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Reviewed by:
  • Barbarians and Brothers: Anglo-American Warfare, 1500–1865 by Wayne E. Lee
  • Hugh Dubrulle
Barbarians and Brothers: Anglo-American Warfare, 1500–1865. By Wayne E. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 352 pp. $34.95 (cloth).

The subject of Wayne E. Lee’s book is both narrower and broader than its title might suggest: narrower, because it does not survey Anglo-American warfare between 1500 and 1865 in its entirety; broader, because it seeks to establish universals about restraint and frightfulness in warfare. Particularly interested in contests involving “barbarians” and “brothers,” Lee draws case studies from England’s sixteenth-century experience in Ireland, the first English Civil War (1642–1646), conflicts between Native Americans and English colonists, and the American Revolution. According to Lee, scholarship about war’s limits has traditionally focused on the rules of war and the demonization of the enemy. While he believes these approaches reveal something of the truth, he finds them inadequate. Rather, he argues, four “categories of analysis” do a better job of explaining restraint and frightfulness: capacity (the ability of a state and society to raise effective forces), control (the ability to sustain and direct that force, as well as the extent to which that force bows to social norms), calculation (the reckoning that culminates in the choice of tactics and strategy), and culture (the values and beliefs surrounding war). As Lee puts it, “Capacity, control, calculation, and culture intersect in different ways, and their particular intersection determines the level of frightfulness within a conflict” (p. 8). In other words, Lee has produced a paradoxical quadrivium that [End Page 203] supplements Carl von Clausewitz’s famous paradoxical trinity in On War (1832), which consists of passion, chance, and reason.

In reaching these conclusions, Lee highlights the significance of culture. This stress on culture is part of a new emphasis among military historians that has gained ground in the last two decades and manifested itself in major works like Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power (New York: Doubleday, 2001) and John A. Lynn’s Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (New York: Westview Press, 2003; Lee himself is the editor of the New York University Press series Warfare and Culture). Culture, Lee claims, plays an important role in influencing his categories of analysis, and he conceives of war itself as a cultural exchange. Indeed, Lee describes war as “violence perpetrated by humans with the intent to communicate with other humans” (p. 2). Since different cultures employ different grammars of war, however, they often have difficulty communicating. Accepted practice on one side looks like an atrocity to the other, and war can escalate, escaping the boundaries that had hitherto existed. At the same time, the question of identity, another major cultural issue, also looms large in this work. The perceived status of opponents—as brothers, fellow citizens, potential subjects, or barbarians—plays a large role in determining the appropriate level of violence. Throughout the book, however, Lee is well aware that culture is a complex thing because it is rarely monolithic and frequently multivalent. As he stresses on several occasions, the subcultures of the rank and file often conflicted with the directions of superiors, thus influencing the exercise of control and the course of calculation.

After explaining his theoretical apparatus, Lee starts with English attempts to bring Irish rebels to heel over the course of the sixteenth century. Central to English difficulties was confusion over the status of the Irish who opposed them—they were both subjects and rebels. For that reason, English policy fell within certain limits as it alternated between mercy and punishment. Yet throughout his narrative, Lee examines the role of capacity, control, calculation, and culture in determining the shape of England’s military response. Frustration inspired by the frequency with which the Irish rebelled, coupled with Spanish intervention (which inclined the English to view the Irish as foreigners rather than subjects), eventually led the English toward a qualitative and quantitative escalation of their efforts. By the end of the century, a new and much harsher military culture prevailed among the English in Ireland.

The first English Civil War...


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pp. 203-206
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