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01 September 2021

John Gooch

(Proto-War Studies) 1966; PhD War Studies, 1969 | Historian and Professor Emeritus at the University of Leeds

John Gooch 780

One day, early in October 1963, I opened a door at 154 Strand, climbed a rickety set of stairs, and took my seat in a small, book-lined back room along with a dozen or so others. War Studies, not yet a free-standing undergraduate degree, was at that time an option in the BA History Honours programme and we were there to study ‘War and Military Organisation in the West, 1815-1918’.

Exactly on the hour, a door at the front of the room opened and a be-gowned figure swept in, set a folder of notes down on the lectern, and started to talk. The lecturer was of course Michael Howard. The hour that followed was one of the most electrifying experiences of my life. Somehow his lecture managed at one and the same time to be packed with information, easy to follow, and over almost as soon as it had started. I can still remember walking out into the Strand with only one thought in my mind: to get to the library and read up on what I had just heard – and then read a lot more.

We were all invited to his flat in South Kensington for tea, and handed our results to the accompaniment of strawberries and cream!"

John Gooch

The other memory that holds a central place in my mind’s eye is what happened after our exams. In other courses they were posted up on notice boards. Not in Michael’s. We were all invited to his flat in South Kensington for tea, and handed our results to the accompaniment of strawberries and cream! Our papers, bearing comments in his small, disciplined hand, were given back to us, so that we could see where and how to improve. I still have mine. It is a reminder, among many other things, of how civilised learning under Michael’s wing was back then.

For the next three years I sat at Michael’s feet, dazzled by his style and entirely won over to his angle on the past. I was learning by example how to marry the analysis of force, power and politics through the prism of strategy.

My training in war studies took me to the universities of Lancaster and then Leeds, to the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island as the first Secretary of the Navy Senior Research Fellow, and to Yale University, where I kept the Robert Lovett chair warm for a semester before Michael arrived from Oxford to take it on.

War Studies as taught in the early 1960s was primarily historical. Its content and range have widened considerably since then, which as Michael would surely have said (and probably did) is just as it should be. War Studies started life in the Cold War. 60 years on the world has grown no safer. We need it now just as much as we needed it then.