The Verdict of Battle: The Law of Victory and the Making of Modern War by James Q Whitman - review by Jonathan Sumption

Jonathan Sumption

Trial by Sword

The Verdict of Battle: The Law of Victory and the Making of Modern War

By

Harvard University Press 323pp £22.95 order from our bookshop
 

James Whitman is a professor of law at Yale who is interested in the social and cultural roots of law. He is best known for his extended essays on the differences between American and European approaches to such matters as privacy, criminal evidence and capital punishment. At a time of growing insularity among American lawyers, his breadth of outlook is refreshing. He has a universal curiosity. His historical knowledge is impressive. He writes with elegance and wit. But his problem is a taste for paradox that gets in the way of his judgement, something which makes his books fascinating and infuriating in roughly equal measure.

The Verdict of Battle is no exception. The argument goes as follows. War is an inescapable fact in human affairs. The most that international law can hope to do is to civilise it to some degree. Once upon a time, international lawyers achieved this by recognising war as a legitimate

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