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

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  132 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Bancroft Prize Winner
ABA Silver Gavel Award Winner
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

In the closing days of 1862, just three weeks before Emancipation, the administration of Abraham Lincoln commissioned a code setting forth the laws of war for US armies. It announced standards of conduct in wartime—concerning torture, prisoners of war, civilian
Paperback, 512 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Free Press (first published September 4th 2012)
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Frank Stein
Jan 22, 2017 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This an unparalleled book of intellectual, legal, and military history, one that shows how ideas can exert real power in shaping events, and how events can in turn shape ideas.

Throughout much of history, the "laws of war" was regarded as an oxymoron. Cicero said that "in times of war, laws are mute," while Cervantes agreed that "all was fair" in war (or love). New Enlightenment ideals, however, tried to cabin the horrors of war and make it more civilized. The philosopher and poet Emmerich Vatte
Dec 01, 2016 Jr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating overview of history and ideas behind laws of war. Focused on US but expansive in time going from before the Revolution and past the Civil War. Only a little comment on present day issues.

Central theme is how the country's interest at the time drove policy more than principle.

Jun 10, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many people would regard the phrase 'laws of war' as an oxymoron - the idea that anything as destructive and barbaric as war could operate within a legal framework with rules and limits would seem laughable, and pointless besides. Prior to the Enlightenment that would have the opinion across much of the world. War was hell, war was brutal, in war anything was justified in the name of a righteous cause - and who would go to war without believing their cause was righteous? And yet how could both s ...more
The history of military commissions and the evolution of the laws of war in the US and how that evolution influenced the world of international laws of war.

The main focus is on the Civil War. There is discussion of how things evolved from there but it's brief. Some discussion on the 1898 war with Spain and conflict in the Philippines. Very little discussion relating to anything from WWI thru the first Gulf war but a chapter or two at the end discussing torture, which was mentioned only in passi
Aug 31, 2013 Alexmacensky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Facinating examination of the evolution of American legal thought on warfare. Witt provides ample context for the actions of the Lincoln Administration with his examination of war in the first eight decades of the American Republic. He does an excellent job of exploring the idea that 'total war' is more humane due to a quicker and more lasting outcome than that fought under a set of arbitrary rules. This book touches on two of my favorite areas, the evolution of justifying conflict and the demys ...more
Apr 01, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was quite an interesting book--it taught me a lot about an aspect of the Civil War times (and President Lincoln) that I never knew before. Though it was a "slow read", I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in history, particularly those interested in Lincoln and the Civil War time period.
Jan 02, 2013 Barry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-war
Excellent study of development of principles concerning ethical conduct of war (even if that may be a bit of an oxymoron). Lieber's work under Lincoln's direction has had lasting impact on the world. Witt does a great job of showing the factors that have played into this process, and some of the motivations behind them.
Robert Freeman
There's an interesting number of facts I wasn't aware of before reading this, but the prose is unfortunately droning, causing the book to feel like a rambling school lecture going on way too long, piling on details without any spark or humanity.
Patricrk patrick
Mar 23, 2013 Patricrk patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very interesting. How do you deal with escaped slaves, guerrillas, what can you destroy, can you shell a town? The Rules of War tries to answer these questions. Lincoln's issuance of rules of war had world wide impact. Interesting book.
Robert Quinlan
Feb 11, 2013 Robert Quinlan rated it it was amazing
An absolute must-read! Very well written and highly informative. I definitely recommend this text!
Jan 22, 2013 Stan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at the origins of the laws of armed conflict. This is a very relevant subject today. Just think armed drones.
Daniel Glossenger
Daniel Glossenger rated it liked it
Jul 31, 2015
Ed Sawyer
Ed Sawyer rated it really liked it
Jan 15, 2013
Erica De Bruin
Erica De Bruin rated it really liked it
Jun 16, 2014
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May 26, 2014
Keith M.
Keith M. rated it it was amazing
Jan 07, 2013
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Nov 27, 2016
Ordice Gallups
Ordice Gallups rated it really liked it
Jul 08, 2015
Roger rated it really liked it
Aug 06, 2014
Ray Harris
Dec 25, 2012 Ray Harris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best study of the laws of war in Lincoln's policy yet.
Nick rated it it was ok
Dec 29, 2013
A.J. Howard
A.J. Howard rated it really liked it
Sep 10, 2013
Jim rated it really liked it
Feb 27, 2016
William Adler
William Adler rated it really liked it
Jul 02, 2013
Michael rated it it was amazing
Mar 14, 2014
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May 17, 2014
Dave rated it really liked it
Mar 30, 2013
Stefan Krieger
Stefan Krieger rated it it was amazing
Jan 15, 2017
Dudu Hdyr
Dudu Hdyr rated it it was amazing
Jan 31, 2017
Orbiting rated it it was ok
Feb 04, 2013
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“David Williamson’s Pennsylvania militia brought Clark’s dismaying vision to life in 1782 at Gnadenhutten when they herded nearly ninety Christianized Delaware Indians into two cabins and systematically beat them to death.” 0 likes
“Writing from Belgium in the midst of the war, John Quincy Adams predicted that the laws of civilized warfare would likely collapse in the face of Anglo-American armed conflict. “No wars are so cruel and unrelenting as civil wars,” he wrote to his wife, “and unfortunately every war between Britain and America must and will be a civil war.” 0 likes
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