Wig-Wags

Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

On War and Words

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As I finish up my final paper, I’ve gone back to the first book read for my class, “Studies in U.S. Military History.”

King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

Jill Lepore. The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, 1999.

In this unusual book about King Phillip’s War, Lepore sets out to study war and how people write about it. She suggests that writing about war can be almost as difficult as waging it. And writing can be essential to winning a war. Her work is thus in its essence about words and how they are used to both describe and impact the outcome of war. She concludes that “truth in war is relative,” a profoundly insightful statement that gets to the core of why many wars are waged in the first place, the clashing of points of view. And so, she concludes, “war is a contest of injuries and interpretation.” Lepore’s opening chapter, “What’s in a Name?” is nothing less than masterful.

To the victor go the spoils but also the power to explain the war completely to his advantage. For the loser, whether dead or defeated, loses his voice.

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