In one way or another I have now been teaching Modern European History for at least fifty years. When I looked back I realised with some embarrassment that most of the time I had been dealing with one war or another, or wars in general. I can't claim any expert knowledge of war: in fact, the nearest I have come to war was in 1940, when I and other members of the Home Guard patrolled round Oxford gas works. We foresaw with a flash of strategical penetration that the entire German parachute force would land on Oxford, if only because Oxford was supposed to be in those days a seat of learning. Why it should concentrate on the gas works I never understood. However, there we were on summer evenings, plodding round the gas works with unloaded rifles, waiting for the enemy who never came. That is the nearest I have been to a military experience. And yet war has dominated my life. The first book I published was about the Austro-Sardinian war of 1848, a war no doubt somewhat obscure to most of you: the last of my books, published in 1976, was a history of the Second World War, so I have kept moving. But I have rarely reflected on the general character of war. I do not propose to do so now: rather, to make some personal comments on how I and other historians have treated the subject.
LRB 5 August 1982 | PDF Download