Jill Lepore's The Name Of War: A Book Review

2753 words - 11 pages

From the time of their first arrival in the 1620s and 1630s, New England colonists, who
had left England and its persecutions and corruptions, were worried about losing their
Englishness and further sought to preserve this identity1. These doubts, however, only magnified
as the years passed2. They believed that the Indians living amongst them were either native to the
New World, therefore making them one with their surroundings and savage like the wilderness
they resided in, or descendents of Europeans of the Old World who had migrated over in earlier
times, therefore suggesting that the wilderness they resided in slowly led them to their
degeneration into savages3. Regardless, both hypotheses instilled fear in the colonists, especially
with the realization that they would be expected to degenerate in the same way. Contradictory to
their ideal to build "a city upon a hill" for all of Europe to admire, many feared that they would
become more and more savage with each passing year4.
King Philip's War was initiated with the discovery of John Sassamon's bruised body
floating under the ice at Assawompset Pond in February 16755. Three Wampanoag men were
charged and executed for his murder in June6. Days later, a group of enraged Indians raided the
English settlement of Swansea, followed by countless more raids from the Wampanoags,
Nipmucks, Narragansetts, Abenakis, and Pocumtucks7. English colonists retaliated by adopting
similar methods of warfare, raiding and burning villages and crops, and capturing, enslaving,
and/or murdering men, women, and children8. By July 1676, dozens of towns and villages were
destroyed, the colonies' economy was in ruins, and both English and Indian populations were 1 Jill Lepore, The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House Inc., 1998), 5. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid., 7 5 Ibid., xxv-xxviii 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid.

2 decimated9. King Philip's War left its legacy as the deadliest war in American history as
measured by the percentage of casualties in proportion to the population.
After the events of King Philip's War, English colonists felt the need to justify their
actions. Put best by author Jill Lepore, "war is perhaps best understood as a violent contest for
territory, resources, and political allegiances, and, no less fiercely, a contest for meaning10". Her
thesis is twofold: First, that "wounds and words cannot be separated…acts of war generate acts of
narration11", and second, that the writings of the early colonists were instrumental in making
sense of the war and in forming their unique national (American) identity. Lepore's study of King
Philip's War is not a military study, but rather, a literary and philosophical one. She expands on
her argument through the analysis of four key themes: Language, War, Bondage, and Memory.
In modern times, the use of pictures is instrumental in shaping the way people...

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