Information warfare is ‘the contest for the provision and assurance of information to support friendly decision-making, while denying and degrading that of adversaries’. An objective of information warfare is achieving information superiority and advantage over an adversary which can be exploited in the maritime, land, air, cyber and space domains.[1]

As a point for consideration in applying information warfare, Jill Lepore, the David Woods Kemper of Professor of American History and Affiliate Professor of Law at Harvard University, writes:

...if war is, at least in part, a contest for meaning, can it ever be a fair fight when only one side has access to those perfect instruments of empire, pens, paper and printing presses?[2]

The Australian Defence Force values of service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence, mandate our continuous ethical conduct, including at war. Ethical wars do not, necessarily, mean that war is a ‘fair fight’. Indeed, the asymmetry or unequalness, ‘achieving or improving sustainable competitive advantage’, of our capabilities against adversary capabilities are the intended consequence of military professional doctrine, concepts, experimentation, lessons, rehearsals, education and training.[3]

As we prosecute war, we continuously assess our relative strengths and weaknesses against an intelligent adversary, while trying to understand how they think and how they might view our own strengths and weaknesses.[4] War is nonlinear and intrinsically unpredictable. War consists of violence, enmity and passion; chance and friction; rationalised political objectives and dynamic interaction. In war, defeat of an enemy occurs when they are disrupted, disorientated and/or destroyed functionally, organisationally, cybernetically, psychologically, conceptually and/or morally – usually through intensive levels of sudden, destructive violence.[5]

The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity ‘is a study of war, and of how people write about it’.[6] For Lepore, ‘writing about war can be almost as difficult as waging it and, often enough, is essential to winning [war]’.[7]

The central idea of The Name of War, is that ‘wounds and words – the injuries and their interpretation – cannot be separated, that acts of war generate acts of narration, and that both types of acts are often joined in common purpose: defining geographical, political, cultural, and sometimes racial and national boundaries between peoples’.[8]

Informing our thinking on information warfare, Lepore explains that ‘words used to describe war have a great deal of work to do: they must communicate war’s intensity, its traumas, fears and glories; they must make clear who is right and who is wrong, rally support, and recruit allies; and they must document the pain of war, and in doing so, help to alleviate it’.[9] Lepore continues, ‘war twice cultivates language: it requires justification, it demands description.’[10]

The ‘words used to describe and define war are amongst the tiredest of any language – “bloody,” “brutal,” “cruel,” “savage,” “atrocious” – all are overused and imprecise’.[11] And ‘yet they remain shocking, perhaps because of their vagueness’. Lepore asks, ‘how does someone far from a scene of battle imagine “savage cruelty” except by thinking the worst?’[12]

Michael Walzer writes on the ‘moral vocabulary of warfare’, the language by which ‘combatants justify their own actions while vilifying their opponents’.[13] Elaine Scarry argues, that war ‘differs from all other contests in that its outcome carries the power of its own enforcement’.[14] Lepore states that war is a ‘violent contest for territory, resources, and political allegiances, and, not less fiercely, a contest for meaning.’[15]

King Philip’s War

The Name of War, is a ‘war before television, before film, before photography…[when] even crude wood engravings were rare and printed books an uncommon commodity’.[16] Lepore narrates King Philip’s War, also called Metacom’s Rebellion or the Great Narragansett War, 1675–76. This is a war, in New England, where Algonquian Native Americans fought English colonists. In ‘proportion to population’ this ‘short vicious war inflicted greater casualties than any other war in American history’.[17]

By August 1876, when Philip (Metacom) the sachem (chief) of the Wampanoag nation ‘was shot to death near his home… twenty-five English towns, more than half of all the colonists’ settlements in New England, had been ruined and the line of English habitation had been pushed back to the [North American] Atlantic coast’.[18] The ‘struggling colonists [were] nearly forced to abandon New England entirely, and their losses left them desperately dependent on England for support’.[19]

Yet, ‘Indian losses were far, far greater’. Colonial armies, with their Pequot and Mohegan allies, pursued enemy Native Americans 200 kilometres, from Narragansett Bay to the Connecticut River Valley.[20] The Algonquians who ‘fought the English saw their communities destroyed: thousands died in the fighting while thousands more died of disease or starvation or were shipped to [British Caribbean] colonies as slaves’.[21]

Lepore notes that, in addition to the destruction and cruelty of King Philip’s War, the conflict is marked by ‘how much colonists wrote about it’. More than ‘four hundred letters written during the war survive in New England archives alone, along with more than thirty editions of twenty different printed accounts [of the war]’.[22]

In letters, diaries and chronicles, English settlers expressed their ‘agonies, mourned their losses and… defended their [own] conduct’. In the end, their writings proved pivotal to their victory, a victory that drew new, firmer boundaries between English and Native American people, between English and Native American land, and between what it meant to be “English” and what it meant to be “Indian”.[23]

For the Native American people of New England, literacy was a path to assimilation with the colonists. However, ‘literacy is not an uncomplicated tool’. Instead, ‘literacy is bound…by the conditions under which it is acquired; in this case, at great cost’. To become literate, ‘seventeenth-century Indians had first to make a graduated succession of cultural concessions – adopting English ways and English dress, living in towns, learning to speak English, converting to Christianity’.[24]

But these ‘concessions made the Indians vulnerable’. Neither English nor Native American, ‘assimilated Indians were scorned by both groups and even were subject to attack’. Because the ‘acquisition of [English] literacy…was one of the last steps on the road to assimilation, Indians who could read and write placed themselves in particularly perilous positions; caught between two worlds but fully accepted by neither’.[25]

For the English, ‘possessions were, in a sense, what was at stake in the war, for these – the clothes they wore, the houses they lived in, and the things they owned – were a good part of what differentiated the English from the Indians’. These were not ‘simply material differences, they were cultural, for every English frock coat was stitched with threads of civility, each thatched roof rested in a foundation of property rights, and every cupboard housed a universe of ideas’.[26]


For the New England colonists, Professor Lepore summarises their objective: ‘wage the war, and win it, by whatever means necessary, and the write about it, to win it again. The first would be a victory of wounds, the second a victory of words’.[27] Lepore concludes that ‘war is a contest of both injuries and interpretation…[and] the English made sure that they won the latter, even when the former was not yet assured’.[28]

Lepore divides her book into four parts that, in another circumstance, may forewarn how we think, plan, execute, disrupt and counter information warfare. These include:

  • Part 1: how war alters an individual’s relationship to language, including ‘containing, censoring and organising the stories of war’.[29]
  • Part 2: how boundaries are drawn on the physical landscape and on the landscape of the human soul. How war’s cruelties are explained and justified by both sides.
  • Part 3: contrasts differing experiences of lost liberty during war: captivity; confinement; freedom of association; and, freedom of expression.
  • Part 4: analyses how subsequent generations have remembered King Philip’s War.[30]

Lepore emphasises that ‘nearly all human cultures practicing war follow rules of their own prescription…[and] they may well borrow from other’s traditions’. Perhaps more importantly, ‘warring societies…exaggerate their differences [from their adversaries] to make killing easier; the more foreign the enemy, the better’. War’s nature as a violent and interactive struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills means that ‘people sometimes call into question their basic assumptions about the world – ideas, for instance, about what it is to be human, or what God’s role is in human affairs’.[31]

Finally, reflecting that Information warfare is ‘the contest for the provision and assurance of information to support friendly decision-making, while denying and degrading that of adversaries’, Lepore notes that the English colonists and Native Americans in King Philip’s War fundamentally misunderstood each other’s intentions.[32]

The colonists believed that a conspiracy existed against their presence in New England where ‘leaders like Philip had the authority to submit ‘their people’ to the King of England’ as a ‘universal combination of the Indians’. The English wrongly perceived that a ‘confederacy of the Indians is larger than we see it’. In contrast, ‘most Indians expected the English to behave as they themselves did, loyal largely to a single tribe, and failed to understand why the colonists were obligated to… a distant and weak monarch’.[33]