Academic journal article Military Review

The First Way of War

Academic journal article Military Review

The First Way of War

Article excerpt

THE FIRST WAY OF WAR, John Grenier, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2005, 232 pages, $19.80.

In The First Way of War, John Grenier examines warfare in America between 1607 and 1814. Early Americans, he claims, created a violent military tradition that "accepted, legitimized, and encouraged attacks [on] noncombatants, villages, and agricultural resources" and went against the civilized Cavalier grain of the European military tradition. Grenier contends that this distinctly American tradition remained the predominant way of war until 1814.

Grenier poses a series of questions that revolve around one query: "Where does war waged against noncombatants fit into America's martial culture?" He answers that "American soldiers killing noncombatants is nothing new"; it is not an outgrowth or legacy of the American Civil War, as historians like Russell Weigley suggest.

The book's strength lies in its recognition and treatment of the asymmetrical dimension of war as it relates to societies and cultures in general. Grenier ably depicts the maturation process Euroamericans underwent as they experienced, befriended, and warred with Native Americans.

By highlighting the genesis of Ranger and light infantry regiments and the inculcation of societal practices such as the killing of noncombatants associated with frontier warfare, he explains how the cultural encounters became more violent. By the early 19th century, actions once thought by professional soldiers to be taboo, such as scalp hunting, became common practice in North America. …

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