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Originally published Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 5:00 AM

Book review

'Conquered into Liberty': Canada, America's foremost enemy

In "Conquered into Liberty," Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen makes the case that for two centuries, Canada was the United States' most effective military opponent.

Special to The Seattle Times

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'Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War'

by Eliot A. Cohen

Free Press, 405 pp., $30

This book, writes Eliot A. Cohen, "deals with America's most durable and in many ways most effective and important enemy of all: Canada."

Say what?

But Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, makes a case that what Native Americans called the "Great Warpath" — a natural invasion path stretching from Albany, N.Y., to Montreal — was a continual scene of hostilities between the United States and Canada for more than 200 years.

He offers plenty of history to back it up, beginning with a 1609 clash between Mohawk Indians and Samuel de Champlain along the lake that now bears Champlain's name. This is followed by descriptions of a 1690 French and Indian raid on Schenectady, N.Y., and another in 1704 on Deerfield, Mass., both issuing from Canada.

The 18th-century French and Indian War also saw savage combat along the Great Warpath, concluding with a British victory that ended French rule in Canada. American colonists who served with the British learned much from the experience, Cohen writes. "They learned the basics of how to raise, equip and discipline battalions of infantry; they learned light infantry and ranging tactics; and perhaps most important of all, they learned how to organize, move and sustain substantial forces, even in the wilderness." These lessons served them well in the coming American Revolution — which, by the way, saw much more fighting along the Great Warpath.

The Revolution also hatched a plan for a joint French-American invasion of Canada, but George Washington quashed the idea, distrusting French motives. For their part, the British tried to pry Vermont away from its alliance with the American colonies.

The War of 1812 saw more combat along the Great Warpath, and the conquest of Canada became an American objective, but the nation ultimately failed in that and nearly every other objective for which the war was fought. "Canada and the Canadians won," Cohen says.

Several other minor dust-ups occurred along the Great Warpath after the War of 1812, and when civil war came to America, the British feared the United States would try again to invade Canada along that historic route. Ironically, the only "invasion" took place in the opposite direction, when Confederate agents operating from Canada attacked St. Albans, Vt., in 1864.

The 1871 Treaty of Washington finally brought peace to the troubled region, but suspicion and paranoia lingered on both sides for years thereafter.

Cohen's tightly written narrative includes succinct accounts of many battles fought along the Great Warpath. He also provides analysis and insight into the strategic intentions of contending parties, the strengths and weaknesses of opposing forces and their leaders, and the logistical and technological problems they faced. Americans learned lessons in these conflicts that helped provide the foundation for many of the nation's modern military tactics, he argues.

This is a fine, thoughtful treatment of a period of American history that rarely receives much attention.

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