A Few Thoughts on ‘Kitchener: Hero and Anti-Hero’

kitchenerA few weeks ago Tyndale University College held a book launch for three of my colleagues: Elizabeth Davey (A Persevering Witness), Natasha Duquette (Veiled Intent), and Brad Faught (Kitchener: Hero and Anti-Hero). I was asked by Professor Faught to say a few words about his new book at the launch and since I so thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I thought I’d share my (lightly edited) comments from the book launch here.

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September 22, 2016

It’s really an honor for me to come and say a few words about my friend and colleague Professor Brad Faught’s newest book, Kitchener: Hero and Anti-Hero. I’ve told both he and Professor Crouse that if I were ever to do something in academia other than philosophy, it would be history. What I’ve recently come to learn, and this is something that you’ll find in this new book on Kitchener, is that it’s really true that studying history changes you. It’s easy to think you know what you would do in tough situations, but then as you get more familiar with what people have actually gone through, you see maybe things aren’t as clear as you previously thought. And that is something that leads you to be a bit more gracious in not only assessing the actions of those in the past, but also in how you interact with people today.

Let me just say a few words about the book in general and highlight a few things about Kitchener himself that you might find interesting. First, one might think that all academics can write well, but unfortunately that is not the case. Thankfully, though, it is with Professor Faught. This isn’t some popular-level survey written for non-specialists; it’s a book that professional historians will find immensely valuable and will refer to in their own work. However, Professor Faught has succeeded where many others have failed. It’s a professional historian’s book that non-professionals can still read and enjoy. That’s a very difficult thing to accomplish and is a tribute to his skill at relating complex events in a way that people first approaching the subject can easily understand. It’s no wonder that students at Tyndale always talk so highly about his courses. And, not only is his writing pleasant, but he’s also a very skilled photographer! In the book you’ll find seven (by my count) original Faughts.

Second, I have to say, Kitchener is a really fascinating person. He knew Hebrew and was fluent in French and Arabic. He was trained as a surveyor who spent significant time surveying the Holy Lands. Later he was witness to the renewal of Islamic-inspired wars for control of the area—which is something that is now happening on an even wider scale.

Kitchener was a military man through and through. I think my favorite line in the book is when Professor Faught notes that during the Great War, when it came to committee meetings, Kitchener’s main desire was to “first inform, and then adjourn.” His heading up of the Allied war effort is probably what he’s most famous for now, though when he ascended to that role he was already deeply admired by his countrymen. He was the man who helped save the empire in the Sudan, South Africa, and India. This deep admiration for Kitchener is probably why, in the very same year of his drowning in 1916, the Ontario city of Berlin was renamed Kitchener.

You ought not simply focus on his achievements in war, that would give the wrong impression of who he was. As is ably noted in the book, Kitchener was also a seasoned diplomat who, for example, prevented a major conflict with the French just a few days after retaking Khartoum. Basically one day he was a conquering hero, the next a creative diplomat preventing an even larger crisis.

Now, of course, there is much more to be said about Kitchener (like whether or not “K was gay”—to quote a sensationalist headline of a recent newspaper article—or whether that even matters when assessing his legacy), which is why you should read the book. What you will find in it is a frank account of a remarkable man, including an honest look at the mistakes he made along with the way. And if you’re really curious, you should also ask Professor Faught (as a paper in the UK did recently) about the merits of the various conspiracy theories that came about after Kitchener’s death. (Unfortunately not all of them are discussed in the book—like the one that Kitchener never died but actually made it to Russia and became Joseph Stalin!)

Last week I asked Professor Faught if I could borrow a copy of the book so I could familiarize myself with his project before the launch. That little familiarization project quickly turned into reading it cover to cover in the span of three days. So, today I can return my loaned copy and go buy one for myself. And if you think about it, buying a copy of a book you’ve already read is just about as high of a compliment an author could ever want. I encourage you too to pick up a copy and treat yourself to this fascinating book about a complicated man who lived in a fast-changing time.

Thank you Professor Faught for your hard work.

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