California Literary Review

The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley

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December 8th, 2009 at 10:36 am

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The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley
The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War
by James Bradley
Little, Brown and Company, 400 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Rising Sun of American Imperialism

James Bradley doesn’t like Theodore Roosevelt. Let’s get that clear from the get-go.

Nor does he have much time for William Howard Taft, the gargantuan gourmand, Roosevelt’s right-hand man and his successor as president.

And after reading The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, I have the sneaky suspicion that there’s not much love lost for George Bush, either.

Imperialism, that’s the damning brand that Bradley has heating up in his fires. Forget American theories of self-reliance, Bradley says, McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft were heavily involved in the colonization of the Pacific. The Philippines, China, Korea, even Hawaii – each had a special reason to bear the United States a grudge.

But what could have been a clear, sharp revision of the Roosevelt myth is hampered by a clumsy attack. The author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys, Bradley’s so incensed by Roosevelt’s foreign policies – especially with regards to Japan – that he forgets to organize his thoughts.

The ostensible framework is the Pacific cruise that Taft, Alice Roosevelt and a number of congressmen took in the summer of 1905. While Alice entertained the press with her antics, Taft played the diplomatic game, making public appearances while privately negotiating alliances in backrooms.

Bradley wants to see this voyage as an American travesty, a symbol of Roosevelt’s ham-fisted attempts at rearranging the world to suit his current trading and military needs. And if that meant stepping on a few nations on the way, well then, so be it.

Now don’t get me wrong, he’s done his homework to support this view. Indeed, there are many pages that read as a series of quotes and footnoted points (a few less might have strengthened his argument more).

Plus there’s plenty of evidence, some from Roosevelt’s own pen, to suggest that the president viewed himself as a white man taking up the burden of civilizing the heathens. For example, here is his take, as quoted by Bradley from the series The Winning of the West, on Native Americans:

“…life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid and ferocious than that of the wild beasts [who] seemed to the White settlers devils and not men.”

As with the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Gunga Din, there is a certain amount of 20th century paternal benevolence implied in such racism. It was certainly present in the United States’ attitude towards the Philippines, one of Bradley’s major foci.

For after “liberating” the islands from Spain, our country then decided that its inhabitants weren’t fit to rule and needed protecting from themselves. Waterboarding was one of our favorite means of providing such protection, along with random killings and torching forests.

You’d have a hard time following the chronology of this particular country’s tragedy (or of Hawaii’s, or of Korea’s), however, since Bradley constantly jumps forward and backward in the book. Lengthy theories on Aryan supremacy are interspersed with suppositions about Alice’s relationship with her father; cogent points are interrupted by exclamations like:

From Plymouth Rock to San Francisco Bay, the settlers slaughtered Indian men, women, and children so democracy could take root and civilization as they understood it could sparkle from sea to shining sea.

I don’t fault Bradley for his righteous ardor; I just wish he’d have done it without bastardizing America the Beautiful (why not The Star Spangled Banner? It has more guns.)

His real beef, and this is the argument that deserved more attention, is Roosevelt’s relationship with Japan, the “honorary Aryans” of the East. As he points out in a recent New York Times opinion piece), Bradley lays the blame for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor squarely on the shoulders of Teddy himself:

Only now can history understand that it was these events in the summer of 1905 that would doom more than one hundred thousand American boys in the Pacific theater decades later. Operating as a two-man diplomatic tag team, Roosevelt and Taft would green-light what later generations would call World War II in the Pacific.

He’s referring to a secret meeting that Taft, then U.S. Secretary of War, had with Katsura Taro, Prime Minister of Japan, regarding the end of the Russo-Japanese war. Prevented from negotiating any formal alliance without the consent of the Senate, Taft instead formed a gentlemen’s agreement (on behalf of Roosevelt) with the victor Japan.

The terms, as Edmund Morris states in his book Theodore Rex, were simple: “Taft wanted a statesman’s assurance that Hawaii and the Philippines would not be menaced in future years. Katsura wanted Korea.”

They got want they wanted. Korea became a protectorate; the United States, Britain and Japan maintained an open door policy in regards to trade and the Philippines were left undisturbed (though the Filipinos might have suggested they’d been disturbed enough already).

This is the stuff that Pulitzers are made of. Yet Bradley makes no real attempt to explore Teddy’s complicated motivations, nor delve into the backstories of Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean relations. It’s just the final stop on the tour of American catastrophes abroad; a quick day trip to future Armageddon and then we’re back on the boat.

Bradley does give us one point to take away. At least we can charge ahead into Afghanistan and Iraq in the comforting knowledge that nations were as stupid and self-serving then as we are now.

  • http://chickasawplum.homestead.com/ John R. Guthrie

    An interesting and well done review, Elinor Teele. Whatever its shortcomings, I’ve put The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War on my reading list.

  • Art Darwin

    As an American, I feel some historical responsibility for the actions of our leaders. That said, my fury boils over at James Bradley’s overreaching to trash just about everything American.
    I am half through this book and still angry. Yes, the man has many valid points, but never would he allow himself to find anything admirable about this country or any of its citizens. We are all guilty of destroying half the world and enslaving the other half. Unfair!

  • Kenneth L. McKay

    The current historical climate has a lot of reviewers reading tea leaves. Interjecting a mind reading suspicion about the author’s feeling toward George Bush reduces a five star grade to only two by putting a stain on her objective capabilities. I do not fault your “righteous” liberalism; however, you would have done well to keep it in the closet on this one.

  • Thomas O’Brien

    Bradley’s continual use of “Aryan” and “Haole” in his book is embarassing not to us but to him. Is Bradley aware that haole is the equivalent of the n-word for white people by Hawaiians? I also don’t believe that Americans consider themselves the equivalent of Nazi Aryans but if that makes him feel better to cleanse his white guilt, from a generation that is no longer alive, then he should call himself by these terms. The book is about race finger-pointing justified/masked with historical event footnotes.

  • C.

    As a historian, and professor I must make this clear. Every comment and quote from Mr. Roosevelt within this book, it should be noted, can be traced back to reliable documentation. The tone may be questionable, but the facts, are not.

  • Ed C.

    I could only get through the first chapter before Mr.Bradley’s rambling style became to hard to follow. It’s glaringly apparent that Ron Powers had more influence on the success of Flags of Our Fathers than was previously thought.

  • Wayne Smith

    And Thomas Jefferson owned slaves!

    Foreign policy is alway made with an eye to the present and forseeable future. Thus, we partnered with the Soviets in fighting the Nazi’s … perhaps ensuring the survival of Stalin’s murderous regime. Was it worth it…Seemed so at the time and in the verdict of history.

    TR did reflect is time. Certainly not all of his thought and writings are correct in terms of viewing all of God’s people equally. The fact is, like Lincoln (who did view blacks as inferior even while setting them free), TR did great things for the world and the United States. On balance, he deserves his label as one of America’s great presidents and statesmen.

  • mikey mike

    Are’nt all books of history revisionist in the sense that a writer has to have a opinion or agenda of his own whether he admits this to himself or not. He has to have an ending that proves his point, true or not, after all publishers are not going to print a book unless they feel that the subject matter will arouse enough curiosity to sell.
    Fiction sells and history sells. if one can come up with a good dustcover that provokes ones interest in the topic of the book. And TR is as good a subject as any.

  • paul hennig

    The Imperial Cruise is a necessary book. Bradley may be a bit indignant, but it is well earned, well deserved. We,Americans are uncomfortable looking at our racism and righteous hypocrisy, but if we are to maintain the virtues we ascribe to it must be done. Paul Hennig

  • Dave

    First off, I am not an American, but I have lived in the States, I have lived in Europe, and I have travelled the world, and I thought this was a fantastic read. and I found myself constantly referring to the footnotes to check the source. I agree with C, the historical facts speak for themselves.

    I am not surprised that most of the reviews on this site are negative and against this book. From my personal experience, Americans are completely unaware what happens outside their boarders, and even today when I travel, Americans regularly give the impression that they know what is best, their way is the best way, and that everyone is incapable of doing anything as well as America can.

    I think this book should be a required reading in every American high school.

  • C. Sou

    I am reading this now and it is drivel. It is fine to say that these are all quotes and therefore facts. But it would be a more credible analysis if we also admit we don’t know the context, only what the author tells us, and that it sounds suspiciously like cherry picking. Did TR never say anything nice? Does every white man deserve the pejorative ‘Aryan’?

    As well, there is a decided lack of negative attention brought to other races/cultures. It is one of the most incidious forms of racism to assume that others do not have to measure up to the same standards that we measure ourselves because they are somehow not expected to be equal. Imperialistic anti-white tendencies were part of Japan and China’s cluture before TR was even a Hersey bar in his daddy’s back pocket and existed in parallel to this story…but are not mentioned? The villians or victims, two dimensional storytelling is boring and tired even when done well, and this is not. It has been one long rant from page 1 to my current 99.

    I have lived abroad in the EU and Asia, and I have been treated well and poorly, because of my skin and my passport. It is not a one-sided story, a simplistic equation that skin or nation makes the person a villian or victim. However, promoting that idea is a timeless fiction, spanning from earliest written history to today. And it sells books. whether the author is a cynic or a fool.

    This was a library book for me, so I guess I paid a little bit for it in my taxes. Unless something changes soon though, it will become one of the few books that I don’t finish and I will still feel that I paid too much. At best, treat this as a piece of fiction, a kind of phamplet promoting an unbalanced version of history, perhaps like some SF story about an alternate universe where color (pun intended) hasn’t been invented and all things are black or white.

  • Jeff Gregory

    Having just read this book I decided to see what others though.
    I first looked at a review from USA Today then read the comments. I found with the exception of two that they where what you would expect from readers of that paper.
    Then I rolled down and came upon this site and though I would read it as the name implied that I would find a better class of comments.
    And in one sense I did, the writing is much better but the content is about the same as both sets of comments are set on attacking Bradley and not showing any evidence of understanding the content.
    Sorry Boys.

  • http://JPK07452@aol.com John

    Bradley rambles a bit and breaks a record for use of the term ‘Aryan’ last established in 1945 but his facts are accurate. I suspect that a lot of the indignation is due to the fact that Americans are accustomed to the good-guy bad-guy outlook on world history where Hideki Tojo was a war criminal but William Calley was just a poor misunderstood kid — a majority of Americans wanted Calley pardoned for a point-blank slaughter of 500 Vietnamese kids — his men recovered three firearms from the village of My Lai and ecountered ZERO resistance. I noted a few weeks ago that most Americans thought Pearl Harbor — a deliberately provoked and contained military attack — somehow justifed Hiroshima. The sort of person who justifies mass murder of women and kids as retribution for mutual-fault aggression will of course hate this book. I found it impossible to put down and agreed with most of it.

    PS: I myself volunteered for Viet Nam and I had six relatives in World War II, one of them killed in a B-17 over Germany, another on the third ship into Tokyo Bay after two years of combat. I’ve also read the entire U.S. diplomatic correspondence that led up to the “Sneak Attack” and inside accounts of the Japanese cabinet meeting that concluded — perhaps correctly — that if Japan didn’t strike first, America might seize the initiative. Henry Stinson was on record: war is inevitable due to an American oil embargo (and deliberately insulting diplomacy orchestrated by Harry Dexter White, a Soviet agent, and Stanley Hornbeck, a ‘China Expert’ who couldn’t speak Chinese but hated Japan since the early 1900s when other Americans liked them. We often forget that Japan was a U.S. ally in World War I.) Stinson urged the FDR administration to let Japan fire the first shot — possibly in the hopes of unifying the American people for a war in Europe that 80 per cent of Americans disapproved of.) The Japanese did some awful things in China and Korea. The U.S. did some awful things in the Philippines. But the records show that the United States deliberately instigated the Pacific War to help Britain, China, and Stalin and then blamed the “sneaky little Japs.” Bradley’s book is an honest forerunner to the FDR administration’s stupid sacrifice of brave Americans at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines and at Wake and Guam, and to FDR and Truman’s mass murder of Japanese women and children. It’s also very readable although he pounds a little hard to convince people of how racist the country was 100 years ago. He isn’t making this stuff up.

  • David Zimmerman

    I,too,thought the term Aryan was over-used. I looked up its definition in several places and found nothing which agreed with how Bradley justifies calling some non-German descendents of white Europeans by this designation. Maybe I’ve been too indoctrinated by the use of this term to refer to the Nazi movement.I personally don’t feel I am an Aryan even though my ancestors came from Slovakia in the late 1800’s.

    Bradley’s description of Anerican treatment of the Philippines and its people is a powerful and nearly unknown historical event for most Americans. The policies of Theodore Roosevelt toward Japan and Korea were eye-opening to me and make a good argument for the Pearl Harbor attack. Overall, I enjoyed “The Imperial Cruise” and learned much from it. DJZ

  • robo

    I am not surprised by the responses here. These responses are specifically illicited by Elinor Teele’s critique. The critique seems to intentionally misdirect the direction of the book. The book as attested to by the author, is the result of some research into WHY his father died.

    The result of that research led him to the conclusion that it was because of white supremacy. It led him to investigate how insidious and ridiculously ludicrous white people could be when it came to justifying white people history. The sole premise of this book, dangerous as it is, IS that white people lie, fight for, and die for…only other white people.

    The author of this book came to this conclusion. The purpose of this book is to define why.

    I am white.

  • Jason B.

    I just finished the book this morning, and wanted to know what others thought. As a student of history, I always enjoy finding out about new aspects of the historical record. There were MANY such aspects in this book. I am glad that Mr. Bradley finally pointed them out, as shameful as many of them are. Americans often fail (quite willingly) to learn “the rest of the story.” (Mr. Bradley’s last minute jab at contemporary “historians” was an especially nice touch.)

    My only criticism of the book is the obvious emotion Mr. Bradley interjects. The piece would have been much more powerful without the overuse of sarcastic comments. There was no need to overdo the “Princess Alice” and “Big Bill” references, etc. The whole sub-story about the apparent “courtship” between Alice Roosevelt and Nick Longworth — which was admittedly consistent with Mr. Bradley’s theme that everyone associated with the cruise was bad in many ways — really added nothing to the substantive discussion. (I’ve met Mr. Bradley, and he comes across as somewhat of a bully, and that is the way he sounds when he piles on to Alice and Nick for no apparent reason related to Asian-American history.)

    Anyone who has read Flags of Our Fathers will recall the conversation that probably gave rise to this book. Over dinner Mr. Bradley tried to explain “the rest of the story,” as he then thought he understood it, to his veteran father. He recalls his father refusing to engage in the discussion and simply giving him another piece of turkey. I get the sense that Mr. Bradley wanted to write this book for his father, as (at best) a protective son, or (at worst) an “I told you so” son, still trying to explain to someone beyond the grave the “real” cause of all the hurt. I also sense, from what Mr. Bradley wrote of his father, that James Bradley would not have read his son’s book — that after Iwo Jima it was eternally too late for any of those things to make any difference to him. If Mr. Bradley had realized that, perhaps he would have written the book for the rest of us instead, and it would be more tempered in tone — and thus a better book.

    In conclusion, read the book, but be prepared for some gratuitous indignation that wastes some of your time. I hope it won’t take a revised edition to get it into college curricula someday. My World War II class would have been better with a book such as Mr. Bradley’s, despite it’s shortcomings.

  • don m

    Ms Teele’s review is on the mark…and comforting after gaging through the first 100 pages of this drivel!

    Mr. Bradley is a typical member of the “bash America” crowd, finding one sided evil in just about every detail of american history. It was bad enough in “Flyboys”, but he has gone over the top here with his aryan theories. His ghost writer Mr. Powers must be thanked for keeping him under control in “Flags of our Fathers”

    One wonders what made him so angry…

  • Bud

    I have found The Imperial Cruise an interesting book to read in the context of all the books I have read on the many historical subjects Mr. Bradley touches on throughout the book. I especially enjoyed reading some of the less than flattering historical facts about Teddy. As a young boy I made many trips to Sagamore Hill and read every book I could about his life. As I have grown older… and wiser.. I have come to realize that many of our boyhood hero’s are not exactly what we thought they were. I often run around Roosevelt Island and stop in front of that great statue of Teddy. It is larger than life but what Mr. Bradley brings to our attention is that Teddy was just a man with his faults and insecurities. I doubt this book will be remembered as a great historical work but it may cause folks to investigate and study many of the events that are highlighted in the book. I myself have already started to study the Russo-Japanese War. If you don’t take Bradley too seriously as a historian then you can enjoy the book for what it is and use it as an opportunity for further study.

  • cw

    I expected a more intellectual and balanced book from Bradley. I couldn’t make it past the first 100 pages seriously, and skimmed the rest just to complete the book.

    While supported by facts, the commentary in-between the presented quotes is overdone and opinionated… a personal grudge on expansionist America.

    If an author is going to dig in depth regarding historical American politicians dirt and “ill intentions” regarding expansionism why not explore the shortfalls of other nations and leaders.

    I expected a better book from Bradley, it almost seems like he has to make up for writing about Japs eating Americans on Chi-chi-Jima (Flyboys).

    Bradley appears to be giving a current liberal opinion on past history, with a liberal smattering of self-hate.

    Looking back in history, our ascension as a world-power (and every world power) is based upon strong conquering weak, one should not be so quick to insult historical leaders while enjoying all of the benefits.

    The enlightened man realizes that what we did to the Indians and Philippine’s was an abomination, the practical man realizes it was necessary to expand as a nation. History is written by the victors, Bradley is ashamed he is on the winning side.

  • Peter

    The thing that bothers me the most about both the book and those who have commented upon it, and reviewed it, is the deplorable lack of contextual knowledge. On the part of all parties, including the author. The premise that Taft’s private agreement was the “spark” that lit the fuse directly to WWII is historical nonsense, and purely a marketing ploy by Bradley and his publisher. All I ask is that one consider the following facts as maybe, just maybe, being relevant: (1) The Sino-Japanese War of 1898 and Japanese annexation of Taiwan/Formosa. (2) The OCCUPATION OF KOREA by Japanese troops and forced “advisors” to the King of Korea long before the “imperial cruise” took place. (3) The LOCATION and issues behind the damned Russo-Japanese War! How can this be ignored? (4) Japan’s relations with Great Britain – which was a near military presence unlike the USA (see the Anglo-Japanese Naval Treaties). Context people. Context Bradley. Theodore Roosevelt lit no “fuse” – Japanese imperial expansion was a fact long before Roosevelt became Vice President.

  • http://calitreview.com/5743 Jeff J.

    This was a book chosen by local bookclub. Last months selection was ‘The Big Burn’. Told the positive side of TR. This book shows a different and very belivable other side.Is the Aryan belief still practiced? Check the California prison system and the Confederate flags and the other indicators that tries to set one race superior to another. Somehow the Christianity has gone very askew from the teachings of love that we understand in the New Testament. Were there similarities between what Bradley has written and events of the past wars that our government practiced and then brought us the people of this country into??Not a nice book to read, yes disjointed but very disturbing and maybe it will give a slowdown to the next ‘pre-emptive’ strike as we shock and awe those not as smart as ‘us’. I am neither ‘well read’ nor a Historian but this image of TR as a little guy attitude carrying a big stick is well footnoted- Liked him better in ‘The Big Burn’

  • Rich Patrock

    I love Teddy and I loved ‘Flags of Our Fathers’ and spotting ‘Imperial Cruise’ in the public library yesterday I read it in its entirety in the reading room. The graphics grabbed off the newspapers of the times and the many photos helped me understand Mr. Bradley’s bitterness towards Teddy and his times. Yes, the discussion about Aryan is much too simplistic and yes, it took me awhile to realize why Mr. Bradley emphasized the story about Alice (to show that Teddy was just as dysfunctional with his family as he was with the ‘Other’ but he makes a good case for our worst tendencies as a nation. The commenter who asked if Mr. Bradley knew what ‘haole’ meant might have reflected on why the native Hawaiians use this term. As to the reviewer his final statement seems to take some of the edge off Bradley’s point: we haven’t changed much in our foreign relations except that our politicians, like water-boarding Cheney can’t balance their cruelty towards others with protecting nature and protecting Americans against the worst of corporate greed and power. I was bit by Teddy when I learned his concept of rugged individualism at that stage of life when a young boy is trying to set his own course in life. Luckily, I learned from so many people around the world that the greatest people are those who have the greatest ability to forgive. The first part of this ability is assigning the blame where it belongs, not to a people but to certain people and to self-serving ideals.

  • Mark Vidmar

    In response to James Bradley’s criticism of TR….let’s quote TR from the University of Sorbonne in France April 23, 1910..
    “It is not the critic. who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

  • Kelley Halderman

    I guess our boys deserved the torture of all wars.
    Kill whitey. Get it over with, I’m tired of being a honkey pin cushion

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