SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: John Keegan, whom The New York Times called “the preeminent military historian of his era,” is dead. 78 years old, he died after a long illness in England, where he was born and bred. Keegan viewed war as cultural more than biological-- although war is an “entirely masculine activity.” As he put it, war is “always an expression of culture, often a determinant of cultural forms, in some ways the society itself.” War, Keegan proposed, stems primarily neither from “human nature” nor economic factors but from the “institution of war itself.” War, in other words, is a self-perpetuating meme. Following the end of the Cold War and the first Gulf War, Keegan proposed that war—like human sacrifice, slavery, dueling and other noxious customs–may be vanishing.
Consider these quotes from Keegan’s book: “Despite confusion and uncertainty, it seems just possible to glimpse the emerging outline of a world without war.” “The effort at peace-making is motivated not by calculation of political interest but by repulsion from the spectacle of what war does.”
Evolutionary psychologists and others who favor biological theories of war cannot dismiss Keegan—as they often dismiss other critics of their stance—as a lefty peacenik postmodernist. Keegan, who came from a military family, taught at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and was the military affairs editor for The Telegraph, knew far more about war than the bio-theorists do.