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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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
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.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2010 Booklist