By Jennifer James

About Jennifer James

Jennifer James is Associate Professor of English and Director of Africana Studies at the George Washington University and author of A Freedom Bought with Blood: African American War Literature, the Civil War–­World War II (20o7).


African American and diasporic discussions of war reveal how authoritative white, Western theorists have oversimplified the important role of “difference” in theorizing war, whether we are thinking of war as a practice or as a metaphor for social relations. A racially and historically inflected exploration of such complications is critical to a robust consideration of the myriad meanings war has accrued within an African American and black diasporic framework.

The Prussian military strategist and former general Carl von Clausewitz famously conceptualized the structure of war in his influential treatise On War ([1832] 1997, 42): war is “nothing but a duel on a larger scale.” As he imagines it, war is akin to a contest between two people—­a “self” and an “other”—­but enlarged into a conflict between multiple “selves” (the same as you) and multiple “others” (different from you but indistinct from one another). Clausewitz’s representation of war as a simple …

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