John Keegan, aggregator

I never understood John Keegan's audience or appeal. Like McPherson, he wrote a book that was endlessly assigned as college reading (Face of Battle) which gave him high name recognition in the general population. In my youth, under arms, I found Face obnoxious, banal, and pretentious.

In uniform, in these times of auld, I encountered military fans of Keegan. They struck me as naive, non-history readers who had been swept up in a sort of literary appreciation which they confused with "history."

Keegan began his career as an aspiring historian of literary bent and he finished his life as a blogger, I think. The later favorable reviews focused on his analysis, the bon mots, the pungent opinions, and not on the research, accuracy, depth, or details. His virtues, as celebrated, were blogging virtues, not historian's virtues.

In this country, Gallagher and McPherson pounced on Keegan's Civil War errors with a savagery they displayed towards no other historical writers. Gallagher is simply derivative of McPherson who is simply derivative of the Centennial generation of pop historians. Let us therefore focus on McPherson.

Before falling into the outright plagiarism of his recent titles (as documented in this blog), McPherson made it his calling to devise what he thought to be the best, most cogent syntheses of other people's insights. Keegan's offense must have been that he tried to take Civil War meta-analysis to a higher level of synthesis than either McPherson or Gallagher were capable. This was Tower of Babel stuff and it was a higher level than Keegan could sustain and thus well worth some public mockery. In that sense, the harsh beatings McPherson and Gallagher administered to Sir John served a good end.

But what they failed to realize was that Keegan's spinning-out-of-control syntheses were mirror images of their own ziggurats, distinguished only by Keegan's extravagant tone and higher tolerance for risk. Keegan also has much more cachet in and out of academic circles than McPherson or Gallagher, who are relatively unknown by comparison. Perhaps this irked.

In sum, Keegan represented the worst, most flamboyant excesses of the wrong kind of history. McPherson and Gallagher are core members of the noxious Keegan school, whether they like it or not. Our job is, as deep readers and appreciators of the best history, to bury their writings with Keegan's remains.

Thanks to the friend who sent these links: