Though you can find them in iTunes as well (just search for “Reith lectures” and you’ll find this series of five in the archive), the BBC keeps the set on it’s website.  You can even download the transcript if you’d prefer.  Although I don’t necessarily ascribe to all that he has to say in his lectures – particularly lecture 4, page 5: his reference to Clausewitz as creating the world’s “most pernicious philosophy of war” – one can’t escape the fact that this is a lecture from a legendary military historian.  So he’s earned the right to his opinion on Clausewitz!  The ends of the fourth and fifth lectures are certainly worth the (free) price of admission.

Additionally, he accepts questions from a world class audience – and below are a couple of snippets that don’t make it into the transcripts:

Sir John Keegan: Reith Lecture #1, April 8, 1998, on nuclear weapons:

“Nuclear weapons – we can destroy the world.  1945 changed the world forever, forever, and ever and ever. It was a Copernican revolution.  Before that we thought in ways, you know, that strategically speaking, the Sun went round the Earth.  In 1945, we learned that the Earth goes round the Sun. And we have to live with that forever, so, that means certain things.
That we cannot allow small wars to get out of hand, and we cannot allow nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them and how President Clinton and Mr. Blair have behaved in the Gulf just this year seemed to be both admirable and tending to make for optimisim. That is what we have to do at the moment and that is what we will have to do for the whole of the next century and the century beyond that, and on and on and on and on. It is a changed world.”

Sir John Keegan: Reith Lecture #4, April 29, 1998, on international military cooperation:

Major General John Macdonald (Royal British Legion Scotland): “I see a potential difficulty where the British Army is working in harmony with armies from other nations who don’t share the same culture or the same values, and yet we’re working towards similar goals.”

John Keegan:  “Well, of course, we’ve had exactly that problem in Bosnia where over 60 nations have sent armed forces. Now, in many ways that’s a wonderful spectacle because it shows that there are 60 countries which pay lip service at least to the idea of moral responsibility for restoring peace in troubled areas of the world.  On the other hand, let’s be realistic, some of the 60 aren’t very good [laughter]. I think the United Nations commander quite simply gave the easy bits to the less-good ones and the hard bits to the best ones.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment