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Unlawful CombatantsA Genealogy of the Irregular Fighter$
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Sibylle Scheipers

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199646111

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199646111.001.0001

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The Making of the Irregular Fighter, 1740–1815

The Making of the Irregular Fighter, 1740–1815

(p.33) 2 The Making of the Irregular Fighter, 1740–1815
Unlawful Combatants

Sibylle Scheipers

Oxford University Press

The concept of irregular warfare emerged in the mid-eighteenth century. Irregular warfare was initially conceptualized as a tactical complement of regular warfare. However, with the nationalization of war in the framework of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars a completely new notion of irregular warfare developed. Irregular fighters such as the French counter-revolutionary fighters in the Vendée and elsewhere, as well as guerrilla fighters in Napoleon’s empire, were denounced as illegitimate combatants. The marginalization of irregular fighters thus arose from the ambiguity of the idea of the levée en masse: if the nationalization of war meant that national war was essentially people’s war, it was difficult to deny that popular uprisings could have political legitimacy too. The denunciation of the irregular as the illegitimate fighter solved this dilemma.

Keywords:   French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars, nationalization of war, levée en masse, people’s war

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