Discussion in 'Historiography' started by von Poop, May 30, 2011.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart - 31/10/1895 to 29/01/1970
    Certainly a controversial figure - Where do you stand on him?

    I'm still sort of undecided on someone that spans such a wide era, and seems to have delighted and annoyed in equal measure, so will perhaps reserve judgement and see what others might say first.
    (Will probably add a poll if I get a few quotes on both sides of the debate.)

    Anyone read this biography of him?
    Alchemist Of War: The Life of Basil Liddell-Hart: Alex Danchev: Books
    I see it's by Alex Danchev, who also edited Alanbrooke's diaries - think I may order it today.

  2. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    Certainly a controversial figure - Where do you stand on him?

    Hello Adam,

    What is the question, exactly?

    I'm not trying to be facetious (well, not entirely, anyway). In what sense are you asking us to evaluate him?

    Brian Reid's conclusion in his ODNB entry on BLH seems like a fair summary if it's a general statement of character and legacy you're looking for:

    "Liddell Hart was a bundle of contradictions. He was self-confident but insecure, vain and sometimes arrogant, but he was remarkably tolerant and open to argument. Despite a rather glamorous air (a man who dined with film stars, as well as famous military men, scholars, and writers) he was fundamentally an Edwardian rationalist and gentleman. He was self-made, however, and could be mendacious in defence of his reputation, but his overriding sincerity and abundant generosity contributed to a tremendous talent for making (and keeping) friends. He had real but untapped gifts as a teacher. For all his weaknesses (which sprang from his journalistic background), Liddell Hart made a massive contribution to British intellectual life, not least in introducing the study of war into its mainstream, and making war studies a respectable province for scholarly endeavour."

    But you may be looking for something more specific ...

    Best, Alan
  3. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Certainly a man noted for self-promotion (much like his great friend T.E Lawrence) but I would agree with his principles behind the indirect approach based on what he saw as a Subaltern on the Western Front. I will leave it to others much more knowledgeable to discuss his influence on the doctrine of Blitzkrieg.

    Looking forward to a review of the book Adam should you order a copy.
  4. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Senior Member

    Based solely on his books, I've read a few ranging from Scipo Africanus to The other side of the hill, he certainly is no lightweight both as thinker and as a military historian.
    IMO his biggest "limitation" was that he became too influential, and sometimes his writings were accepted too uncritically. He no doubt greatly contributed to the prevalence of the German generals views of the war and we are only recenly managing to get out of that and getting a more balanced view.
  5. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    I was hoping you'd pop up, Allan.
    I'm not sure it's really a specific question I'm asking; more that I appear to have reached a point that whenever I read something based on anything Liddel-Hart wrote as history, I find myself then spending a while checking up the solidity of the original claim and any possible Liddel-Hart partiality it may contain.
    Obviously one does this for any Historian, but with LH I appear to be doing it all the time of late.

    Maybe it's his partiality as a Historian the question should focus on. Hard to critique his direct ideas and thinking on military matters as a whole, as a man's ideas are what they are, but was he often too close to the subjects & individuals he wrote on? Does that 'journalistic background' mentioned above make his work somewhat more subjective than many would like to believe. The closest parallel I can think of in my own areas of interest is that he may be 'something of a Clarendon', who definitely knew the English Civil War personalities he was writing on, and was there at the time, but injects an awful lot of personal viewpoint into what's nominally presented as an objective account.

    I think it was Buckley (British Armour in the Normandy Campaign) that first injected real doubts for me on whether LH was writing the most useful view on any given subject. His (LH's) historical stuff has often become a standard touchstone, and there do appear to be a fair few cracks in there.

    I need to re-read some stuff...
  6. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin


    he became too influential, and sometimes his writings were accepted too uncritically. He no doubt greatly contributed to the prevalence of the German generals views of the war and we are only recenly managing to get out of that and getting a more balanced view.

    Sorry chaps, cross-posted the long reply above while you blokes chipped in.
    Self-promotion, and that 'German Generals view' as found in 'The Other Side of the Hill' are definitely all part of my interest.

    I'm not going to denigrate the man completely, as 'certainly no lightweight' is no understatement. But do find myself wondering if he's too much the Curates egg to take as seriously as he often is.
  7. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    BHL is part of the historiography that consigned the role of the British Army in WW2 to the dustbin; he was very much of the school of thought that 'Tommy was no soldier'.

    Gradually this point of view is being discredited, as new research (eg Copp) is bring published.

    Far from my favourite 'historian'.
    von Poop likes this.
  8. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

  9. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    The problem with assessing BLH is that his literary output (both published and as private letters to his many correspondents) was voluminous; he had many, many opinions during his career, not all of them consistent with one another. In hindsight he understandably tended to emphasize those which made him look prescient and ignore those which had weathered less well.

    So there's some truth to his carefully cultivated reputation after WWII as a prophet of armoured warfare. But he was also the pundit who insisted that Britain should avoid conscription and a continental commitment in the 1930s, which (through his influence on men like Chamberlain and Hore-Belisha) interfered with the British Army's preparations for war. His insistence throughout the war that the 'indirect approach' was the only appropriate grand strategy for Britain to follow owed more to stubborness than imaginative reflection.

    In retrospect I think he's admired a good deal less as a visionary strategic thinker than as a skillful writer and popularizer of military history. I'm not sure that he would be pleased with this legacy, however.

    Best, Alan
    Staffsyeoman and TTH like this.
  10. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

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