Archive for December 3, 2019

SHAKO: The Passing of Eminent British Military Historian Michael Howard

He Expanded Military Studies Beyond Battles.

Sir Michael Howard from Library of Congress

Sir Michael Howard (1922-2019)

We learned from our Monday morning paper, (The New York Times, December 2, 2019) that the eminent and influential military historian, Sir Michael Howard, died on Saturday — just a day after he turned 97.

Howard was former Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University and Regius Professor of Modern History — one of Britain’s most prestigious academic chairs — also at Oxford. He also served as Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University.

In addition to his academic honors, Howard, who served as a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards during World War II, was awarded the Military Cross — Britain’s third highest decoration for gallantry — for leading an almost suicidal bayonet charge against a German machine gun nest in Italy. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his academic work in 1986.

Among historians, Howard was credited with changing the profile of military history from an account of specific battles or campaigns to a broader assessment of the context of those conflicts. Among his significant works was a study of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71  published in 1961,that sought to illuminate the societal roots of the opposing armies. He contributed to a major British study of World War II. In 1977, he was the co-translator, with the American scholar Peter Paret, of the 19th-century classic “On War” by the German military philosopher and theorist Carl von Clausewitz, according to the New York Times obituary by Alan Cowell.

“The history of war, I came to realize, was more than the operational history of armed forces. It was the study of entire societies,” Howard wrote in 2006 memoir, Cowell noted.

Sir Michael Howard books.jpg

Some of Michael Howard’s best-known works. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle, copyright Sonoma Road Strategies)

The British newspaper, The Guardian described Howard as “the most influential British military historian of his generation.” Adam Roberts, senior research fellow in international relations at Oxford University, wrote “He left a mark on public and professional debate in Britain and internationally. He also had a key part in building institutions” which included the International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London, “which became the model for similar think tanks around the world.”

Howard also founded what is now the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the Study of War at King’s College London and the graduate studies programme in international relations at Oxford.

*** *** ***

On a personal note, your 4GWAR editor read the books in the photo above for a class on Military Thought and Theory at Norwich University (and found Howard and Paret’s translation of On War, the most understandable after several failed attempts to read earlier/lesser versions of von Krieg). As part of the Master of Arts in Military History program at Norwich, we were expected to declare what school of history we allied ourselves with and after much grumbling about looking at history through the telescope of an -ism or -ology, your editor picked War and Society — which Michael Howard had a large hand in developing — as the most relevant in a world that has always been more complex than we thought it was. We think we made the right choice.

*** *** ***

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

West Point cadets

December 3, 2019 at 12:38 am 4 comments


December 2019


%d bloggers like this: