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Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme Battles Impact: “The Face of the Battle” by John Keegan Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jul 24th, 2021

Introduction

The Samuel Eliot Morison Prize-winning author John Keegan focuses on the description of the battles Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, their characteristics, and impact in his 2004 non-fiction book The Face of the Battle.

Keegan, who has written a number of military works during his career, introduces a detailed description of human emotions, the analysis of personal views of those people who survived, and the investigation of tactics used during the British battles. He chooses three different periods in British history and gathers information from people and their memoirs about their intention to control fears, the exhaustion because of wounds, and the necessity of using weapons (78).

The author begins the book by telling the truth that he has no direct experience in warfare. Keegan visited the battlefields, observed relics, read literature, and talked to soldiers to introduce a true face of the war (15). Human decisions determined the development of the events during the battles, and the author explained his goals and background to the reader in the first chapter.

Main Text

Keegan explains the characteristics of three battles – Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1615), and the Somme (1916) – in his book. Agincourt was one of the most “satisfactory to contemplate” “epic passages” in British history (Keegan 79). During the Battle of Waterloo, human beliefs, religious preferences, and effective leadership prevailed. The size of the battle, as well as the moral spirit of all the participants, was huge.

The analysis of the Somme Battle is full of vivid examples and true emotions. The author uses the experience of his relatives and other people who survived the war and were alive during the writing process and called it not “a complete military failure”, but a serious “human tragedy” as people attacked without being properly prepared (Keegan 255). The participants admitted that the ignorance of the majority of the events and the unwillingness to listen contributed to considering the Somme one of the bloodiest battles in British history.

According to Keegan, Agincourt, or Waterloo, or the Somme had a significant impact on people and their relationships. The author pays attention to such elements of the Battle Agincourt as the topography of the commune’s territory and the decision of Henry V to massacre prisoners. Discussing the Battle of Waterloo, he investigates Wellington’s decision to ride around the battlefield to develop enough tactical decisions.

Although Keegan does not describe the specifics of leadership, he says that Haig and Joffre turned the battle into one of the greatest British tragedies. The results of the battles were dramatic for solders, and they had to protect themselves by any possible means. The author of the book describes how men tried to dig themselves into shell holes and wait for hours, lying there. The British nation had to deal with losses and enter the era that lacked optimism and hope.

Conclusion

In general, each page of the book The Face of the Battle is a great opportunity for a reader of any age or race to understand what caused wars between countries and how people dealt with their aftermaths. Keegan is not a soldier, but he is a brilliant military historian who successfully investigates British history and introduces the most memorable events. Physical and emotional elements of the battles reveal the dangers of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme and show the reality that plays a crucial role today.

Work Cited

Keegan, John. The Face of the Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme. 2nd ed., Pimlico, 2004.

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