Sunday, December 17, 2017

Booknotes: In the Wake of War

New Arrival:
In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America
by Andrew F. Lang (LSU Press, 2017).

The U.S. Army briefly occupied the capital city and many other parts of Mexico until negotiations to end the 1846-48 conflict concluded, but the American Civil War really marked the first time the American military attempted to control hostile civilian populations on a mass scale, "inaugurating a tradition that persisted through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and that continues to the present." Andrew Lang's In the Wake of War "traces how volunteer and even professional soldiers found themselves tasked with the unprecedented project of wartime and peacetime military occupation, initiating a national debate about the changing nature of American military practice that continued into Reconstruction."

"Drawing on firsthand accounts from soldiers in United States occupation forces, Andrew F. Lang shows that many white volunteers equated their martial responsibilities with those of standing armies, which were viewed as corrupting institutions hostile to the republican military ethos." Emancipation and the large-scale use of black troops by the Union Army for garrison duties from the war's middle period onward added another factor into the mix. Those soldiers "embraced occupation as a tool for destabilizing the South’s long-standing racial hierarchy." 

The longer military occupation dragged on the more troubling and politically divisive its policy and practice became. "Ultimately, Lang argues, traditional fears about the army’s role in peacetime society, grounded in suspicions of standing military forces and heated by a growing ambivalence about racial equality, governed the trials of Reconstruction."

"Focusing on how U.S. soldiers―white and black, volunteer and regular―enacted and critiqued their unprecedented duties behind the lines during the Civil War era, In the Wake of War reveals the dynamic, often problematic conditions of military occupation." This one is definitely going into the 'to read' stack.

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