Wayne E. Lee

Dec 24, 2023

On Native American Warfare

A Discussion with Author and Historian Wayne E. Lee

University of North Carolina Press 2023

How did Native Americans make war, not with European settlers, but amongst themselves? Historian Wayne E. Lee, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explores this often-neglected question in his book, The Cutting-Off Way: Indigenous Warfare in Eastern North America, 1500-1800 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2023)

The podcast begins with his explanation of the ‘cutting-off’ style of fight and retreat that characterized this method of warfare and proceeds to an understanding of the root causes of war among Native Americans including the imperative of “blood revenge.” Lee argues persuasively that wars among natives were endemic yet not of the “no-holds-barred” character of the European type. Also, unlike the Europeans, the Native Americans frowned on prisoner exchanges—prisoners, sometimes tortured, were seen as a measure of a campaign’s success—and the natives abjured rape of the enemy’s women as an allotted entitlement of war. Such important differences notwithstanding, The Cutting-Off Way also points to timeless principles in warfare, evident in today’s bloody conflicts, as when he writes: “The cultural mandate for revenge proved extremely difficult to overcome.”

Veteran journalist Paul Starobin is a former Moscow bureau chief for Business Week and a former contributing editor of The Atlantic. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. His latest book, Putin’s Exiles: Their Fight for a Better Russia (Columbia Global Reports) will be published in January.

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Paul Starobin

Veteran journalist Paul Starobin is a former Moscow bureau chief for Business Week and a former contributing editor of The Atlantic. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. His latest book, Putin’s Exiles: Their Fight for a Better Russia (Columbia Global Reports) will be published in January.

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