Saturday, December 18, 2010

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

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

The blurb:
Following the success of his two bestselling books about World War II, James Bradley began to wonder what the real catalyst was for the Pacific war.  What he discovered will forever change the way you think about American history and the origins of war and empire in Asia.

In 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt dispatched Secretary of War William Taft, his own daughter Alice, and a team of congressmen on a mission to Japan, the Philippines, China, and Korea with the intent of forging an agreement to divide up Asia.  This clandestine and wholly unconstitutional pact lit the fuse that would -- decades later -- result in a number of devastating wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Communist Revolution in China.

In 2005, James Bradley traveled in the wake of Roosevelt's cruise and came face-to-face with the remarkable truth about America's imperial ambitions, a story that has been effectively erased from our history textbooks.

When I first heard about Imperial Cruise, I was so excited to read it, find out the revelations that the blurb mentioned.  I figured that I had more than the usual reader's familiarity and interest in the US's imperial ambitions.  I'm from the Philippines and had lived there during the strong "anti-US imperialist" rallies.  I'd always been fascinated by history and took whatever classes Yale had that touched on Southeast Asia, Empire, Imperialism, Nationalism. As a political science major, I enjoyed learning about government, transitions, the rise of nationalism, and national identities.   Loved those cultural criticism and anthropology classes that dealt with the rise of nationalism, national identity in India, Southeast Asia, Latin America.  I've long outgrown whatever radical, left wing tendencies I might have had.  But I'm still fascinated with history.

I devoured The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War.  It opens with James Bradley giving us the background of his own interest in this period. His father was one of the men that raised the flag in Iwa Jima.  Bradley tells the story with considerable emphasis on the personalities involved.  Did you know how popular Alice Roosevelt had been in her time?  Known as Princess Alice, she was an it girl and a princess rolled into one -- a Princess Diana of sorts -- the press and public followed her devotedly.  Bradley delves into her family politics and we get a fuller sense of the pressures that she was under and her escapades.   He gives us a window into the lives of the Roosevelts, Tafts, and McKinleys.

The book doesn't skim over what must have been private and secret discussions.  The sections on the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection, which is known as something else - one of the chapters in the War on Independence - in the Philippine History, Bradley examines the way that McKinley injected "benevolent intentions into U.S. foreign policy" and the ways that the decision to colonize the Philippines was discussed on the Senate and in the press at that time.  I'd never studied how the U.S. took possession of and established control of the Philippines.  In school, we used to compare the Spanish colonial period with the US colonial period and this was always ended up with everyone grateful to the US for the schools, type of government, infrastructure, etc.  We later studied the treaties and trade advantages given to the US as a condition for Philippine independence but the brutality of the wars were never touched on.  Bradley showed that the Philippines didn't just surrender to the US - there was a bloody and brutal war to gain control as well as other atrocities of war.

The section on the annexation of Hawaii entitled Haoles is also fascinating.  Bradley goes into the depiction of Hawaiians in the press, the popular opinion, and what was going on behind the scenes.  Quotes from Mark Twain and others make the period come alive.  In this section, Bradley examines how American missionaries were able to acquire valuable Hawaiian land.  All of this tied to the cruise with Princess Alice Roosevelt and Secretary of State William Taft.  Then in the sections The Japanese War Doctrine for Asia and Honorary Aryans Bradley goes into how a US President had agreed to Japan's colonization of Korea and other Asian countries, in part contributing to Japan's expansion through the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere - the Japanese invasion during World War II.

I highly recommend The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War.    Bradley touches on a period that isn't often explored and does so in a fascinating and entertaining way.  Well researched and a good read!

ISBN-10: 0316014001 - Trade paperback $16.99 
Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (November 8, 2010), 400 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
James Bradley is the son of John Bradley, on eof the men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima. He is the author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys: A True Story of Courage.
Flyboys: A True Story of Courage  Flags of Our Fathers (Movie Tie-in Edition)


  1. Please enter me in contest. I would love to read this book.

  2. Fascinating subject and great review. I'd love to read this, I just finished Unbroken and this would be a great followup. Thanks

  3. I would really love to read this book so I would love to be entered into the contest. it sounds like a really interesting topic and something I do not know much about


  4. always been interested in the history of US foreign military policy and the image carefully crafted both for the audience abroad and domestic consumption. of course, some are myth and some are true. it'd be nice to get a perspective on how the "benevolent intentions" come in conflict with the US's actual undertaking, perhaps its nobility or maybe its hubris. this should be a fun read :)

  5. Great review. I knew I would like this book just by the description of the book, but your review made me more interested in reading the book.

    Thanks for the giveaway!
    megalon22 at yahoo dot com