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Remembering Michael Howard: Soldier, Scholar, Sage of Military History

Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, Michael Howard



Sir Michael Howard, who died on November 30, 2019, a day after his 97th birthday, was a giant in the worlds of military history and strategic studies. A decorated veteran who redefined the study of war, he was also a voice of reason and conscience in some of the most important policy debates of his time, offering sage commentary on subjects as wide-ranging as nuclear policy and counterterrorism. Some of his most important writings appeared in these pages, where he contributed 12 articles between 1960 and 2002.

Howard is perhaps best known for his invaluable translation of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War, undertaken with his former student Peter Paret. But it was Howard’s prize-winning book The Franco-Prussian War that established military history as a serious area of scholarship and him as a leading practitioner. Prior to the book’s publication in 1961, military histories had mainly sought to describe specific campaigns or battles. What Howard demonstrated was the need to consider the conduct of war against the backdrop of broader social and economic changes. His later works—including War in European HistoryWar and the Liberal Conscience, and The Invention of Peace—are masterpieces of concision, capturing big themes with economy of language and elegance of style. His lectures at King’s College London, and later at Oxford and Yale Universities, were delivered with wit, timing, and an eye for telling detail.

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