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on December 30, 2002
1 - War and Our World
2 - The Origins of War
3 - War and the State
4 - War and the Individual
5 - Can There Be an End to War?

This book is a transcript from a series of five lectures given by esteemed military historian, John Keegan. It is a short, but highly informative book; I read it in less than an hour.

The first four chapters are brilliant historical analysis. His insight into the toll and origins of war are invaluable. He explains well how war relates to the modern nation-state and individual, observing the increasing incidence of war-making by non-state actors.

However, when he diverges from history to try to answer the question of can we end war, he is less than prescient. I have a couple problems with the final chapter.

First, he seems eager to subjugate national sovereignty to the UN by asserting that war is now illegal, except in cases of self-defense or UN approval. That may be the case in Europe, but here in America, our constitution is still the supreme law of the land. It grants the office of commander-in-chief to the president and power to raise armies and declare war to the congress. Until the constitution is amended to read differently, the US reserves the sole right to determine the legality of our wars.

Second, his British sense of honour [sic] can be carried too far. He suggests subversion, sabotage, and assassination are less than honorable in warfare. Our special operations forces must use such tactics against assymetrical threats such as Al Qaeda terrorists.

Ultimately, I agree with the thesis of the chapter though: we must always retain the will and means to confront war and violence on equal, if not overwhelming, terms.
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on August 26, 2002
I'm not sure what some of the other reviewers had in mind when they decided to read this book. It is a slim volume--the text itself being only 74 pages and of a typeface that is fairly large--consisting of five lectures that Keegan was asked to present in 1998. These lectures simply overview the origin and role of war and how it has evolved over the millennia. Naturally, the author has a bias and focuses on wars that he is no doubt more familiar with. Sure there is nothing really groundbreaking in this book, but it is nevertheless a concise and lucid discussion of the subject, and I enjoyed reading it very much.
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on October 20, 2015
On reading the bio of Mr. Keegan, I was expecting so much more. Mr. Keegan appears to have had a very successful career and is highly regarded by many. And yet his lectures on war consist mainly of nostalgic hopeful thoughts and some profound misunderstanding of the mechanics of the interactions of nations.

Keegan says: "the state known to modern Western Europeans and North Americans is a benevolent, not a belligerent institution [...] it is a giving, not a taking entity". This is not the clear eyed observation of an historian, this is a bit of state propaganda designed to keep the masses in line. All states are taking machines. States deal primarily in confiscation and violence.

Keegan also claims that the Cuban missile crisis was resolved through negotiation. That was some negotiation!

Another quote: "war is now illegal, except in self-defense or unless sanctioned by the United Nations"
This statement alone is so laughably naive as to define comprehension. Someone should have sent a note to Putin when he acquired Crimea, let him know that Mr. Keegan expected him to go through channels and make his action legal.

I wonder how a person could be considered a great military historian while being so completely naive about global politics. it is telling that Keegan seems to be personally offended by the works of Carl von Clausewitz. In the almost two decades since these lectures where given, world events have proved Keegan wrong about pretty much every detail of significance.
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on September 16, 2013
This is a very thoughtful and rational analysis of a very diabolical subject. Keegan acknowledges that war has evolved into something so terrible that it is to be avoided at all costs, but at the same time argues that war and preparedness for war remain unfortunate necessities in the fallen world in which we live. He also urges us to respect and honor the soldier and the code that enables him to do his duty, and not to let our modern distaste for war undermine our appreciation for the service that the soldier performs. This book is much warmer and more humane in tone than Keegan's usual cold-blooded military dissertations, and it is one of his most readable works. A good introduction to a subject that defies any definitive rational explanation.
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on July 31, 2001
John Keegan is a brilliant military historian, a wonderful writer and has proved so in this very focused and thought provoking book. The book is quite short to begin with, yet it answers some of the most thought-provoking and questions on war that it would take a special author to provide the answers. John Keegan is that author and each chapter delivers focused and consice answers to questions like what are the origins of war? and how does war affect the soldier?
John Keegan also predicts what type of war, if any, that we may see in the future. All of his opinions are valid ones and backed by an endless bibliography. Keegan sites many battles, tactics and scientific studies to prove his points. Keegan displays a vast wealth of knowledge on war without actually delving into the battlefield itself.
The essays never go off to describe the horrors of battle-and rightfully so. That is not the point of the book. The point of the book is to allow to understand war's bigger picture through modern and ancient combat.
I read the book on one lazy afternoon, yet my knowledge of war spanned greatly. I highly recommend this book. You will be very satisfied by reading this book and the information within is very easy to remember. It is important knowledge that Keegan presented and knowledge that I will always retain.
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on October 25, 2015
Read after Keegan's passing..it reminded me what a fantastic writer he was. Great addition to your Keegan collection.
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on October 10, 2014
sorry for the late review, product well described, fast delivery. Excellent experience.
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on July 31, 2001
Early in the book, Keegan proclaims confidently that "the worst of war is now behind us." We had `the end of history', now we have the end of war, in this decade of wars in Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Angola, Rwanda, the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia .... Mind you, he also writes that the threat of disease has ended, when worldwide every day 33,000 children die from curable diseases, and that the threat of famine has ended, when 200 million children are undernourished. Should we call for an end to endism?
He says blithely that no more states will acquire nuclear weapons, but no sooner had he finished these lectures than the Indian and Pakistani Governments tested theirs. When writing about the arms trade, he does not mention the big three, USA, Britain and France (and who else could have sold India and Pakistan the components for their nuclear weapons?).
He writes that lethal weapons could soon be banned. But in the war against Iraq, US and British forces fired tens of thousands of depleted uranium shells, illegal under UN Resolution 32/84, which bans the use of `radioactive material weapons' and US forces also used chemical weapons. They are not about to destroy these weapons.
Keegan supports British forces' participation in yet more UN and NATO wars to end war. But a greater military historian, Correlli Barnett, argued in `The Lost Victory' that successive British Governments, from Attlee to Blair, damaged Britain's interests by acting this global military role.
Keegan's complacent judgements flow from his peculiar notion that "states, particularly those of Western Europe and North America, have been transforming themselves from belligerent to benevolent entities." In fact, since 1945 NATO powers have intervened in 243 conflicts, yet he writes that "poor states mainly cause war."
Keegan is a distinguished military historian, with great narrative skills, as shown especially in the excellent `Six Armies in Normandy'. But these lectures show that he is not a profound thinker about war.
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on May 3, 2009
Admittedly this book was first published in 1998 and is really just a transcript of the Reith Lectures that he read and were broadcast by the BBC, but this is really not a book that belongs on the same shelf of his many other extraordinary works on humans and warfare.
It has the usual brilliant insights into war and how mankind has resorted to war since he climbed out of the trees, but this book seems to ignore the fact that disease, famine, and the other horsemen of the apocalypse are very much still with us in spite of his claims.
The last chapter actually gets a bit silly in claiming the United Nations to be the ultimate organization to about world peace, when in fact it has become a worthless and dangerous waste of money and a forum for despots and the enemies of freedom.
Written before 9/11 it pretty much ignores the advance of Islamic extremists who were murdering and maiming all over the globe. I would hope that he would have a different view after a decade of reflection, but in any event this is the one Keegan book you don't have to waste your money on if you enjoy his writing as much as i do.
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on January 25, 2002
Although I'm sure Keegan has studied war thoroughly, I must agree with two previous reviewers about 1) his questionable belief that famine and disease are insignificant problems (maybe for us residents of the developed world) and 2) the blatantly Eurocentric view of war (albeit the few references to China, Japan, and Genghis Khan). AIDS and malaria, poverty and hunger continue to kill millions of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Also, while Keegan states that "it is poor states that mainly cause war" he makes no mention of the involvement (historical, political, or economic) of wealthier nations in those wars.
But more importantly, though this may be an entertaining read, WAR AND OUR WORLD actually tells little about the nature of war, its origins, its transformations, and its possible future. 74 pages is just too short to even introduce a topic as wide in scope as war, and Keegan doesn't come close to providing a sturdy framework for a brief discussion of it.
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