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19 November 2020

2020 Sir Michael Howard Lecture delivered to audience of 500

In the first Annual Lecture since the death of Sir Michael Howard, Professor Sir Hew Strachan discussed Michael Howard’s interpretation of Carl von Clausewitz.


On 18 November 2020 The Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War welcomed Professor Sir Hew Strachan, Wardlaw Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews to conduct this year's annual lecture, the since the death of Sir Michael Howard almost one year ago on 30 November 2019.

Chaired by Dr Christina Goulter, Co-Director of the Sir Michael Howard Centre, the event was held online for the first time and attracted a huge audience, including Sir Michael's friends and family, King's College London staff and students, military personnel, historians and the public from around the world.

The main theme for the talk was a discussion around Michael Howard’s interpretation of Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz and his approach in producing the third English language version of On War, published in 1976. Michael Howard once said that the work of which he was most proud was translating the English edition of Clausewitz's Vom Kriege (On War), prepared by him and the American Historian, Peter Paret.


Clauswitz had limited his analysis to what would be of immediate utility to a commander planning a campaign

Sir Michael Howard

Dr Goulter introduced the talk, acknowledging the timing of this event coinciding with the upcoming 60th anniversary of Sir Michael Howard founding the Department of War Studies. She quoted Margaret McMillan's latest book and question 'has the long peace which we have largely enjoyed since the Second World War dulled interest in studying war? after all similar observations of complacency were made by Clauswitz.

Professor Strachan began the talk describing how Sir Michael was a constant presence for military historians of his generation and acknowledged the recent death of Peter Paret in September 2020. Paret was Michael's co-author for the translation of Clauswitz's On War and the unprecedented success of the publication, despite the logistical, financial and language challenges they both faced.

Professor Strachan then went on to describe Sir Michael's Howards publication Clauswitz: A Very Short Introduction and how this explained how a young Clausewitz's developed his ideas which grew with him in terms both of his experiences as a professional soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, and of the intellectual background of his time which concluded that war can be of two kinds - of annihilation and to make peace.

Professor Strachan summarised that Sir Michael was the founding father in post 1945 Britain, of both academic military history and the discipline of strategic studies, and how Howard and Clauswitz shared opinions due to their similar experiences that these two factors were in collision, rather than collusion.

The talk was followed by an extensive question and answer session which prompted discussions around who is the Clauswitz of today?, How would their work compare to current situations?, the differences in the interpretation of 'war' and the application of potential misinterpretations of Clauswitz in current military establishments.

Professor Hew Strachan is a British military historian, well known for his work on the administration of the British Army and the history of the First World War. He is currently Wardlaw Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews, and a council member of the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen's Bodyguard for Scotland. Before moving to St Andrews, Strachan was the Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College, where he is now an Emeritus Fellow.

The The Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War promotes the scholarly history of war in all its dimensions, trains research students and hosts research projects and conferences. To hear more about the Centre's activities as well as latest updates from the School of Security Studies, sign up to our mailing list