[Marxism] New book trashes Teddy Roosevelt

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 19 07:44:17 MST 2009

(This is quite interesting. The author also wrote "Flags of our 
Father", a book perceived by some as in the 'greatest generation' 
vein even if it really was a meditation on wartime propaganda. I 
remember the author being interviewed by Don Imus, who was all 
wrapped up in the Iwo Jima saga but did not quite understand that 
the very same author he was lionizing would be capable of writing 
what appears to be a very trenchant anti-imperialist study.)

NY Times, November 19, 2009
Books of The Times
The Queasy Side of Theodore Roosevelt’s Diplomatic Voyage

A Secret History of Empire and War
By James Bradley
Illustrated. 387 pages. Little, Brown & Company. $29.99.

James Bradley’s incendiary new book about Theodore Roosevelt is 
not really packed with secrets. Much of the material it discusses 
has long been hidden in plain sight. But Roosevelt biographers 
often subscribe to certain orthodoxies, and one of them is this: 
When Roosevelt made noxiously racist and ethnocentric remarks 
about Anglo-Saxon greatness, so what? He was just voicing the 
tenets of his time.

“Nationalistic boasting was in fashion,” shrugs Douglas Brinkley’s 
nearly 1,000-page “Wilderness Warrior,” published this year.

Mr. Bradley, the author of “Flags of Our Fathers,” does not simply 
cite Roosevelt’s egregious talk. He presents this much-ignored 
aspect of Roosevelt’s thinking with sharp specificity (“I am so 
angry with that infernal little Cuban republic that I would like 
to wipe its people off the face of the earth,” Roosevelt wrote in 
1906) and then goes on to make a much more damaging point, angrily 
and persuasively connecting Roosevelt’s race-based foreign policy 
miscalculations in Asia. His thesis in “The Imperial Cruise” is 
startling enough to reshape conventional wisdom about Roosevelt’s 

“Here was the match that lit the fuse, and yet for decades we paid 
attention only to the dynamite,” Mr. Bradley writes. The flame to 
which he refers is Roosevelt’s secret diplomacy with Japan and his 
encouragement of Japanese imperialism. (“I should like to see 
Japan have Korea,” he once declared.) In a far-reaching book that 
also addresses Roosevelt’s misconceptions about Korea, Hawaii, 
China and the Philippines, Mr. Bradley places critical emphasis on 
the dangerous American-Japanese relationship that, he says, 
Roosevelt helped create.

“Knowing a lot about race theory but less about international 
diplomacy and almost nothing about Asia,” he writes, “Roosevelt in 
1905 careened U.S.-Japanese relations on the dark side road 
leading to 1941.”

This assertion is certainly debatable. And neither “The Imperial 
Cruise” nor Mr. Bradley, whose earlier “Flyboys” offered a 
gruesome account of the deaths of American World War II pilots on 
the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima, is beyond reproach. Mr. 
Bradley favors broad strokes and may at times be overly eager to 
connect historical dots, but he also produces graphic, shocking 
evidence of the attitudes that his book describes.

If racism is nothing new, Mr. Bradley’s readers may still be 
surprised at the xenophobic ugliness of the photos, letters, 
cartoons, lyrics and political speeches cited here. And if, for 
instance, American use of waterboarding against 
turn-of-the-century Filipino prisoners is not unknown (it was the 
subject of a New Yorker article last year), neither is it common 
knowledge. Nor, perhaps, are the lyrics to “The Water Cure,” a 
vintage United States Army marching song: “Shove in the nozzle 
deep and let him taste of liberty/Shouting the battle cry of 
freedom.” The toughest parts of this book re-reveal things we 
should already know.

Mr. Bradley builds “The Imperial Cruise” around the public 
relations event that its title describes: a 1905 voyage of the 
liner Manchuria during which the first daughter, Alice Roosevelt, 
and the future President William Howard Taft, then Roosevelt’s 
secretary of war, docked in the countries that this book describes.

Mixing very familiar elements (i.e., any of Alice Roosevelt’s 
antics) with other, more startling material, Mr. Bradley first 
cites some of the academic and philosophical influences on the 
Harvard-educated Roosevelt’s early thinking. His were common ideas 
for his time.

“One after another, White Christian males in America’s finest 
universities ‘discovered’ that the Aryan was God’s highest 
creation, that the Negro was designed for servitude and that the 
Indian was doomed to extinction,” Mr. Bradley writes.

Mr. Bradley describes with particular venom the misinformation 
given to the American public about the cost, duration and 
intensity of the Philippine struggle, which began when the 
Filipino revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo allowed American 
soldiers ashore to fight the Spanish-American War and made the 
terrible mistake of presuming that the United States Constitution 
made no provision for taking colonies.

Quoting Gen. Arthur MacArthur, he pointedly describes a too 
familiar situation. “General MacArthur described a depressing 
quagmire where the U.S. Army controlled only 117 miles out of a 
total of 116,000 square miles, a hostile country where Americans 
could not venture out alone and a shell-shocked populace whose 
hatred for their oppressors grew each day,” he writes. “The 
Imperial Cruise” is all too persuasive in its visions of history 
repeating itself.

Another chapter describes the means by which the idea of exporting 
suffrage and democracy to primitive societies needed to be 
adjusted for Hawaii, with its existing native monarch and vastly 
outnumbered white population. Here and in its discussion of China, 
the book particularly emphasizes the way American assumptions of 
white superiority made the patriotism of other populations hard to 
understand. Roosevelt’s “inability to recognize third-world 
nationalism” is cited again and again, not simply as a prejudice 
but as an obstacle to effective policy.

Even worse, according to Mr. Bradley, was Roosevelt’s frequent 
presumption that he did understand other cultures. This book 
argues that Roosevelt’s designation of the Japanese as born 
leaders and veritable Americans, worthy of imposing their own 
Monroe Doctrine on weaker nations like Korea, was a cataclysmic 

In 1905 his miscalculations had expanded to include Russia too. 
Even while brokering the Portsmouth Treaty that ended the 
Russo-Japanese War and won him the Nobel Peace Prize, “Roosevelt 
imagined the Japanese as eternal opponents of the Slav, not 
entertaining the possibility that Russia and Japan would kiss and 
make up after the war,” Mr. Bradley writes crudely. “And since 
Roosevelt kept his analysis secret from everyone except his 
Japanese allies and yes-men like Taft, there was no one to grab 
the reins before Roosevelt drove America’s future in Asia into a 

At times like this, Mr. Bradley risks sounding dangerously 
hot-headed. But if he brings a reckless passion to “The Imperial 
Cruise,” there is at least one extenuating fact behind his 
thinking. In “Flags of Our Fathers” he wrote about how his father 
helped plant the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima during 
World War II. In “The Imperial Cruise” he asks why American 
servicemen like his father had to be fighting in the Pacific at all.

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