John Keegan’s The Face of Battle (Pimlico, 2004), first published in 1976, is an established military history classic. Keegan vividly conjectures the actions of the lowest level of soldier in his examination despite never serving in battle, or even in an armed force. He begins by expressing guilt at teaching junior officers about combat but quickly transitions to the importance of a liberal education of a military professional. He concludes his foundation by criticizing the dogmatic structure through which officers receive instruction. Ultimately Keegan writes to answer one question, what happens to the individual in battle?
The battles of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme are subsequently submitted as case studies. Keegan concentrates on the perspective of the battling individual in these investigations of familiar and thoroughly studied battles,. This perspective provides a unique opportunity to examine the types of combat prevalent during each battle, the technology available, and the causal factors for the tactical decisions that shaped the events. Keegan’s most notable exploration is into the Battle of Agincourt. Using deductive logic and historical accounts Keegan debunks the common misconception that the longbow won the day. He paints a picture in which the longbow was an effective part of the interaction, but clarifies the importance of close combat as evidenced by the sharp edged weapon produced wounds of the combatants.
Keegan indicates that the study of battle coupled with an honest lessons learned system facilitates the psychological capability of exercising violence. His description of the common human denominator is flawless. He states, “[w]hat battles have in common is human: the behavior of men struggling”. He then describes the scholarship of battle as, “always a study of fear and usually of courage; always of leadership, usually obedience; …above all, it is always a study of solidarity and usually also of disintegration – for it is towards the disintegration of human groups that battle is directed.”
Moreover he underscores the importance of officer...