Jill Lepore's book, "The Name of War" is a different sort of text regarding the nature of war. Instead of merely studying the cut-and-dry facts of King Phillip's War, she explores both sides of the conflict, and traces four specific elements of the war to demonstrate how the English came to view themselves in regards to the Indians, and how the outcomes of this war shaped the initial foundations of American identity.
In the introduction of the book, Lepore writes about how the English had the "literall advantage", which was the ability to read and write. Essentially, this translates into the Englishmen's overwhelming advantage to record history as they saw fit. This notion of having the literall advantage in a war feeds directly into Lepore's opinion that "war is a contest for meaning" (page xxi). This book is about how the English manipulated their literall advantage to write the course of history. To explain this point, Lepore uses language, war, bondage, and memory.
Some background on the situation is necessary. The conflict began when a Christian Indian, Sassamon, confessed to a colonial governor that the Indian Sachem, Phillip was planning a rebellion against the colonies. Sassamon departed, and then he mysteriously died a few days later. Three Indians were charged with Sassamon's death, and were sentenced to execution. It is largely believed that this was the spark that ignited the conflict.
Something that I found very interesting was what Lepore wrote about the actual title of the war. The English referred to it as King Phillip's War. Phillip was renamed from Metacom to Phillip by the English. His brother was also renamed Alexander. This is significant because the English renamed them after Macedonian leaders, in reference to Acts 16:9, when the Apostle Paul sees a vision of Macedonia citizens begging for help. The act of renaming these Indian leaders, and then titling the war after them, demonstrates part of the English justification for participating in this war. They manipulated the conflict into the righteous desire to convert the Indians, and spread God's love. They did this in order to conceal an insidious fear.
A dominant theme in the book is that the English greatly feared the possibility of becoming like the Indians, and losing their inherent "Englishness". One incredibly accurate illustration of this fear is seen in the event that Lepore describes in the beginning of her book. There is text that provides evidence that at one point during the war, an Indian was captured. As his punishment, he was encircled by his captors, a group of Indians whom fought with the English. In this instance, the English gave their Indian allies permission to torture and kill the prisoner, while they stood by and watched. This example portrays the English as wanting to witness the savagery, but unwilling to take up the mantle of responsibility. Essentially, they have the Indians do their dirty work, in order to maintain their pristine image as a civilized people. This is a perfect example of their fear of becoming "savages". Interestingly enough, from an Indian's cultural perspective, this circle was representative of a sort of emotional catharsis, and a means of mourning, a far cry from the spectacle that the English viewed as barbaric.
The first way that Lepore describes this war is in context to language. She often says in her book that the English sought to achieve a "victory of wounds and words", meaning that they wanted to win the actual war, as well as the right to mold history into such a way as to portray them and their cause in the most appropriate light. It is common knowledge that the victor determines how a war is generally viewed, and this case is no different. The English managed to kill Phillip, so they "won" the right to dictate history as they saw fit. Also, their ability to record the happenings of that time also creates a substantial bias in how we percieve this conflict today. The Indians possessed limited means of passing their messages and reasons for going to war, so there is very little that we can learn from their perspective.
Next, Lepore describes this conflict in reference to war. One of the primary themes that I noticed in this section was the allusion to nakedness as equated with savagery. There are several examples that relate to this, such as the incident involving Goody Thurston. After an Indian attack, she was stripped naked and partially scalped, so as she ran for help, she was shunned by her neighbors, because she was clad only in a blanket, and covered in blood. During this time, painters were also commissioned to create works of art that depicted bloody and gruesome pictures, and portrayed the Indians in an infinitely ignorant and negative way. Lepore also writes of how there was a fear that these attacks from the Indians were God's punishment for failing to convert them. Again, this mindset created the illusion that the English were simply retaliating, as opposed to taking an active position in the war.
Bondage was another thing that Lepore wrote about in this book. There was a lot of contrast regarding particular victims, and this section details specific gender stereotypes that were associated with male and female captives. For example, Mary Rowlandson's captivity was regarded as a spiritual journey, and a means of testing her ability to maintain her "Englishness" while living among the Indians. She even wrote a book about her experiences, which was later published. On the other hand, Joshua Tift was also taken into captivity, but when he was released from Indian society, the English convicted him of treason, and he was executed. The mindset regarding his particular situation was that he was a man, and therefore possessed the ability to defend his freedom. Also, there were some questions pertaining to how he lived while in captivity. The book details that he worked, ate, and associated with the Indians. In large part, he became acclimated to their culture, as opposed to remaining a stoic Englishman. This adaptation to the Indian culture cost him his life.
Memory was the final element that Lepore wrote about. Since the English won the war, they were able to write the history of it. They created the memories after the participants were gone, and they were the ones to continually depict the Indian "savagery" as opposed to the English "righteousness". This is made evident in the play that was written, called The Last of Wampanoags, which detailed the supposed history of King Phillip's War, and passed off dramatized fiction as historical fact.
The general point of the book is to examine how King Phillip's War was constructed by the English. Because they were the victors, they were able to chronicle the events, which in turn became a part of the American history that we know today. Lepore also traces the Englishmen's great fear of becoming savages, and examines how that fear motivated their courses of action, and how it shaped the very way that America first identified herself.