Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Early American Military History and the Laws of War

Many thanks to Mary for asking me to drop in on her blog. It's no easy task to follow on the heels of Dan Ernst's terrific month (alas, I have no "price lawyers" in my family tree -- nor any inside angles on Frank or Frankfurter!) but I'll do my best.
With the rise (and fall?) of military commissions, cases involving military law and authority have become part of law-school courses involving many aspects of U.S. law, especially constitutional law and criminal law and procedure.  But the new, and old, military commission cases are but a small story in the larger narratives of war in legal history. 
John Grenier's award-winning work on early American military history deserves attention from those interested in the evolution of the law of war and in U.S. theory and practice regarding armed conflict and humanitarian concerns.  A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Grenier has written widely on military strategy and tactics in the colonial period and the early republic.  His first book, The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814 (Cambridge University Press, 2005) documents the use -- and effectiveness -- of extreme violence against non-combatants; his second, The Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008) extends the analysis to reveal how counterinsurgency and brutality characterized the Anglo-American struggle for North America. 
John Shy considers Grenier's The First Way of War worthy of a place "on the short shelf of essential books in U.S. military history", praise echoed by other scholars who find Grenier's study a compelling look at how terror and violence have always been part of American war-making.