The Imperial Cruise – review

In 1905, president Theodore Roosevelt concluded what was a series of diplomatic events that would plant the seeds for the eventual War in the Pacific (1941-1945). This last event was chronicled in the recently published work The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley.

In 1905, president Roosevelt sent a delegation to the Far East on a diplomatic mission. The delegation was headed by Secretary of War, later president, William Taft, and Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt. Taft’s secret mission was to finalize a deal with Japan that would end Korea’s independence. This treaty was brokered without the consent of Congress, an impeachable offense. Little did Roosevelt calculate that this deal would be the beginning of Japanese expansion throughout Asia, culminating in the multiple attacks on US and British colonies on 12/7/41.

Bradley’s work was quite eye opening. For starters, his work reminds us that historical events, when read through hindsight, really show that all choices truly have consequences. What would the Pacific region looked like if the United States had not promoted Japanese imperialism? It seems that with the arrival of Admiral Perry in 1853, opening the Japanese borders to the west, the Japanese began westernizing, which included a growing desire, fostered by the United States, of becoming the lead nation in East Asia. Ironically, much of Roosevelt’s scheme was a result of Roosevelt’s misunderstanding of Japanese Samurai code, for he believed that the Samurai would be subservient, even after being given a taste of power.

Another fascinating piece of this work, though I found Bradley overstating this point, is how race theory played a role in Roosevelt’s policy making. Not an expert in late 19th and early 20th century US history, I was struck by the prevalence of Aryan, white race theory, specifically in the Northeast. For many who became the leaders of this country near the turn of the 20th century, the non-white, non-“Aryan” was seen as an uncivilizable individual. The goal of the US foreign policy in the eyes of Roosevelt was the continued expansion westward, for this was the destiny of the descendants of the ancient German Teutons. As Bradley put it, the goal was to the follow the sun (metaphor fir the Aryan version of history, were the “white” man continuously moved west.  East Asia would then be the last frontier leading back to the land of origin).  I think anyone who reads this book will get a better sense of the depths of racism in this country, whic in certain ways I believe continues even today.

Overall, I would recommend this book for the general public.  The writing and style is accessible to both scholar and layman.  Bradley provides context for the major players and events leading to cruise that helped shape the first half of the 20th century.   

disclaimer: I borrowed the book Imperial Cruise from a local library and did not receive a copy for review.

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