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Keegan: Face of Battle Review

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Keegan: Face of Battle Review

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  • October 2012
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As we have discussed and examined over the past two weeks of our seminar, John Keegan’s The Face of Battle explores warfare from the viewpoint of the common soldier by analyzing and comparing the three well-known battles of Agincourt, Waterloo and Somme. Keegan's three examinations of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme begin by analyzing the traditional outlines of events. Keegan then moves through the main phase of each battle, attempting to make sense of the major events, providing the frame and context necessary in order to begin considering the combatants: how the soldiers felt before the battle, what actually happened when the troops engaged, focusing-in on what these nuanced psycho-sociological details provide. Towards this monumental effort, while limiting much of his coverage largely to the first day of the offensive, Keegan was particularly focused revealing the brutality of the first day of Somme: “In all, the British had lost about 60,000, of whom 21,000 had been killed, most in the first hour of the attack, perhaps the first minutes" (Keegan, 1983). The conditions of the battle were so abhorrent, Keegan describes, with “long docile lines of young men, shoddily uniformed, heavily burdened, numbered about their necks, plodding forward across a featureless landscape to their own extermination" (1983). When compared to the Battles of Aguncourt and Waterloo (respectively), Keegan's analysis of war through the ages, despite its many consistencies, Keegan notes several trends in the character of battle. For instance, in the uncertain examination of war he remarks that, “One statement can be safely made…battles have been getting longer,” (308). At Agincourt, the English forces repelled a numerically superior French force in a matter of hours. The Battle of Waterloo found Napoleon defeated in a matter of days, while the battle of the Somme lasted months. Keegan remarks on the exposure, technical difficulty, accident rate, and objectives dangers faced by modern...