According to the historian Jill Lepore, before the war between the Anglo and Indian population known as "King Phillip's War," cultural and linguistic barriers between these two dominant populations of the Eastern half of the Americas were fluid rather than fixed. However, the aftermath of this war in 1675, when tensions between Native Americans and colonists residing in New England erupted into brutal conflict a sharp cultural division was incurred. This cultural division has never again been broached as it had been before the war transpired. Although the title of Lepore's book refers to the name of war, it could very well refer to the mutual language of war between the Anglo and Indian nations, and the differing languages of cultural discourse.
The preface of this book, significantly, is entitled "What's in a Name?" The detail Lepore devotes to language, involving analyzing many primary source excerpts of the period, tracts, dime store novels and religious broadsides is impressive. While before the war there was a tolerance and respect for Indian culture in these largely White publications, increasingly after the war the Indian's savageness and lack of compassion is stressed. Lepore stresses that the so-called King Philip's War, was really the beginning of a racial polarization of colonists against Indians, of massacres and outrages on both sides were too horrific to deserve the name of a fully declared war, but more on the lines of mutual racial terrorism.
How did such a division occur? The conflict between the two groups began when Metacom, significantly called 'Phillip' by the Anglo people of the land, who was the leader of the Wampanoag Indians, led attacks against English towns in the colony of Plymouth. Yet the reasons for this attack to this day remain shadowy, revolving around disputed rumors, an unsolved murder, and pent-up but vague allegations of brutal practices between Indians and Anglos, although both groups had adopted many of one another's customs. Yet both peoples still retained very different conceptions of property and proper forms of clan and familial justice. This tension between adoption and alienation could not be sustained.
Although conflicts had erupted on a small scale before, this war was pursued without previous restraint. It was a total war. Women and children were killed as well as combatants. Captives were tortured rather than merely used as military bargaining chips as they had been before. The dead were ritualistically mutilated, signifying a lack of cultural respect that had implications far beyond victory or defeat. Long after the issues of the war had died, the memory of the treatment of the dead and the symbolic fashion of the deaths remained ingrained in both groups' different cultural memories. The brutality of these acts would grow in the cultural imagination, fueled by the distance of history.
One reason for this brutality and escalation of disrespect for the enemy was that the war had spread...