Type: Response Essays
Sample donated: Sheila Summers
Last updated: June 14, 2019
John Keegan was born in1934. He was stricken with Tuberculosis at an early age. His disabilityrendered him unable to enlist in the military, but he had a natural curiosityfor military engagements. Though Keegan was unable to fight himself, he wasimmersed from a young age in the military life. His father, uncles, andextended relatives all fought in World War I and survived to tell their personalaccounts of the war. Keegan grew up listening to first-hand accounts from thebattlefields of World War I. Keegan attended Wimbledon College and transferredto Oxford in 1953. He majored in Military History and the Theory of War.
Priorto his passing, Keegan had a vast resume in the field of Military History. Hewas a leading lecturer at Royal Military Academy and Sandhurst. He was ahistory professor at both Vassar College and Princeton University. He alsoworked as a Defense Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph (Snowman, 2000).During his lifetime, Keegan wrote more than a dozen books on Military Historyand the Art of Warfare. He is considered an expert among his peers. John Keegan’s book “The First World War” has treeunderlying themes that relate to the First World War and its impact on theEuropean world as well of many of its neighboring countries. Kegan uses hisresearch, eye witness accounts, and vast knowledge of military history to builda case for each theme in the book.
Keegan purposes that the First World Warcould have been avoided and thus was tragic in nature. He shines a light on thecivil disturbance and heightened racial tensions that was left in the wake ofthe war. He also provides insight as to how the First World War was the leadingcause of the Second World War (3). Keegan believes that the First World War could have beeneasily avoided if a sense of altruism had prevailed at any point during theearly stages of war.
Since good will failed to prevail, the war, and the lossof lives as a result of said war, is tragic in nature. Keegan points out thatthe first conflict claimed millions of lives, and left countless other peoplein emotional turmoil. It also had a devastating impact on Europe’s typicallyhopeful and peaceful culture. Prior to 1914, European disagreements had beensettled with a fair amount of logical diplomacy.
Keegan identified closedmilitary plans that surmised any crisis that was lacking in a logicaldiplomatic solution would led to general war as a key factor in Europeinability to avoid war. In the past, European counties had dealt with issues ofnational and economical interest with great diplomacy. However, Keegan pointedout that this was not the case in the crisis in Austria-Hungary in June 1914.Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinandwas assassinated at Sarajevo. This assassination extended beyond a mere crisisof national attention to a crises of national dignity and respect.
Austria-Hungary was one of the weaker powers in the early 20thcentury European world. Keegan eluded that because of this, the seemingly senselessmurder of their Archduke appeared insolent to other countries. Even at thispoint, the war could have been avoided if this tragedy had been met withlogical diplomacy.
However, the response of European nations was to ready forbattle. Keegan discusses the Schlieffen plan as an example of the internationalmindset and tension that took over after the assassination. Russia began tomove troops to the German border. In response, Germany invoked the Schlieffenplan which called for an attack on France and Russia. This resulted in Britaindeclaring war on Germany in August of 1914 (43). Now that war had beendeclared, the world soon turned to tragedy as countless lives would be loss,and European land would soon lay in waste. Anotherunderlying theme throughout Keegan’s book is the civil disturbance and heightenedracial tensions that was left in the wake of the war. Keegan shows a vastdifference in pre-war and post-war Europe.
Pre-war Europe enjoyed favorablenational and international relations with other countries. They had an overallrespect for constitutionalism. Pre-war Europe had a strong representativegovernment and a mutual respect for the law.
Keegan proves that all thosequalities disappeared after the war. Post-war Europe held little confidence inthe eyes of the world. Countries including Russia, Italy, Germany, and Spainbegan to abandon the ideals of constitutionalism and liberalism (8). FollowingWorld War I, a new government system was formed which rejected theconstitutionalism that had been the driving force behind European politicssince the fall of monarchy in 1789. This system was called Totalitarianism. Totalitarianismgave way to dictators and war lords which pushed Europe further intosegregation.
Keegan credits the roots of the permanent division of the Europeanpeople to the formation of a new frontier in 1915. The new frontier wasfortified earthworks which separated warring states. These separations wentmuch deeper than the earth.
The European people also developed fortified emotionalseparations between themselves and their once neighbors. The loss of lives andmental anguish that was experienced by the European people would not go away atthe end of the war. These lasting bitter memories served to drive a permanentwedge between the European countries.
Keegan suggest that World War II was a direct effect ofWorld War I. At the end of the First World War, the German people werediscontent with the way they were viewed by other nations. Germany, as well asother European countries, was left in economic decay after the war. The systemof government was also unstable at this time.
The post-war instability ingovernment gave rise to Fascism in Europe. The Nazi party rose out of theFascist regimes throughout Europe. Following World War I, the Germans wereforced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty had stiff consequences forGermany. They had to pay reparations for those wronged by the war, and theywere stripped of land and territory.
Germany’s colonies were divided up amongthe allies, and some of its territory was given to neighboring countries.Germany also had strong restrictions placed on its military and productions(424). This did not set well with the Germans, especially the Nazi party. Thepost-war treatment of Germany brewed a resentment which led Adolf Hitler,backed by the Nazi party, to begin a military campaign to reverse the Treaty ofVersailles. Keegan gives great insight to trench and naval warfarethat would be valuable in the classroom. The battle fields looked different.
Prior to World War I, infantry stood up to fire at the enemy fronts; however,during World War I the infantry laid down to fire at the enemy front during an engagement.Keegan shows the introductory use of earthworks to fortify cities during WorldWar 1. These earthworks consisted of long trenches deep enough and wide enoughto fit a front line infantry. The trenches were surrounded by barbed wire,sharp sticks, and shrapnel to prevent the enemy from entering the trench (176).
Keegan also explains how naval warfare became an important part of battleduring the war. Ironclad steam ships had replaced sails and provided for fiercefighting on the high seas. Keegan describes in detail how the battle of Jutlandis the largest and last purely surface encounter in naval history (270).Keegan’s insight of the battle between the German High seas Fleet and the RoyalNavy would be very beneficial in teaching naval history. Keegan paints a picture of how one avoidable war became ajuncture to another war.
World War I has mysteriously unexplainable roots.Europe was at the heights of its success as a nation yet decided to rick allits accomplishments on military actions and ultimately war (426). He shines alight on the civil disturbance and heightened racial tensions that was left inthe wake of the war. Europe was changed forever. Although Europe hadexperienced peace and stability pre-war, post-war saw vast changes.
World War Iopened the door for poor treatment of lower class citizens, the decimation ofracial and ethnic minorities, and wide spread hatred.