Geoffrey Best

Geoffrey Best’s Churchill and War was published in 2005. He taught history at Sussex for many years.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’, But it’s ‘Saviour of ’is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.

Rudyard Kipling wrote ‘Tommy’ in order to call attention to a couple of questions that were not new then and are with us still: what sort of an army do we need, and how do we regard and use the...

Hooked Trout: Appeasement please

Geoffrey Best, 2 June 2005

Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the seventh Marquess of Londonderry, who died in 1949, will not be moved up the scale of historical significance even by so accomplished a book as this. Its author is unlikely to be disappointed. Ian Kershaw’s purpose has not been to write a full biography, or to rehabilitate a politician he considers to have been unjustly neglected. Instead,...

They made the oddest of couples, Lindemann and Churchill. A German-born bourgeois bachelor, scientist, airman, pianist, social climber, near teetotaller, non-smoker, vegetarian, buttoned-up loner and through forty years the most disliked don in Oxford. A rogue English aristocrat, family man, soldier, historian, journalist, MP and PM, drinking, smoking, eating and tirelessly talking his way...

Britain’s policy towards Hitler in the later 1930s is one of those historical topics that are dead but won’t lie down. The supply of relevant facts has virtually dried up. But what to make of them – including as facts, the mentalities, opinions and purposes of those involved – and how to interpret the various words and deeds, remains a minefield of protected positions...

Educating the Blimps: military history

Geoffrey Best, 10 June 1999

Basil Liddell Hart was ‘the captain who taught generals’. His active participation in fighting was limited to three brief bursts during the First World War, the last and by far the worst ending with a nightmarish experience of panic and gas in Mametz Wood, on the Somme, which left him unfit for further front-line service. In proportion as the Army’s hold on him weakened, his critical interest in its mentality and methods increased. He began to write about training and tactics and at once was noted for the clarity and confidence of his prose and the originality of his ideas. His appointment as military correspondent of the Morning Post in 1924 gave him non-professional readers for the first time. He moved to the Daily Telegraph in 1925, where he stayed until climbing to what was then the top of the newspaper tree, the Times, in 1934.‘

Trumping

Geoffrey Best, 22 August 1996

The Director of the International Studies Center at New York University believes that the world has recently made giant strides towards becoming much fairer. He makes the case as well as it could be made, but possessing apparently no sense of wonder and not much of historical perspective, Thomas Franck doesn’t seem to realise how extraordinary a claim it is. Whoever, anywhere, before our own later 20th century, thought that the world could be ‘fair’? Was ineradicable unfairness not the common perception? And if this has been more or less the shape of things through the millennia, how could our fifty years ring in such giant changes, and how permanent can we expect them to be?

Mistakes

Geoffrey Best, 2 July 1981

The astounding story told in these pages is of how the country which came victoriously out of the First World War, ‘that bloody and ill-managed conflict’, with nearly two million soldiers in Belgium and France, a more than adequate industrial backing for them, and a growing habit of victory, at the start of the Second could send there only a thinly-backed 160,000. It is the story primarily of the British Army, but it is presented within a broad framework of references familiar to all who know anything about British inter-war history: ‘Locarno’, Disarmament, Depression and ‘Munich’; Baldwin and Chamberlain, Gandhi and Mussolini, ‘Boney’ Fuller, Liddell Hart and – though he is hardly welcomed to the feast – ‘Colonel Blimp’. It is founded on so much systematic research in Cabinet and War Office papers, let alone other military archives, that it must at once become a prime resource for fellow scholars: yet it is written with so much force, directness, wisdom and wry humour that it would be instructive and agreeable reading for anyone concerned to understand in depth the decline of British power – not least because of its worrying speculation in conclusion, as to whether the country might not now be repeating mistakes made then. It is not a cheering book, but it is a strong and wholesome one, which fortifies Mr Bond’s place in the very top rank of the military-historical hierarchy.

Jim and Pedro

Geoffrey Best, 17 April 1980

The self-effacing authors of this excellent book aim to contribute some clear-headedness and penetration to what ought to be our great debate, but is too often our puzzle-headed mumble, about war. So exemplary is the clarity of their rich, varied and powerful argument that their hopes may well be realised. Good books about ethics and warfare – that is, books which can meet the military and political ‘realists’ on their own grounds, without sacrificing moral principle – are not as rare as they used to be. Gallie and Walzer come at once to mind. But none is as unusual as this: a book co-authored by a philosopher and a historian, both of whom are possessed by the notion that people are more likely to take ethics seriously if connections with hard, familiar cases are not shirked, and who share a standpoint of modified Kantianism which encourages them to believe that moral awareness and concern can be elicited and educated from even the rather unpromising human subjects which most of us are.

Letter
James Meek credits ‘the Labour transport minister, Herbert Morrison’, with setting up London Transport in 1933 (LRB, 5 May). But the London Passenger Transport Board, which brought all public transport under a single management, was established by the (Conservative-dominated) National Government in 1933. Baldwin’s government had been working towards this end in collaboration with...

Over Several Tops: Winston Churchill

Bernard Porter, 14 January 2002

Why two more Churchill biographies? Geoffrey Best reckons there are fifty or a hundred out there already. Two good reasons to want to add to them would be the unearthing of new evidence or a...

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Humanitarian Juggernaut

Alex de Waal, 22 June 1995

The ‘law of war’ is a paradox, an exercise by turns noble and futile. ‘A remedy must be found,’ Grotius wrote, ‘for those who believe that in war nothing is lawful,...

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The Revolution is over

R.W. Johnson, 16 February 1989

Eugen Weber, who contributes one of the essays to this interesting collection, writes of the way the Revolution became a national obsession in 19th-century France. The reason was, at least in...

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Christendom

Conrad Russell, 7 November 1985

This could be called a review of the three Regiuses. G.R. Elton is at present Regius Professor at Cambridge. Owen Chadwick, to whom tribute is paid in a festschrift, is his predecessor in the...

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Glory

Eric Hobsbawm, 3 June 1982

Is it a good thing that a country, after almost forty years of accelerating decline, has nothing more satisfactory to look back upon than a victorious world war with relatively modest casualties?...

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War and Peace

A.J.P. Taylor, 2 October 1980

War has been throughout history the curse and inspiration of mankind. The sufferings and destruction that accompany it rival those caused by famine, plague and natural catastrophes. Yet in nearly...

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