war, armed conflict between states or nations (international war) or between factions within a state (civil war), prosecuted by force and having the purpose of compelling the defeated side to do the will of the victor. Among the causes of war are ideological, political, racial, economic, and religious conflicts. Imperialism, nationalism, and militarism have been called the dynamics of modern war. According to Karl von Clausewitz, war is a "continuation of political intercourse by other means." As such it often occurs after arbitration and mediation have failed. War has been a feature of history since primitive times. In ancient states warfare was usually a community enterprise, but as society divided on a functional basis a warrior class developed, and the army and navy became component parts of the state. In many instances, both recent and historic, the military has ruled the state. The use of fighting forces as instruments of war became a scientific art with the development of strategy and tactics. Modern war was been even more greatly influenced by industrial development, scientific progress, and the spread of popular education; a new era of machine warfare, prosecuted by masses of troops raised by conscription, rather than by rulers and the military class alone, developed after the wars of Napoleon I. Modern total war calls for the regimentation and coordination of peoples and resources; the state is compelled to demand a surrender of private rights in order that unity of purpose may enable it to prosecute the war to a victorious conclusion. Wars are waged not only against a nation's government and armed forces but also against a nation's economic means of existence and its civilian population in order to destroy the means and will to continue the struggle. Organized efforts to end war began with the peace congresses of the 19th cent. and culminated in the formation of the League of Nations after World War I and the United Nations after World War II. The threat of nuclear war has created a movement for nuclear disarmament (see disarmament, nuclear). During the cold war the threat of nuclear retaliation has restrained the use of nuclear weapons; instead there was an arms race, a succession of regional wars, and a proliferation of guerrilla wars and counterinsurgency campaigns. The end of the cold war has made arms control a more realistic goal.

See studies by Q. Wright (2d ed. 1965), G. Blainey (1973), J. Keegan (1976), and V. D. Hanson (1989, 1999).

war, laws of, in international law, rules and principles regulating an armed conflict between nations. These laws are designed to minimize the destruction of life and property, to proscribe cruel treatment of noncombatants and prisoners of war, and to establish conditions under which the belligerents may consult with one another. To mitigate the effects of insurrections and civil wars, established governments often recognize the belligerency of domestic opponents and conduct conflicts with them according to the laws of war.

See also neutrality; seas, freedom of the.


In the Middle Ages the ideals of knighthood restrained some cruelties in warfare, but systematic legal codes did not appear until the 17th cent. The great work of Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis [on the laws of war and peace] (1625) and the works of Vattel had much influence in introducing humane practices. Detailed international treaties governing war are mostly a product of the 19th and 20th cent. The Declaration of Paris (1856; see Paris, Declaration of), the accords concluded at the Hague Conferences (1899, 1907), and the Geneva Conventions (1864, 1906, 1929, 1949) are the main bodies of formulated law.

Modern Laws of War

There is no convention on the laws of war to which all the major powers of the world have acceded, and many conventions provide that their terms shall be inoperative if any of the belligerents is not a signatory or if an enemy commits a violation. Despite such provisions, many nations have adopted the laws of war, and the conditions of warfare have undoubtedly been ameliorated, particularly in the treatment of prisoners and the consideration shown to the sick and wounded. The care of the sick and the wounded is facilitated by making medical personnel noncombatants and by clearly marking hospitals and similar installations, thus sparing them from attack. Conventions restricting the use of certain weapons probably have not materially mitigated the horrors of war. For the most part, only those weapons that are of limited military use, e.g., poison gas, have been effectively banned, while efforts to prohibit militarily effective weapons, e.g., atomic weapons and submarine mines, have not succeeded.

The laws of war have had as their objective the protection of civilian populations by limiting all action to the military. A distinction was made between combatants and noncombatants, the former being defined in terms of traditional military units. Thus combatants must have a commander responsible for subordinates, wear a fixed and recognizable emblem, carry arms openly, and follow the laws of war. But the development of aerial bombing in World War I and of guerrilla forces dependent on civilians has tended to make all enemy territory part of the theater of operations. New practices and categories have yet to be worked out to protect civilian centers adequately.

Civilians in territory occupied by the enemy are, however, supposed to be entitled to certain protections. There may not be imprisonment without cause, and fines may not be levied upon a whole civilian population for individual offenses. Private property also receives limited protection, and it may not be confiscated for military use unless fair compensation is paid. Special rules govern such actions against property as the taking of a prize at sea or in port, the confiscation of contraband, and the use of the blockade. Property destroyed in the course of action against the enemy is, of course, not compensable. Places of religious, artistic, or historical importance should not be attacked unless there is military need.

No direct diplomatic relations exist between belligerents, but neutral diplomats are often given custody of property in enemy territory and are entrusted with negotiations. In the field of combat, passports, safe-conducts, and flags of truce permit consultations between opposing commanders. Hostilities may even be totally suspended by an armistice, which is often the prelude to surrender.

Violations of the laws of war have probably occurred in all major conflicts; a nation confident of victory will frequently not be deterred even by fear of reprisals. After World War II the military and civilian leaders of the Axis Powers who were responsible for violations were tried for war crimes, and some Americans were tried for war crimes in the Vietnam War (see My Lai incident).


See M. Greenspan, The Modern Law of Land Warfare (1959) and The Soldier's Guide to the Laws of War (1969); S. D. Bailey, Prohibitions and Restraints in War (1972).

The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought entirely at sea between the United States and France from 1798 to 1800. In the United States, the conflict is sometimes also referred to as the Undeclared War with France, The Pirate Wars, or the Half-War.


The Kingdom of France had been a major ally of the United States in the American Revolutionary War, but the new government of Revolutionary France viewed the Jay Treaty, a 1794 agreement between the United States and the Kingdom of Great Britain, as a violation of France’s 1778 Treaty of Alliance with the United States. The Jay Treaty resolved several points of contention between the United States and Great Britain that had lingered since the end of the war, but also contained economic clauses, and seeing that the United States had already declared neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and France, and that American legislation was being passed for a trade deal with their enemy led to French outrage. The French government was also outraged by the U.S. refusal to continue repaying its debt to France on the basis that it had been extinguished with the establishment of a French Republic (as opposed to the Monarchy which preceded it).

The French began to seize American ships trading with their British enemies and refused to receive a new United States minister when he arrived in Paris in December 1796. In his annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, President John Adams reported on France’s refusal to negotiate and spoke of the need "to place our country in a suitable posture of defense." In April 1798, President Adams informed Congress of the "XYZ Affair", in which French agents demanded a large bribe for the restoration of relations with the United States.

The French inflicted substantial losses on American shipping. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering reported to Congress on June 21, 1797 that the French had captured 316 American merchant ships in the previous eleven months. The hostilities caused insurance rates on American shipping to increase at least 500 percent, as French marauders cruised the length of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard virtually unopposed. The administration had no warships to combat them; the last had been sold off in 1785. The United States possessed only a flotilla of revenue cutters and some neglected coastal forts.

Increased depredations by privateers from Revolutionary France required the United States Navy to protect the expanding merchant shipping of the United States. The United States Congress authorized the President to acquire, arm, and man no more than twelve vessels, of up to twenty-two guns each. Under the terms of this act, several vessels were purchased and converted into ships of war.

July 7, 1798, when Congress rescinded treaties with France, can be considered a semi-official beginning of the Quasi-War. The act was followed two days later with Congressional authorization to attack French vessels.

Naval engagements

The U.S. Navy operated with a battle fleet of roughly 25 vessels. The Navy patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean, seeking out French privateers. Captain Thomas Truxtun’s insistence on the highest standards of crew training paid handsome dividends as the frigate USS Constellation captured L'Insurgente and severely damaged La Vengeance. Often, French privateers resisted, as was the case with the privateer La Croyable, who was captured on July 7, 1798, by USS Delaware outside of Egg Harbor, New Jersey. The USS Enterprise captured eight privateers and freed 11 American vessels from captivity. The USS Experiment captured the French Deux Amis and the Diane. Numerous American merchantmen were likewise recaptured by the Experiment. The USS Boston summarily forced Le Berceau into submission. Silas Talbot engineered an expedition in the Puerto Plata harbor in St. Domingo, a possession of France's ally Spain, on May 11, 1800, in which sailors and marines of the USS Constitution under Lieutenant Isaac Hull cut out the French privateer Sandwich from the harbor and spiked the guns in the Spanish fort.

Of all of the vessels operating under command of the U.S. Navy, only one vessel was captured by—and later recaptured from—French forces: USS Retaliation. Retaliation was the captured privateer La Croyable, recently purchased by the U.S. Navy. Retaliation departed Norfolk on October 28, 1798, with Montezuma and Norfolk and cruised in the West Indies protecting American commerce. On November 20, the French frigates L’Insurgente and Volontaire overtook Retaliation while her consorts were away on a chase and forced commanding officer Lieutenant William Bainbridge to surrender the out-gunned schooner. However, Montezuma and Norfolk escaped after Bainbridge convinced the senior French commander that those American warships were too powerful for his frigates and induced him to abandon the chase. Renamed Magicienne by the French, the schooner again came into American hands on June 28, when a broadside from USS Merrimack forced her to haul down her colors.

Revenue cutters in the service of the Revenue-Marine, predecessor of the Coast Guard, also assisted in capturing two others. The cutter USRC Pickering, commanded by Edward Preble, made two cruises to the West Indies and captured ten prizes, one of which carried 19 guns throwing 150 pounds of iron compared to Pickering’s 14 guns and total iron weight of only 56 pounds, and was manned by some 250 sailors, more than three times Pickering’s strength.

Sources differ with regards to American losses. One contends that by the war's end in 1800, the French had seized over two thousand American merchant vessels. Another claims that the United States lost only one. (This and similar discrepancies may be explained if one is counting naval losses and another merchant ships.)

Although they were fighting the same enemy, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy did not cooperate operationally, nor did they share operational plans or come to mutual understandings about deployment of their forces. The British did sell the American government naval stores and munitions. In addition, the two navies shared a system of signals by which each could recognize the other’s warships at sea and allowed merchantmen of their respective nations to join their convoys.

Conclusion of hostilities

By the autumn of 1800, the United States Navy and the Royal Navy, combined with a more conciliatory diplomatic stance by the government of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, produced a reduction in the activity of the French privateers and warships. The Convention of 1800, signed on September 30, 1800, ended the Quasi-War but news of this did not arrive in time to help John Adams avert failing in his bid for a second term.

See also


Further reading

  • Alexander De Conde: The quasi-war: the politics and diplomacy of the undeclared war with France 1797–1801. New York: Scribner’s, 1966
  • Frederick C. Leiner: Millions for Defense: The Subscription Warships of 1798. US Naval Institute Press, November 1999
  • Nathan Miller: The US Navy: An Illustrated History. New York: American Heritage, 1977
  • Ian W. Toll: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of The U.S. Navy. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006
  • Captain Thomas Haggard commanded the American armed ship Louisa of Philadelphia, which successfully engaged French and Spanish privateers August 20, 1800 off Tarifa.

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