great success of his military career. He was a difficult, cantankerous man. He was regarded with suspicion because he fought for the Russians even though that was in the course of Prussian independence. And he was sort of pensioned off, sent to the staff college to live out his days, where he sat down and wrote this great -- I mean, it has to be said -- great theoretical work called "On War," which has influenced every soldier and statesman interest in war for the last 100 years.
LAMB: Recent times?
KEEGAN: Oh, sure. It's taught. I mean, you go into any of the United States armed forces staff colleges and pick up the common curriculum and you will see the name Clausewitz half a dozen times. And there'll be courses, discussion of the applicability of Clausewitz to modern times; very little questioning of whether Clausewitz was right or wrong. Clausewitz is pretty well still gospel in service schools in the English and German speaking worlds.
LAMB: Is he worth it?
KEEGAN: Well, what I like to say is that he doesn't describe war, but he perverts politics.
LAMB: In the beginning of the book, you dedicate this book to Winter Bridgeman. Who was he?
KEEGAN: An ancestor; I don't think, perhaps, a direct ancestor, I think more a kinsman. My mother's family were called Bridgeman. They came from southwest Ireland, but they weren't the sort of Irish who were originally English, the so called descendancy. They came as conquerors and they were given land. The other half of me, the Keegan half, of course, were the lot who were there in the first place, and who, on the whole, got land taken away from them.
LAMB: Why did you pick him?
KEEGAN: International sort of -- I wouldn't call it a mercenary, but he's international, professional officer who sold his services. He died in the service of the French. There are an awful lot of people like him in the book. I think these international, professional military experts are enormously significant in the history of warfare, particularly in carrying skills -- technologies, too, but particularly skills from one society to another and transforming them militarily.
LAMB: You say in the introduction to the book that “War is wholly unlike diplomacy or politics because it must be fought by men whose values and skills are not those of politicians or diplomats.” Explain.
KEEGAN: Well, I think, first of all, people who undergo professional military training, like West Pointers and people who go to Sandhurst, do turn out different. It's more complete training, education. There isn't really a good English word. There's a very good French word. The French say “formation.” I think the people who go to West Point or Sandhurst literally are formed and transformed, and they become different from others. They have automatic reactions of duty and meeting standards which the rest of us don't. That's one thing. The other thing is, I think that inside this group, there is -- and you don't necessarily find them inside the professional military group; you can find them outside, too. But inside this professional military group, you do find people who just -- you cannot imagine in any other setting. They just seem to be warriors, and they seem to be recognized by the others as natural warriors. It's a bit like asking how to identify them is a bit like asking how to identify supremely handsome or beautiful human beings; you can't. But when you see them, you know them. I think if you could observe them in action, you would understand and be able to describe, but because of the secret nature of warfare, you can't. But they are like those sportsmen who can't be anything but sportsmen and who you can identify, because you can see them running faster than anybody else or -- or playing games better than anybody else.
LAMB: You, right below that, say, “War is wholly unlike diplomacy or politics because it must be fought by men whose values and skills are not those of politicians or diplomats.” Now what's the difference between the values of the politicians, diplomats and soldiers?
KEEGAN: Oh, it's a necessary quality of a diplomat or a politician that he will compromise. And, indeed, we, on the whole, don't want to led by uncompromising politicians or diplomats. They get you into the most terrible trouble. On the other hand, soldiers, among themselves, when committed to a task, can't compromise, because they may -- it's the opposite on the battlefield. It's which will get you into trouble. It's only unrelenting devotion to the standards of duty and courage, absolute loyalty to others, not letting the task go until it's been done, that will get you through. That's why they're different.
LAMB: I want to ask you about some wars that the Americans have been involved in and -- and get your analysis on them. What was the Vietnam War all about as it relates to history?
KEEGAN: I will never oppose the Vietnam War. I thought that the Americans were right to do it. I think they fought it in the wrong way, but I think that they were right to oppose the attempts by Ho Chi Minh and Giap to make the whole of Vietnam into a Marxist society. And looking to what's happened to the country since, I still believe that it was right to try and stop them. I think it was a responsible effort by the United States. They fought the war in the wrong way. They fought the war with -- in particular, what was wrong about it was that they only sent soldiers there for one year, so it couldn't be run as a proper war. It was run with one eye on public opinion the whole time.
LAMB: Let me go back to your thing about being a pacifist. Is that your 5 percent coming out?
KEEGAN: Yes. I wouldn't have felt it was the end of the world if the Vietnam War hadn't been fought. It's not that kind of war. I don't think it's a war like fighting Hitler, but I think it was a correct war, a right war, and it had indirect effects of the greatest importance as well. I think it demonstrated to the Russians of the Russian leadership of the last years of communism that the Americans were serious when they said that they opposed communism. And I think it, therefore, contributed to -- eventually, to the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communist regimes all over central and eastern Europe.
LAMB: Let me ask you about terms. Did the Americans lose the Vietnam War?
KEEGAN: Ultimately, yes, I think they did.
LAMB: Did General Giap win?
KEEGAN: Yes. Oh, he certainly won.
LAMB: How did they do it against what was rather an expensive military machine?
KEEGAN: They did it because they did not send young men to war for one year; they sent them south -- 50,000, I think it was -- every year, they sent fresh -- I may have got that figure wrong; it may have been 250,000 -- every year they could send out to their young men who they could send that number south, and they didn't come back until the war was over. They either got killed or they went on. It was an extraordinary effort of national determination. It was really national determination against only semi national determination.
LAMB: Why was General Giap successful with the French?
KEEGAN: Same thing. Well, he was up, curiously, in some ways against a more pur -- purposeful army, because the French did not go for one year; they went for long tours. But in the end, of course, they were outnumbered. The French could only -- they couldn't send conscripts to Vietnam; they could only send regular soldiers and mercenaries from Africa -- mainly Africa.
LAMB: You talk a lot about Mao Tse tung in the book, but don't mention -- well, you do mention -- don't mention a lot about Ho Chi Minh. Well, how does he fit in world history?
KEEGAN: I didn't mention Ho Chi Minh and Giap because they are so much the pupils of Mao Tse tung and I felt if I -- one, had said what Mao Tse tung's particular methods were, you didn't need two more examples. Mao Tse tung had this extraordinary idea of sort of militarizing -- politicizing and militarizing very ordinary, humble people who stood on the margins of Chinese society. And of attacking the centers of Chinese power from far away by indirect means. Whether the thing would have worked, if the Japanese hadn't knocked the stuffing out of Chiang Kai shek and the Chinese national army before Mao Tse tung got going in 1946, I don't know. I suspect that Mao owes a great deal of his success to the Japanese. But even if that is true, he, nevertheless -- his message was sufficiently correct and certainly sufficiently powerful to do enormous damage elsewhere outside China; in Vietnam, for example. And then they turned North Africa into a black Africa.
LAMB: Going back to Clausewitz, if you would have found Hitler in his den reading about war, would he have read Clausewitz?
KEEGAN: In his last will and testament, written in the bunker in Berlin with Russian shells thudding overhead, he mentioned only one name, and it was the name of Clausewitz.
LAMB: Now if you could see, you know, when he was alive, Mao Tse tung sitting somewhere reading about war, who would he be reading?
KEEGAN: I don't think he would. I think he'd be reading the great Chinese classics Hsun tzu and Koo, who say different things. I mean, Mao Tse tung was not Clausewitzian. He said what the great Chinese classics have always said: That it's better not to fight; that the clever man achieves his ends without violence; that a battle delayed is better than a battle fought, etc., etc. I mean, the Chinese have a different conception of war, in which time rather than action is the defining dimension.
LAMB: Who is Hsun tzu?
KEEGAN: Oh, he may not have existed. He was a very ancient Chinese writer of 2,000 years BC, but he's the first to have codified this Chinese attitude towards war, which is immensely formidable if it's opposed by Western methods, which are always looking for decisions, results, thinks time is precious.
LAMB: Now if we could find you in your den in your happiest of moods, reading, what would you be reading?
KEEGAN: Oh, not military history. I only do that for work. I would be reading my favorite English authors and American authors and some...
LAMB: Who are they?
KEEGAN: Depends where I am. When I was at Princeton as a fellow in 1984, by myself -- my wife and children were home in England -- I became afflicted by cultural homesickness and I read the whole of Jane Austen in about two or three weeks, again, but I wouldn't say I read Jane Austen in England, curiously, because I live in such a Jane Austen surroundings. I don't need to Trollope, particularly, the church novels rather than the political novels. Kipling, to whom I'm absolutely devoted. I think he's one of the most supreme geniuses of English literature. For pure relaxation, a sort of treat I look forward to which will make me feel better at night, John Buchan. Americans: Hemingway, Melville -- I'm very keen on Melville as a poet; Whitman -- I'm very keen on Whitman as a poet; the novelists of the '30s, like Steinbeck. A short piece writer whom I adore called Joseph Mitchell, whose works have just been collected and reissued. It's called "Up at the Old Hotel." I think extraordinary pictures of American genre life.
LAMB: What if you're reading military history?
KEEGAN: There's an American called John Gilmartin, who's only ever written one book, who I enormously admire. I wish he'd write a second book. His first book is one of the greatest influences on me that there's ever been. It's called "Gunpowder and Galleys," and it's about Mediterranean naval warfare in the 16th century; absolutely astonishing book.
LAMB: What about Clausewitz, Hsun tzu, Karl Marx?
KEEGAN: Just read them because I have to. That's work. No. I very much admire Barbara Tuchman -- as you know, "The Guns of August." I think she's a wonderful writer at the sort of level I admire, sort of an expert who writes for other educated people that are not quite expert level. I think that's tremendously important.
LAMB: Go back to the pacifist thing. We took a tour of the Imperial War Museum in London and our guide was a pacifist. You write about military history and you're a pacifist.
KEEGAN: Not quite. Not quite. Nearly.
LAMB: Five percent. You're the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph. What's the politics? What's the slant of The Daily Telegraph?
KEEGAN: Oh, it's the conservative newspaper. I mean, it is, although not officially the party newspaper of the conservative party. It is regarded as being the Arc of the Covenant of conservative opinion in this country.
LAMB: Does that make you a conservative?
KEEGAN: I did vote conservative in the last two or three elections. I haven't always voted conservative. The alternatives are not much of an attraction at the moment in this country, but I'm not a member of the conservative party.
LAMB: Correct the image, then. The image of a conservative is pro military.
LAMB: Does that make them -- I mean, would...
KEEGAN: I'm highly...
LAMB: With American conservatives hearing you say, “How could he be a pacifist, almost, and be a conservative at the same time?”
KEEGAN: No difficulty at all. Even a pacifist, I think, should admire the military virtues. And, indeed, the best pacifists have those virtues themselves: self abdication and willingness, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives for what they believe. I mean, that is the ultimate military virtue that I will lay down my life if called upon to do so. It's a duty. It's not obligation. That's ultimately what makes -- when I say soldiers are different -- that's what ultimately makes soldiers different. I won't choose whether I will or not lay down my life; I have already promised that I will. It is foresworn; it is given away. I would say a soldier has mortgaged his life. He said, “Here is my life, and I can only have it back again when the end of my service comes and I salute for the last time and take my pension.” I think a pacifist is the same, except, perhaps, his willingness to sacrifice his life never goes.
LAMB: This is your 20th book, you say. Where do you put it on the list of your personal favorites?
KEEGAN: I enjoyed writing it enormously more than anything I've ever written. When I wrote "The Face of Battle," I felt -- for the only time in my life, I knew what Kipling meant when he said that a sort of demon, a sort of spirit descends and the book -- your hand moves in an unconscious way. I didn't feel that for this. It was an effort, but I still enjoyed writing it, very much, indeed.
LAMB: How do you write?
KEEGAN: Now, increasingly by pen. I've got every sort of writing instrument known to man, from a word processor to a fountain pen and a marvelously unreliable 40 year old portable typewriter, which I do like writing on. But increasingly, I write just with a fountain pen and ink on lined paper.
LAMB: Compared to what earlier?
KEEGAN: I used to type on my portable. I did have an electric typewriter once, which was a monstrosity.
LAMB: Why did you change?
KEEGAN: Sorry to bring it back again; I just get backache now if I type for long periods, so it's easier to write with a pen.
LAMB: Where do you write?
KEEGAN: In the room at the head of the stairs on the second floor of my house in the country, looking out over a very beautiful garden my wife's created towards the edge of the chalk plains of Salisbury Plain at an iron age fort, which was dug by the Celtic people of Britain in, perhaps, the century before Caesar conquered the island -- oh, he didn't conquer -- before Augustus conquered the islands in 43 AD.
LAMB: Does it make a difference to you where you are?
KEEGAN: Yes. I'm very conscious of that. In front of the house, just a few hundred yards away, runs a primitive trackway called the hardway, which Alfred the Great brought his army up from Somerset to fight the Danes at Edington in the ninth century. That means a great deal to me.
LAMB: When do you write?
KEEGAN: All day -- 10:00 in the morning till 7:30 at night, with a short break for lunch. My wife is a writer, too, so she doesn't object too much. She objects a bit.
LAMB: What does she write?
KEEGAN: She writes civilized books, biographies of -- she's wrote a biography of the wife of Gustaf Marlowe, who was a very extraordinary woman in her own right.
LAMB: What's her name, by the way?
KEEGAN: Alma Marlowe. My wife is Suzanne Keegan, and...
LAMB: Published in the States?
KEEGAN: Yes. Alma Marlowe -- her "Life of Alma Marlowe" was a great success, and she's now writing the life of the painter, Oskar Kokoschka, who was one of Alma Marlowe's many lovers.
LAMB: Where did you two meet?
KEEGAN: In the house of a friend when she was 22 and I was 24.
LAMB: What was the attraction?
KEEGAN: She's very, very beautiful.
LAMB: What about the writing skills?
KEEGAN: That's a complete surprise to me, and to her, I think. She just started to do it one day and hasn't stopped.
LAMB: Do you ever write together any ...
KEEGAN: She has her room. We have a long, long, thin house and she has a room at one end and I have a room at the other end.
LAMB: Children?
KEEGAN: Four children, who, I regret to say, are, more or less, in our sort of trade. My elder daughter was a journalist for the Conde Naste organization; married an American. My elder son is a publisher for Simon & Schuster. And my younger son, who is a twin, is a journalist and his twin sister is an actress. So I'm afraid that we're all in the words business.
LAMB: And what is your future publishing plans? In other words, are you with Knopf on a contract basis?
KEEGAN: I hope so. I don't, in fact, have a contract. This was not a two book contract, but I think there's no doubt I will publish for them the next time round. I think they're -- I think they'd have something to say to me if I didn't. I intend to write -- the author who we all know as John LeCarre is a friend of mine, and he said, after reading that, “There's nothing in it about intelligence” -- military intelligence, that is, and that's planted a seed.
LAMB: I've seen this book -- I'm not sure you want to hear this; there are stacks of these books in stores in the United States, assuming that a lot of them had sold before I got there. This seems to have been marketed a lot, at least around the Washington area. How is it selling?
KEEGAN: Oh, very well, I think -- I hope.
LAMB: What does that mean to you? How many does it have to sell for you to say, “That was a good one”?
KEEGAN: Well, the "Second World War" sold in the United States in hardback about -- between 80,000 and 90,000, and that, for a history book, is very, very good, indeed. If that does as well, I shall be very pleased.
LAMB: Could you make a living just writing books?
KEEGAN: Oh, I do.
LAMB: You mentioned you work with The Daily Telegraph. Is that ...
KEEGAN: I only do that because I would go mad if I sat at home in the country and wrote books, or my wife would kill me. I mean, I work for The Daily Telegraph because I find it extremely interesting to do so, but I am a professional bookwriter.
LAMB: You tell us in the conclusion of your book that the future, when it comes to warfare, is brighter. Can you explain that? And I may be misquoting you, but I ...
KEEGAN: Oh, I did. I wrote that two years ago. I don't like to see what's happening around me, really. I think the world's got -- I think the world's taken a very nasty turn in two years. I don't like what's happening. I think there may be a way out of the North Korean situation, but I don't like it. I think that they have to be prevented from becoming a nuclear power. That's the most pressing of all problems, at the moment. The situation on the fringe of, you know, Christian and Muslim lands running from Bosnia into the Caucusus is extremely unpleasant. I don't think we've seen even the middle of it yet; certainly not the end. I think that black Africa is -- extremely terrifying for black Africa. I don't think it will affect the rest of the world, unfortunately. I mean, I think that's part of the tragedy, that black Africa can become a maelstrom of warring tribes without the outside world needing to feel the need to do anything about it, except, of course, for the arms salesmen to sell arms into the situation. Those are the three great areas of unpleasantness that I identify on the -- which I think have all got worse since I finished, rather optimistically, two years ago.
LAMB: What caused you to finish optimistically in the first place?
KEEGAN: Well, I finished writing that book in 1992 -- Is that right? -- three, two. And we were still very much celebrating the end of the Cold War. The civil war in Bosnia had not broken out. There was nothing like the trouble that there was in South Africa. We'd had a very successful conclusion to the Gulf War, which looked as if the UN was -- although the Gulf War was not strictly a UN war, it was fought, nevertheless, with UN approval. Everything looked extremely positive for the future of peacekeeping by the responsible powers, and it looked, too, as if Russia was moving from its former unhappy state into one of equal stability with the other large parts of the world. So I think it was possible to be optimistic. I'm still ….but fundamentally, I'm optimistic. But there've been pessimistic erosions of my optimism.
LAMB: Let me ask you this, though. I mean, you wrote a book here, "A History of Warfare." You've written 20 books on history. You go back 4,000 years.
LAMB: What is it about today that ever made you think there was a shot at this thing of worldwide, long term peace?
KEEGAN: Because everybody forgets about nuclear weapons. I mean, the Cold War's over and Berlin Wall only came down in 1989. Everybody knew about nuclear weapons in 1989; 1994, they all seemed to have forgotten about them. I mean, they're still there; they still threaten anybody who tries to fight a really big, serious war with nuclear retaliation. That's the fundamental basis for either genuine optimism or else hopeless pessimism. Well, I'm not prepared to be hopelessly pessimistic; I don't think man's that stupid. I don't think we're even -- I can't see any -- I can't visualize the situation in which we nuke ourselves into extinction. I think we'd find some way of not doing that, and that being the case, nuclear weapons must be seen as being a means of stopping big wars, and that is a great relief to mankind.
LAMB: Sitting back -- or in the 1900s, would you have ever envisioned 70 million people killed in two world wars?
KEEGAN: Not in 1900. I think in between the wars, in the '20s and '30s, you hung onto hope for the world with very, very sort of fragile fingernails. Man got into the habit of killing people in large numbers by pretty brutal, direct methods in the 20th century -- civilized man did. And nuclear weapons said, “Right. You go on like this; look what's going to happen.”
LAMB: But near the end, if you had to pick a couple people in history that you'd like to sit down and talk to, military people, leaders of military offenses and all, who would you pick?
KEEGAN: Wellington, the first duke, the great duke, because he, although an amazingly successful soldier, never really defeated. He had an extremely disdainful attitude to war, really. I think he thought it was a necessary evil. He happened to be very good at it, but I don't think -- he didn't glory in war. He thought war was pretty horrible, but sometimes, you had to do it. And also he was a superb -- I think, a fascinating example of a particular human type. He was sort of the ultimate ideal of the Western gentleman. The other would be Eisenhower, who I just simply adore because I admire him enormously as a human being, and if Wellington epitomizes the sort of English gentleman, Eisenhower epitomizes the natural American gentleman, the farm boy who -- with a sort of religious upbringing by a deeply religious mother who, nevertheless, is sort of quite a character. A small town boy goes to West Point, acquires an education and then, through responsibility, becomes an extraordinary sort of agent of power throughout the world, and yet never loses touch with his roots in Kansas. It's a remarkable achievement. He's a very wise and good man, I think. A deeply good man. And good men who exercise power are really the most fascinating of all people.
LAMB: John Keegan, we're out of time. Thank you -- author of "A History of Warfare."
KEEGAN: Thank you very much, indeed.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.