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Sir John Keegan

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Sir John Keegan, who has died aged 78, achieved an international reputation as a military historian, then discovered a talent for writing rapid analyses of international crises as the defence editor of The Daily Telegraph.

He had been on the teaching staff of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, for 25 years in 1986 when Max Hastings announced his recruitment to the paper the day he took over the editor’s chair. Keegan proved an unrivalled asset as the Soviet empire crumbled and collapsed, the government demanded a “peace dividend” in the form of cutbacks to the Armed Forces and a series of military actions flared up in the Middle East and the Balkans.

Whatever the subject before him, Keegan wrote with close knowledge of the military arts and a personal acquaintance with many senior serving officers who had been his pupils; above all, he demonstrated a deep awareness of the human aspects of warfare, which was cruel, confusing and frightening, if occasionally glorious.

It was always with surprise that new acquaintances discovered that Keegan was no battle-hardened veteran. He was a gentle civilian who was deeply imbued with his Roman Catholic faith and had been crippled with tuberculosis since childhood. While an unabashed supporter of the British alliance with the United States, he described himself as “95 per cent pacifist” and looked forward – though with increasing doubts in recent years — to a world which had abandoned war.

He wrote such fine military histories. . .

Later, settled at a 17th-century manor house in Wiltshire, 'he produced a column in the Telegraph Magazine recording life at the village of Kilmington. He wrote of its farmers and modern craftsmen, the changing seasons. . .'

TB had crippled him, but did not stop him when he was a boy. At the end of his life he had to have a leg amputated, and was confined to a wheelchair, but this did not change his 'unfailing good nature'.

Ave atque Vale.

Comments (1)

An enormous loss. Such a fine gentleman, intellect, and superb scholar. His strength in advancing the case for the defence of our civilisation, of the alliance of the Americans with the British world presented a real hope for peace. His legacy will live on in so many whose lives and work found inspiration in him.

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