An interesting story transpired earlier this week, when The Independent revealed that Alan Clark, a well-known military historian and Conservastive MP, dodged national service.
According to Clark’s biographer, Ion Trewin, papers recently discovered in his castle prove that his only personal experience of the military was in the army reserve at Eton and a single day as a member of the Household Cavalry. He later avoided a call-up from the RAF by pleading his earlier ‘service’. Clark, however, later went on to make numerous references to army life, and referred to his military service in his famous diaries.
Its an interesting thought I am often faced with – do you have to have served in the forces to be a military historian? In these days of a small, professional military, I do not believe it is essential. And I think sometimes that not having a military mind can be an advantage, and can offer different insights – in some ways a training as a historian equips you more for military history than Sandhurst. But when military service was widespread, for somebody of Clark’s class and interests to sidestep national service was most bizarre, if not uncommon. If anything, several years serving as a junior officer would have been a great experience for a budding military historian. But it seems that although Clark liked writing about war, he did not want to get his hands dirty.
Sadly, I also think it says something about someone if they shirk away from something that most of their peers do, thanks to a loophole. My Grandad and most of his generation did national service, why should Alan Clark have dodged it? Not only that, but to then go on to make a career out of posturing as some kind of military expert, is slightly bad form. But then again, a look at Alan Clark’s political career and private life tells us that morals were hardly his strong point. Even his own wife is quoted in The Independent as saying “…I come from an army family – my father was a colonel and my grandfather a brigadier. If I had known, I would probably have lined him up against the wall and shot him for deserting.”
In a profession where integrity and honesty counts for so much, poor judgement can ruin a career overnight. Reference Hugh Trevor-Roper and the Hitler diaries, David Irving and Holocaust denial, and Orlando Figes and his negative amazon reviews of his rivals books. Clark is bound to draw parallels with figures such as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton who dodged the Vietnam draft, although at least in Bush’s case he did join the Air National Guard, and Clinton was studying in Britain. Somehow Clark’s episode is rather more dishonest and odious.