The Imperial Cruise

ticHere is a list of people who should not read The Imperial Cruise:

  • Anyone who subscribes to the concept of American exceptionalism, or at least that it applied during the turn of the Twentieth Century.
  • Anyone who would be disturbed to learn that Theodore Roosevelt was a racist douchebag.
  • Anyone who is annoyed by the occasional sarcastic turn of phrase from a writer of a popular history book.

In the middle of his Nobel Peace Prize winning brokering of a peace deal between the Russians and the Japanese in 1905, Roosevelt sent Howard Taft, his Secretary of War, and Alice Roosevelt, his daughter, on a trip across the Pacific. The ostensible reason for the trip was goodwill and public relations. The real reason for the trip was for Taft to speak personally to members of the governments of Japan, the Philippines, China and Korea as TR’s unofficial spokesperson.

Author James Bradley uses this frame to discuss topics of US race relations around the world. According to Bradley, we gave a pretty raw deal to Mexicans, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese in our eternal quest to “follow the sun” and continue the nation-building spirit that created the United States of America. In other words, treat the world about as well as we treated the natives of our continent.

Can a line be drawn quite as directly as Bradley suggests from these behind-the-scenes negotiations with the leaders of Asia to future events as disparate as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Communist Revolution of China, the Korean War and the Vietnam War? Maybe not. I suspect cause and effect here are a bit more complex than that. But, nonetheless, disrupting a functioning democracy in the Philippines and then practicing extermination efforts there is unconscionable. Telling the Emperor of Korea over and over that we will support him, and then handing the country over to Japan is unforgivable. And telling Japan that they could be “Honorary Aryans” and they should have their own Asian version of the Monroe Doctrine, and then being surprised when they actually do it strikes as hubris on a global scale.

The only saving grace for my personal pride in my country as I read this book is that, at the very least, our nation is less genocidal and flagrantly racist this century than we were in the last. Here’s hoping we continue to improve.


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