Correlli Barnett: Wikis


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Correlli Douglas Barnett CBE FRSL (born 28 June 1927) is an English military historian, who has also written works of economic history, particularly on the United Kingdom's post-war "industrial decline".


Personal life

Barnett was born on the 28 June 1927 in Norbury, Surrey, the son of Douglas and Kathleen Barnett. He was educated at Trinity School of John Whitgift in Croydon and then Exeter College, Oxford where he gained a second class honours degree in Modern History with his special subject being Military History and the Theory of War, gaining an MA in 1954. In 1950, Barnett married Ruth Murby. They have two daughters.



Military history

Barnett worked as historical consultant and writer for the BBC television series The Great War (1963-64). He has contributed numerous articles to various newspapers arguing against the 2003 Iraq War.

He is the author of The Desert Generals, a book that attacked the perceived cult of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and assessed the roles of his sacked predecessors as commanders in the North Africa campaign, including Richard O'Connor, who drove the Italians from Cyrenaica in late 1940, and Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck (whom he called "The Victor of Alamein"), who forced Rommel to a halt at the First Battle of El Alamein, only to be dismissed by Winston Churchill for his pains. He pointed out that Montgomery enjoyed massive superiority of men and materiel at the Second Battle of El Alamein, and described him as an "emotional cripple", a description, he noted in subsequent editions, borne out "in rich detail" by the Nigel Hamilton biography.

He also published Britain and Her Army 1509-1970, which as a survey combines the political, the social and the military over the grand sweep of Britain's post-medieval history.

In several of his works (The Desert Generals, The Swordbearers) Barnett portrays the British armed forces as hidebound by tradition (e.g. cavalry regiments allegedly reluctant to adopt modern tank tactics) and by technology inferior to that of the Germans. He makes this point of the British armour in the desert, and of Jellicoe's Grand Fleet at Jutland in 1916.

In his Bonaparte (1978), he takes a more critical view of Napoleon Bonaparte than is customary, portraying him almost as a Mediterranean bandit keen to dish out crowns and honours to cronies and members of his blood family, and stressing how much many of his most famous successes owed to bluff and luck (e.g. the fortuitous arrival of General Louis Desaix at the Battle of Marengo).

The Pride and Fall Sequence

Barnett's The Pride and Fall sequence comprises: The Collapse of British Power; The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation; The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities, 1945-50; and The Verdict of Peace: Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future.

The Audit of War is Barnett's best-known work. In sum, the sequence describes the decline of British power during the twentieth century, a decline attributed by the author to a change in the values of Britain's governing élite from the late eighteenth century, and one which was encouraged by evangelical and non-conformist Christianity. Barnett claims that the statesmen of the eighteenth century were men "hard of mind and hard of will" who regarded "national power as the essential foundation of national independence; commercial wealth as a means to power; and war as among the means to all three".

Furthermore, they regarded it as "natural and inevitable that nations should be engaged in a ceaseless struggle for survival, prosperity and predominance".[1] The British national character, Barnett argues, underwent a profound moral revolution in the nineteenth century which came to have a deep effect on British foreign policy; foreign policy was now to be conducted in a reverence of highly ethical standards rather than an "expedient and opportunist pursuit of England's interests".[2]

He has been criticised for being overly negative about Britain's war effort, with his emphasis on production inefficiencies, in the light of Britain's overall participation in the Allied victory.


In an interview in 1996 Barnett stated his beliefs that Britain's future lay with a form of federated Europe, including the adoption of the European single currency. He criticised Eurosceptics as "emotional idealists nostalgic for a lost past".[3]

Writing in The Spectator in 1998, Barnett criticised the RAND Corporation for its "naive belief that technology can solve any human problem", citing its support the Revolution in Military Affairs theory. Instead of this, Barnett argues that Carl von Clausewitz's "Theory of War" as a continuation of politics still holds true, giving examples such as the Provisional IRA's campaign ("the classic contemporary demonstration of Clausewitzian principles in action") and Yugoslavia ("where Nato has simply frozen a war which will certainly break out again if and when the intervention forces leave"). Barnett claimed that the world will in the future continue to be "an arena of complex rivalries and direct collisions of interest rather than a 'world order' or a 'world community', and that human groups engaged in such rivalries will from time to time resort to force as an instrument of their politics". Barnett concluded the article by claiming that the United Nations was an "expensive figment of liberal wishful thinking".[4]

As a military historian Barnett has often written on various contemporary conflicts involving Britain. He supported the British attempt to regain the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War of 1982,[5] but also opposed British participation in the Kosovo War of 1999, arguing that Yugoslavia was "a sovereign state committing no aggression beyond its own borders, [the military action against it] is a breach of the UN Charter and likewise of the North Atlantic Treaty". Furthermore, on March 30, 1999 he claimed that the wars' course had vindicated his original stance on "Nato's ill-thought-out policy, based on emotion and simplistic moralising...In particular, it has plunged the Kosovans, the objects of Nato's solicitude, into their present calamity".[6] Later that year Barnett returned to the subject, saying that the 80 day-long air campaign against Serbian forces demonstrated "that air power is a clumsy means of political coercion" and "that Bosnia should have served as a warning to us not to get entangled over Kosovo, and that if we did get entangled, we would finish up to our necks in trouble – which we have".[7]

In early August 2002 Barnett wrote to The Daily Telegraph opposing the American plan of invading Iraq, rejecting the claim that those opposed to the war were the equivalent of the appeasers of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. He claimed that whereas Nazi Germany was disrupting the balance of power in Europe, Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed no threat to the region. Moreover he argued that the opposition stemmed from the view that it "would be a breach of international law to attack a sovereign state and member of the UN that is not currently guilty of any external aggression; and two, that the execution of such an attack could lead to prolonged and unforeseeable adverse military and political consequences".[8]

In December of that year Barnett argued that in the light of the British Government's decision to allow the United States to use bases in Britain for its proposed anti-missile defence system ("Star Wars Mk II") Britain "should surely re-examine the utility to this country of the "special relationship" with America at the present degree of intimacy".[9]

In January 2003 Barnett wrote that Britain's close relationship with the United States put Britain "in greater danger from Islamic terrorism rather than confers security against it. If we join in an attack on Iraq as America's satellite, that danger will become more acute".[10]

After the Iraqi Army's defeat by coalition forces, Barnett claimed that those "who predicted a prolonged messy struggle in the streets have been confounded" and that he did not believe Saddam Hussein "would be so foolish as to deploy the Republican Guard in the open to be smashed by overwhelming US firepower". However Barnett viewed the war as threatening "the very basis of the present world order of sovereign states. We must remember that the United Nations was set up to prevent 1930s-style cross-frontier aggression". He further claimed that the reasons behind the invasion gave ammunition to states like Iran and North Korea to launch invasions themselves.[11] Writing in August 2003 Barnett now claimed that his predictions on the aftermath of the war had come to pass, saying that "some of us are on record since summer 2002 as warning that an attack on Iraq would end with the attackers bogged down in a politico-military mess of some kind or other".[12] In September that same year Barnett likened the Iraq War to the Suez Crisis of 1956.[13]

In December 2003 Barnett published an article in The Spectator, asserting that Al-Qaeda was winning the "war on terror"—a label Barnett rejects because "you cannot in logic wage war against a phenomenon, only against a specific enemy... America is combating not 'terrorism' but a specific terrorist network, al-Qa'eda". Barnett further claimed that terrorist organisations are "entirely rational in purpose and conduct" in that they conform to Clausewitzian ideas. He claims the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were mistaken in that they "opened up long American flanks vulnerable to increasing guerrilla attack: a classic case of strategic overextension" and that Saddam Hussein's regime had no links to Al-Qaeda. He claims that the United States Army in Iraq should be replaced with UN troops from Muslims states to quell resentment and to "isolate the insurgents". In order to defeat Al-Qaeda, Barnett argues, the United States should "recognise that combating terrorists is essentially a job for special forces like the SAS, for the police or gendarmerie (or troops trained in a gendarmerie role) and, above all, for good intelligence (meaning, at best, spies inside al-Qa'eda cells) – and not a job for heavy-weight hi-tech firepower".[14]

After Lord Hutton published his report in early 2004, Barnett wrote that Lord Hutton's "conclusions are totally at variance with the wealth of documentary evidence and witness statements presented to his inquiry and published on the internet", citing Lord Hutton's claim that "there was no dishonourable or underhand strategy" in leaking Dr. David Kelly's name when Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence "conspired" to do so. Furthermore he argued that Lord Hutton's "judgement is so unbalanced in its treatment of the BBC and of Downing Street and the MoD as to be worthless" except as a way for Tony Blair to "escape" from an investigation on "whether or not he did take us to war on a false prospectus".[15]

After fellow military historian Sir John Keegan demanded to know why those who opposed the Iraq War wanted Saddam Hussein to remain in power, Barnett replied that "America, Britain, the Middle East and the wider world would be vastly better off in terms of peace and stability if Saddam were still gripping Iraq, and we were still gripping Saddam as we had been from 1991 to 2003". He explained that the condition of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein "is of no relevance" to non-Iraqis; secondly, he argued that Saddam Hussein "had presented no international danger since he was soundly beaten in the 1991 Gulf war. He possessed no weapons of mass destruction...and he was subject to close Anglo-American surveillance of the "no-fly zone""; thirdly, "Saddam had provided a highly competent ally, if a tacit one, in the so-called "war against global terror"" due to his opposition to Al-Qaeda.[16]

During the 2005 general election Barnett argued that George W. Bush and his friends "were bent on toppling Saddam Hussein in pursuit of an ideological mission to convert the Middle East to democracy" before Bush came to power in January 2001 and that the September 11, 2001 attacks "simply provided them with a convenient cover story". Barnett concluded by saying that Blair was "wholly unworthy of our trust. This is the central fact of this election, and we should vote accordingly".[17]

In late September 2005 Barnett argued that "‘to cut and run’ [from Iraq] would in fact be the morally brave thing to do" since the "current strategy is failing to produce the hoped-for results, but on the contrary is running ever deeper into difficulties and danger, and yet with the final result all in doubt". Barnett contrasted Blair to his predecessor, Clement Attlee, and his military withdrawals in India and Palestine, claiming that no British lives were lost in them.[18]

During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in mid-2006 Barnett wrote that it was "grotesquely out of proportion" to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and the damage inflicted on Israel by Hezbollah. He argued that Israel "was born out of a terrorist struggle in 1945-48 against Britain" and that the "Arab resentment of Israeli hegemony...powers both Hamas and Hezbollah as they follow the path of terrorism first mapped out by the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvei Leumi in the 1940s".[19]

Barnett's favourite war of all time is the Prussian War which he believes presents the best model for an effective and ethically justifiable conflict.[20] His favourite film of all time is Married to the Mob.[21]


Barnett is a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge and from 1977 to 1995 he was the Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Arts. From 1973 to 1985 he was a member of the Council of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.


There were some Cabinet Ministers in Margaret Thatcher's government who were influenced by Barnett's works. Sir Keith Joseph, Education Secretary from 1981 to 1986, admired Barnett's work about the anti-business culture in education and in an interview with Anthony Seldon he proclaimed: "I'm a Correlli Barnett supporter".[22] Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983 to 1989, also cited Barnett's views on education as an influence, specifically The Audit of War.[23] In 1995 when Michael Heseltine became Deputy Prime Minister in John Major's Cabinet, he presented each member of the Cabinet with copies of Barnett's The Lost Victory.[24] Barnett's comment that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch world war three" was cited by Noam Chomsky in his essay "A Predator Becomes More Dangerous Once Wounded".[25]


  • The Hump Organisation (1957)
  • The Channel Tunnel (with Humphrey Slater, 1958)
  • The Desert Generals (Kimber, 1960). A study of O'Connor, Alan Cunningham, Ritchie, Auchinleck and Montgomery.
  • The Swordbearers: Supreme Command in the First World War (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1963). A study of Moltke, Jellicoe, Pétain and Ludendorff.
  • The Battle of El Alamein (Macmillan, 1964)
  • Britain and Her Army, 1509—1970 (A Lane, 1970)
  • The Collapse of British Power (Eyre Methuen, 1972)
  • The First Churchill: Marlborough, Soldier and Statesman (Eyre Methuen, 1974). An accompanying television programme was made.
  • Strategy and Society (Manchester University Press, 1976)
  • Human Factor and British Industrial Decline: An Historical Perspective (Working Together Campaign, 1977)
  • Bonaparte (Allen & U, 1978)
  • The Great War (Park Lane Press, 1979)
  • The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (Macmillan, 1986)
  • Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (W W Norton & Co Inc, 1991)
  • The Lost Victory: British Dreams and British Realities, 1945-50 (Macmillan, 1995)
  • The Verdict of Peace: Britain between her Yesterday and the Future (Macmillan, 2001)
  • Post-conquest Civil Affairs: Comparing War's End in Iraq and in Germany (Foreign Policy Centre, 2005)
  • Pétain (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, forthcoming)


  1. ^ Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (Pan, 2002), p. 20.
  2. ^ Ibid, p. 24.
  3. ^ Nile Gardiner, 'Forever in the Shadow of Churchill?: Britain and the Memory of World War Two at the End of the Twentieth Century', Historical Roots of Contemporary International and Regional Issues Occasional Paper Series, January 1997, No. 9, International Security Studies, Yale University, p. 26.
  4. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Home front, front line', The Spectator, 4 July, 1998.
  5. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Give us one reason', The Daily Telegraph, 29 January, 2003.
  6. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Send in the troops', The Independent, 30 March, 1999.
  7. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Right of Reply: Correlli Barnett', The Independent, 16 June, 1999.
  8. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Opposition rests on other grounds', The Daily Telegraph, 7 August, 2002.
  9. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Our permanent interests', The Daily Telegraph, 12 December, 2002.
  10. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'US puts us in greater danger', The Daily Telegraph, 26 January, 2003.
  11. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'War on Iraq', The Independent, 13 April, 2003.
  12. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Hoist upon one's own petard', The Daily Telegraph, 26 August, 2003.
  13. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Folly and deceit', The Daily Telegraph, 5 September, 2003.
  14. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Why al-Qa'eda is winning', The Spectator, 13 December, 2003.
  15. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Lord Hutton got it wrong', The Independent on Sunday, 1 February, 2004.
  16. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'The reasons why', The Daily Telegraph, 2 June, 2004.
  17. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Don't mention the war', The Independent on Sunday, 24 April, 2005.
  18. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Cut and run', The Independent on Sunday, 25 September, 2005.
  19. ^ Correlli Barnett, 'Shock and awe a savage reply', The Daily Mail, 22 July, 2006.
  20. ^ Correlli Barnett, '[1]', The Daily Mail, 13 December, 2008.
  21. ^ Correlli Barnett, '[2]', The Independent, 23 August, 2007.
  22. ^ Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett, Keith Joseph (Acumen, 2002), p. 300.
  23. ^ Nigel Lawson, The View From No. 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical (Bantam, 1992), p. 607.
  24. ^ Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle: My Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000), p. 493.
  25. ^ "A Predator Becomes More Dangerous Once Wounded" by Noam Chomsky.

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