ALBANY, N.Y. - After two years advising the George W. Bush administration on issues regarding Iraq, Afghanistan and the high-tech warfare being waged in both countries, Eliot Cohen researched his next book by immersing himself in the low-tech era of muskets and tomahawks.
He revisited the sites in eastern New York where his parents took him on family vacations, places such as Fort Ticonderoga, which fascinated the young boy from Boston with a budding interest in America's Colonial history.
"That period was always my first love," said Cohen, an author and political scientist who heads Johns Hopkins University's strategic studies program. "I like hearing historical echoes, even if they're a little bit faint."
Cohen, 56, is making another visit to the historic site in the eastern Adirondacks on Sunday to kick off Fort Ticonderoga's 2012 Author Series with a discussion of his latest book, "Conquered Into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles Along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War."
Published in November by Free Press, Cohen's book details how 125 years of armed conflict along the "warpath" — the 200-mile region between Albany and Montreal — influenced how America fights its wars.
"The American way of war has always had a very unique mixture of elements that are highly European, very structured and formal. Others reflect pragmatism and the ruthlessness of the frontier," Cohen said during a telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C. "It's a very peculiar kind of synthesis of two different kinds of warfare."
The book covers the period between the French and Indian attack on the British settlement at Schenectady in 1690 to the end of the War of 1812, which included a key American land and naval victory at Plattsburgh, on Lake Champlain near the Canadian border. In between, he focuses on eight battles fought during the various wars involving the British, French, Canadians, Americans and Native Americans, analyzing what mistakes were made and what lessons, if any, were learned.
The book's title comes from the opening phrase of a pamphlet American agents distributed in Quebec before the Revolutionary War started in 1775. Hoping to spur the French-Canadian population to join the growing rebellion against Britain, the message from the Continental Congress told the northern neighbours they were "conquered into liberty" when France lost the previous war to the English.
Quebec didn't rise up against the English, and Canada remained in British hands after an American invasion ended in the disaster in the winter of 1775-76. But the idea of being "conquered into liberty" later worked for the U.S. in World War II, when America and its allies defeated German and Japan, then rebuilt those nations as democracies, Cohen said.
"Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it doesn't, but that approach begins here, on the Great Warpath," Cohen said.
Cohen spent most of the last two years of President George W. Bush's second term in the Department of State, serving as Condoleezza Rice's senior foreign policy adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan. The author of several books on wartime leadership, including 2002's "Supreme Command," Cohen finds many parallels between the wars being fought by today's American military forces and their "citizen solider" forerunners in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
In summing up the atrocities committed by European-led forces and Native American warriors during the French and Indian War, Cohen writes: "Small wonder, then, that the American way of war in later years would show itself similarly ambivalent, adhering to international conventions in both the legal and customary sense, and then resorting to ruthless means when that appeared necessary."
Cohen's research included hiking over woodland trails where the famed Rogers' Rangers fought their French and Indian adversaries in bloody ambushes and hit-and-run raids. He walked old battle grounds at Ticonderoga and Lake George, and sailed the waters of Lake Champlain where British and American naval forces battled during two wars.
"It was really important for me to try to give people the feeling of what it was like to be in these places, to capture the ground, the weather, the look, even the smell," he said. "It's enormously helpful and a lot of fun."
Fort Ticonderoga's Author Series features talks and book signings by writers of recently published material on 18th-century military topics. Other authors have appearances scheduled in June, August and September.