Keegan is committed to presenting the history of the roots of wars to today’s culture, as well as the creation and evolution of weapons of war. The book also explains the essence of the first warriors and today’s warriors. Up to the most recent warship incidents of the Second World War, the story continues by describing the Megiddo battle in 1469 BC. Keegan refreshingly brands the warriors as civilization’s heroes and protectors. Keegan also explains comprehensively how this aggression has been formulated and embodied and evolved differently over the years. The novel is more than a historical narrative, as the author does not take a linear approach to detailing the events, but rather draws conclusions thematically draws conclusions more clearly and vividly. Therefore, this review will summarize the five chapters of the book in a comprehensive and exclusive discussion.
War in Human History
In this chapter, Keegan provides an account of the origin of conflicts and how they are sparked by the rulers of the ancient and present days. Keegan as well deals with varied and exciting war topics ranging from Alexander the Great to Hitler, therefore, adding less to what other equal war historians have accounted for these people. He dedicates more than sixty pages to discuss more on the history of warfare going deeper into it than any other author. His narrations instead wander off, and he only attacks Clausewitz. Keegan introduces the chapter by alluding that war cannot be considered a continuation of policy by other means. Most of his narrations in this chapter are more attacking Clausewitzs ideologies. Clausewitz is symbolized and taken to stand for everything bad (58-66).
However, Keegan does not to mention that the war-making activities were limited by the laws of nature as he calls them. These laws of nature include the climate, the topography, weather and other factors relating to economics such as the cost of going to war (71). Moreover, wars had to be fought on land, air and water meaning platforms had to be initiated to facilitate victories. Taking, for instance, naval operations required the construction or building of rafts and canoes to enable the movement. However, the sea activities became risky and fatal as many soldiers died at sea due to ambushes.
Keegan begins the chapter by asking or posting why people fight and yet we all have the same roots. In the chapter, he attempts to summarize the debates presented by anthropologists and psychologists in the recent past and the contemporary society. In this section, Keegan tries much to give a comprehensive detail and account of the origin of wars by including as many communities as possible. The chapter though provides insights and explanations into how Alexander the Great managed to overcome cultural limitations to win many battles booking himself a place in war making history. The author provokes thought in the words and works of this interlude especially the pieces on the horse people.
The contribution of charioteers and horse people on war making is also highlighted in the chapter for they invented the concept of electric campaigning over long distances. The concept ensured that the men on horses and chariots effectively traversed longer distances fast compared to people on foot. These individuals equipped themselves with composite bows, a product of animals and could comfortably kill from afar. Therefore, the horse people became more dangerous at the time than those on foot. The speed of killing adopted by the horse peoples became identified as a significant innovation in primitive warfare (212-14).
The chapter concludes by tackling the hypertrophy and inhibition of technological, educational and intellectual development in China and Japan to prevent transition and transformation from one regime to another. The Manchus in the words of Keegan felt insecure and endangered with the risk of adopting and embracing Western values. They hence, engaged the European invaders with composite bows while the Europeans had been efficiently equipped with rifles. With guns, the Europeans capable and ferocious attacked and conquered the Manchus in China (216-17).
Keegan introduces the concepts of professor Andreski about the origin of armies who as well refer to the theory of population advanced by Malthus. Malthus recommended efforts of population control be developed as people increased double the rate of growth in food and living space. Therefore, death serves as the remedy to the intolerably increasing populations. Violence and diseases were identified as the catalysts to reducing control the rate of birth so that life can become more bearable. The concept as Keegan clearly illustrates, elucidated rulers to become extortionists, attacking neighbors and the poor to limit the increase in their populaces.
According to Andreski, the prowess of the military and armies depends on two major factors namely subordination, and cohesion. Subordination can hence become defined as the ability of rulers and administrators to exercise and exert authority and power over its subjects. On the other hand, cohesion refers to the degree to which those in military possess skills that enable them to stay in unity. Keegan persists with giving examples of successful and failed attempts to form armies across the globe from as early as the sixteenth century (225-231).
The chapter concludes that soldiers became a necessity as people paid taxes and wanted value for all the dues they paid to the government. Throughout the first chapters, Keegan had contested Clausewitzs ideas of warfare being an extension of politics. But in this chapter, gives a case of the French government asking its people to join it in arms. Therefore, this example depicts the contradiction in Keegans arguments because it clearly emerges that politics provides an extension to war. For the first time, we see him agree with these concepts (232).
The chapter introduces the concept of logistics and supply of military supplies and several stones and metals such as bronze. Stone and iron were used to coat and furnish combat instruments. The horsemen are depicted to have escaped the difficulties of logistics more efficiently compared to armies on foot. Keegan presents to the reader comprehensively and in a clearer manner how limiting it became to depend on the power of legs and shoulders to supply the armies with food and combats. For the troops that lacked the innovation and ability to manage their logistics, lost most battles due to lack of endurance (237-39). The chapter depicts the importance of iron in facilitating the efficiency and protectionist aspects of the primitive societies and kingdoms.
Keegan also provides archaeological evidence of the swords and military artillery made out of bronze and iron in the Hallstatt culture graves. The evidence strongly implies to the importance the ancient rulers attached to these metals. They as well used the metals to produce protective gear for the military men during times of war. The iron also performed an important role in providing raw materials for modeling and designing as well as building the chariots that were trolled by horses to carry military people as well as rulers between the 850 and 750 BC (242).
This is the last chapter in Keegans book which comprehensively tackles the use of fire as a war weapon by the Greeks. It claims that nobody except the Greeks themselves knew the composition of the fire for it got discharged in liquid form upon wooden structures during sieges. The fire is believed to have been invented in the seventeenth century and gained wide usage across the Near East region so fast. The various means and strategies adopted by great kingdoms of the time such as French and Italian like gunpowder are exhaustively tackled and revealed by Keegan in this section (320-28). Rulers and weaponry scholars conducted several experiments with the inventions
Additionally, Keegan identifies how hostility between nations culminated into what is commonly referred to as ethnic cleansing such as what happened under the Nazi Regime. Communities and states struggled to gain local supremacy status among their peers and neighbors. Keegan points out conclusively that the scramble for valuable minerals and metals of the time such as iron and bronze pushed kingdoms and rulers to go to war with their neighbors to gain control of these resources. It is as well concluded that the wars along with diseases caused death to many military men thus reducing populations. An illustration of the Boer Wars (1899-1902) resulted in the death of many British soldiers (360).
The intensity of brutality increased with the likes of Hitler persecuting and brutally executing innocent Jews. However, the text concludes that the invention of the atomic bombs after the conclusion of Second World War did not make an end to wars. Instead, it motivated nations to initiate actions instigated towards peace efforts. In 1945, countries came together to deliberate on the formation of a league that could help define the relationships among nations. Moreover, the conclusion of the Second World War saw colonies reclaim their independence in what came to be known as the struggle for freedom.
The history of warfare dates back to long decades and centuries in the past and has continued to evolve with time. Some philosophers, the likes of Clausewitz, hypothesized that war was an extension of politics. After reading the text, this is what comes out apparently because nations engage in war to demonstrate their might as well as exercise control over their subjects. Political inspirations and instigations motivate every war. Keegan presents these weighty themes in a simple and evidence-based structure to open the minds of the readers into what the context of the wars. Additionally, Keegan comprehensively takes the readers through his work in an easy to understand manner (392). He criticizes and analyses the works of other historians critically plainly leaving the audience to make informed conclusions. The author concludes that we cannot object that war and politics are inseparable.
Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Print.