CRF Blog

TR’s foreign policy

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, historian Ronald Steel warmly reviews two books about foreign policy at the turn of the 20th century. Teddy Roosevelt looms large in both books. The first book, written by Evan Thomas, looks at the major figures in the Spanish American War: The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898.

In his absorbing narrative of men who found duty or fulfillment or personal meaning in a war for empire — and of other men, like William James, who feared that such a quest would rot the nation’s soul — Thomas has illuminated, in a compulsively readable style, a critical moment in American history. This is a book that, with its style and panache, is hard to forget and hard to put down.

Excerpt from The War Lovers

The second book is The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley. It’s about a secret mission to Asia by TR’s secretary of war, William Howard Taft. TR instructed Taft to agree to let Japan move into China and Korea to keep Russia from expanding into the region. From Steel’s review:

Thus it was that Taft served as the midwife to secret agreements that had the effect, Bradley argues, of subjecting Korea to Japanese domination for the next four decades. In Bradley’s caustic words, “at the behest of London and Washington, the Japanese military would expand into Korea and China to civilize Asia. Later generations would call it World War II.” Roosevelt had never foreseen that America’s search for order and opportunity in Asia, set in motion by the seizure of the Philippines, would later lead into a terrible war between the United States and Japan for control of the Pacific.

The review calls the book “[e]ngrossing and revelatory . . . revisionist history at its best.”

Excerpt from The Imperial Cruise

Bradley explains his book in this brief clip: