James Q. Whitman
The Verdict of Battle
The Law of Victory and the Making of Modern War
Harvard University Press 2012
James Whitman wants to revise our understanding of warfare during the eighteenth century, the period described by my late colleague and friend Russell Weigley as the “Age of Battles.” We commonly view warfare during this period as a remarkably restrained affair, dominated by aristocratic values, and while we recognize their horrors for the participants, we often compare battles to the duels those aristocrats fought over private matters of honor. Not true, claims Whitman, who argues instead that battles during the period 1709 (Battle of Malplaquet) and 1863/1870 (Gettysburg/Sedan) were understood by contemporaries not to be royal duels but “legal procedure[s], a lawful means of deciding international disputes through consensual collective violence.”  Understanding war as a form of trial is what gave warfare of the era its decisiveness (sorry Russ) and forces us, according to Whitman, to change the way we interpret, for example, Frederick the Great’s invasion of Silesia. Whitman, who is the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale Law School and an academically trained historian (PhD Chicago 1987), brings the perspective of both lawyer and historian to his work ways that teach us much about both the military history and the law of the period he considers.