Reviews for Lincoln's Code : The Laws of War in American History


Booklist Reviews 2012 August #1
"Let slip the dogs of war," proclaims Marc Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Yet even in the most merciless wars, efforts have been made to put restraints on the violence perpetrated upon both soldiers and civilians. In a civil war, as President Lincoln quickly realized, that task is particularly difficult, since Lincoln viewed the rebels as traitors rather than an army of a foreign nation. Witt, professor of law at Yale, shows how Lincoln's struggles with this dilemma resulted in a "civilized" code that still governs American and international military behavior. Witt first examines the conduct of soldiers in earlier American conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to the Mexican War. But Lincoln found those precedents as well as the advice of military professionals inadequate as he tried to fight and win the war. Late in 1862, a commission chaired by Francis Lieber, a college professor, gave Lincoln what he wanted. It was a code that allowed him to apply the "hard hand of war" to both southern soldiers and civilians without descending into pure savagery. This is a well-written and provocative examination of the effort to modify the inherent barbarism of war. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2012 July #1
Artfully mixing law, history, and sharp analysis, a Yale law professor examines the persistent struggle to reconcile justice and humanitarianism in America's conduct of war. Issued to the Union Army in 1863, Lincoln's codes of war went out under the president's name, but the 157 articles were drafted principally by Francis Lieber, a Columbia College political scientist and historian. Lieber's codification of the laws and usages of war formally enshrined a number of humanitarian limits to war's barbarity. However, by authorizing various uses of force "indispensable for securing the ends of war" the rules unleashed a new ferocity, replacing Enlightenment-style, "gentlemanly" armed conflict with new imperatives that recognized the legitimacy of the war's aims. Witt (Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law, 2007, etc.) attributes this new, "tough humanitarianism" to Lincoln's determination to abandon the "rose-water tactics" of the early war in favor of new measures that would vindicate the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation. Though he focuses primarily on the Civil War and its aftermath, Witt provides a rich historical context, judiciously selecting diplomatic and wartime episodes from the French and Indian War to the Philippine Insurrection to explain this lasting transformation of the old rules into something military historians now recognize as the "American way of war." Topics range from the concept of neutrality to the oftentimes difficult distinctions between soldiers and civilians, to the indiscriminate use of military commissions, all resonant with today's headlines. The author vivifies commentary from philosophers and jurists, decisions from judges and maneuvering by statesmen with sharp vignettes of battlefield commanders, who were obliged to grapple with the constraints law imposes on war. Truly remarkable, composed with all the precision and insight you expect from a law professor, marked by all the elegance and sparkling readability you don't. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 October #1

Questions about military commissions, who is a prisoner of war, and how prisoners should be treated, etc., have been active issues especially since 9/11. This volume reviews the background of U.S. laws of war. Witt (history & law, Yale; The Accidental Republic) examines the laws of war in the 18th and 19th centuries from the French and Indian Wars to the Spanish American War. The focus is on the Civil War, where an entirely new rulebook on the laws of war was drafted by Franz Lieber and approved by President Lincoln. Witt demonstrates that this code was immensely influential, being adopted by the European powers and becoming the basis of the Geneva Conventions on POWs. VERDICT A specialized, well-researched book that will be appreciated by students of American history and those interested in current American foreign policy.--MOE

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Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
Questions about military commissions, who is a prisoner of war, and how prisoners should be treated, etc., have been active issues especially since 9/11. This volume reviews the background of U.S. laws of war. Witt (history & law, Yale; The Accidental Republic) examines the laws of war in the 18th and 19th centuries from the French and Indian Wars to the Spanish American War. The focus is on the Civil War, where an entirely new rulebook on the laws of war was drafted by Franz Lieber and approved by President Lincoln. Witt demonstrates that this code was immensely influential, being adopted by the European powers and becoming the basis of the Geneva Conventions on POWs. VERDICT A specialized, well-researched book that will be appreciated by students of American history and those interested in current American foreign policy.--ME (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 June #4

This significant work by Witt, a professor at Yale Law School, adds to the history of the Civil War, and of America's major contribution, starting with the Revolution, to the idea that war's conduct can be regulated by law. That notion originated in December 1862, when Abraham Lincoln commissioned Francis Lieber to develop a code for the Union Army that summarized the customary rules for armies in combat as understood by all the armies of Europe. The code's 157 articles, short and pithy, define right conduct in specific situations and establish the reasoning and the principles underlying the rules. Its author, not a lawyer but a professor of history and political science, produced "a working document for the soldier and the layman." Witt (The Accidental Republic) establishes and supports a provocative case that the code reflects two competing, fundamental American ideals: humanitarianism and justice. Their interaction means America's laws regulating war have been developed in the context of a distinctively destructive American style of war making. They have been repeatedly adapted to fit "the felt imperatives of the moment." But, Witt suggests, war's laws are more than self-interested redefinitions. Their durability and the equally durable debates surrounding them offer reasonable expectations, though not utopian hopes. Agent: Andrew Wylie. (Sept.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC

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