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The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War Hardcover – November 24, 2009

3.2 out of 5 stars 478 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Theodore Roosevelt steers America onto the shoals of imperialism in this stridently disapproving study of early 20th-century U.S. policy in Asia. Bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers, Bradley traces a 1905 voyage to Asia by Roosevelt's emissary William Howard Taft, who negotiated a secret agreement in which America and Japan recognized each other's conquests of the Philippines and Korea. (Roosevelt's flamboyant, pistol-packing daughter Alice went along to generate publicity, and Bradley highlights her antics.) Each port of call prompts a case study of American misdeeds: the brutal counterinsurgency in the Philippines; the takeover of Hawaii by American sugar barons; Roosevelt's betrayal of promises to protect Korea, which greenlighted Japanese expansionism and thus makes him responsible for Pearl Harbor. Bradley explores the racist underpinnings of Roosevelt's policies and paradoxical embrace of the Japanese as Honorary Aryans. Bradley's critique of Rooseveltian imperialism is compelling but unbalanced. He doesn't explain how Roosevelt could have evicted the Japanese from Korea, and insinuates that the Japanese imperial project was the brainstorm of American advisers. Ironically, his view of Asian history, like Roosevelt's, denies agency to the Asians themselves. Photos, maps. One-day laydown.(Nov. 24)
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From Booklist

Bradley’s first books, Flags of Our Fathers (2000) and Flyboys (2003), were sensationally popular World War II combat stories. His new one, about U.S.-Japanese diplomacy in 1905, represents a departure. Asserting a causal connection between diplomatic understandings reached then and war 36 years later, Bradley dramatizes his case with a delegation Theodore Roosevelt dispatched to Japan in the summer of 1905. Led by Secretary of War William Taft and ornamented by the president’s quotable daughter Alice, it sailed while TR hosted the peace conference between victorious Japan and defeated Russia. As he recounts the itinerary of Taft’s cruise, Bradley discusses attitudes of social Darwinism and white superiority that were then prevalent and expressed by TR and Taft. They modified their instincts, Bradley argues, in dealing with nonwhite Japan, and secretly conceded it possession of Korea. This is what Bradley asserts was a prerequisite to Pearl Harbor in 1941, a dubious thesis when the tensions of the 1930s stemmed from general Japanese aggressiveness, not its control of Korea per se. Bradley does fine on 1905 but falters when predicting the future. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 387 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316008958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316008952
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (478 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I downloaded the Kindle edition of this book and right away read Chapter 8 on Theodore Roosevelt's flattering and self-interested secret proposal to the Japanese Government of a 'Japanese Monroe Doctrine' for Asia, in essence a private invitation to play the imperialist game which, as Baron Kaneko later lamented in a paper written in 1932, Roosevelt never admitted making or endorsed and took to his grave in 1919, despite promising to Kaneko in a farewell lunch at Sagamore Hill on September 10, 1905 that he would publicly announce it after he left office.

Other reviewers have pointed out that there is not much about the cruise undertaken by W.H. Taft and Alice Roosevelt in this book, and I feel it is mainly a convenient device to tell a tale which is really expressed in the sub-title 'A Secret History of Empire and War.' There are in fact two main narrative threads here: a rather gruesome and to many readers upsetting one about American imperialist ambitions and 'westering' colonization of the Pacific (Hawaii) and East Asia (the Philippines), and another to me more interesting one about U.S.-Japan relations. This review will focus on the latter.

James Bradley has done an excellent and well-researched job of presenting the history in detail of the exchanges between Kaneko and Roosevelt, though he seems unaware, or at least does not mention, that Kentaro Kaneko (1853-1942) had already met Theodore Roosevelt before 1904 through an introduction arranged by Harvard-educated William Sturgis Bigelow (1850-1926), the Bostonian collector of Japanese art. They first met in 1890 when Roosevelt was Head of the Civil Service Commission and Kaneko was returning to Japan via the U.S.
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Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have pointed out, Bradley relies heavily on secondary sources for his history. One of the sources he quotes liberally is Morris' excellent biography of the young Roosevelt, "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt." Early in "The Imperial Cruise", Bradley says, "The author Edmund Morris thought the Nibelunglied so central to Teddy's life that he used phrases from it as aphorisms to begin each chapter of his first Roosevelt biography." This is not true (each chapter begins with a stanza from Longfellow's "The Saga of King Olaf"), and this misrepresentation is characteristic, I think, of a work that is produced with a flimsy agenda. Bradley stretches, paraphrases, and twists to serve this agenda, and decontextualizes history to provide a narrow enough focus to support his bias. There are entertaining moments in the book, but Bradley is no historian.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Bradley's book is provocative, and he certainly scores some legitimate hits on the appalling race politics of Roosevelt's time. But I have two major problems with this book:

1) I am deeply disappointed by the bias evident in the "factual" underpinnings of his thesis; Bradley clearly is massaging the facts to fit his simplistic argument in the same way that a 19th century Social Darwinist would. Two concrete examples: during his brief overview of the Mexican War, Bradley refers to the Neuces River as the "internationally recognized border", portraying the US presence there as illegal. The reality is significantly more complicated. Following the Battle of San Jacinto, the Mexican president had signed the "treaty" of Velasco (subsequently renounced by Mexico) recognizing the Rio Grande as the border. No other documents ever concluded the Texas Revolution, so it is safe to say that the border situation was ambiguous; if there was any "recognized" border from 1836 to 1846, it was the Rio Grande. Moreover, there certainly was no United Nations corollary in 1836 to provide the imprinatur of "international recognition" - I would be interested to see any documents from European or Asian legations backing up Bradley's claim.

Second, during his section on Japan, Bradley repeatedly refers to the "closed" period of Tokugawa Japan as a benevolent time where "the samurai class set down their swords and became teachers", where culture flourished and Japan prospered. Again, the reality is significantly more complicated.
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Format: Paperback
A book that would definitely disturb those who believe that true patriotism is best represented by insisting that the U.S. cannot now and never has been able to do anything wrong -- a dangerous arrogance that could be tempered somewhat by reading this story. If Bradley's book does not help to give a more balanced view of Theodore Roosevelt than most of our history books portray, then maybe reading Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas might be useful. The preponderance of negative reviews would be baffling if one were not aware of the intense and stubborn polarization we presently see in the American political process.
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Format: Hardcover
In his book The Imperial Cruise, author James Bradley depicts the civilian and military US leaders of the late 19th and early 20th century as racists. He goes to great lengths to describe them all as "Aryans"; a term of high emotional content today. Since World War II, the term is widely associated with the "master race" nonsense promulgated by Hitler. To many, the term today is a much stronger term than it was in T. Roosevelt's time. By using the term Aryan to describe America's leaders of the early 20th Century, Bradley appears to be implying that they were all racists of the Nazi ilk.

He also seems to make a point of suggesting that T. Roosevelt was likely pro-slavery. He points out (p. 36) for no apparent reason, that Roosevelt's 17th century ancestor owned slaves in the Dutch Colony of "New Amsterdam"; presumably implying that TR inherited the same inclinations of his ancestor 200 years later. (Note, that slavery in the 17th century was common in all parts of what is now the United States, including all of the European colonies as well as the areas controlled by the Native Americans (e.g., "Indians"). It was also common in Europe, Asia, and Africa.) As slaves at the time in New Amsterdam were predominately Europeans, not Africans, Bradley's point in mentioning this fact must be to depict TR as pro-slavery. (I suspect Bradley's intent was to add to his implication of TR as a racist, and not to suggest any pro-slavery leanings on TR's part.)

That America and its leaders at the time would generally be considered racist in America today is not disputed. However, Bradley seems to want to emphasize that fact. In doing so, he seems to ignore anything that might mitigate his point.
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