The Imperial Cruise
In 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt sent a delegation to Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, China and Korea. Alice Roosevelt, the President’s daughter and the Paris Hilton of her age, served as mistress of the cruise while Secretary of War William Howard Taft acted in his capacity as a diplomat. In each of these nations he conducted meetings in Roosevelt’s name with many of the meetings kept strictly secret. Now, a century later, James Bradley seeks to discover what those meetings were all about and how they have impacted history. He records his findings in The Imperial Cruise.
Bradley is best-known for authoring Flags of Our Fathers, a book that spent almost a year on the list of bestsellers and that was subsequently made into a film directed by Clint Eastwood. Flags of Our Fathers told the story of the six iconic figures who raised the American flag during the battle of Iwo Jima. One of these men was John Bradley, the author’s father. He followed that book with Flyboys, which told the story of an air raid during that same battle. And now Bradley’s third book turns to the background of the War in the Pacific, attempting to understand why those battles were necessary in the first place, why so many young American men lost their lives thousands of miles from home.
Where Bradley’s first two books were well-received and really quite good, The Imperial Cruise is, frankly, just awful. This is a book that has become a bestseller only on the basis of Bradley’s prior success. There is no other logical explanation. The Imperial Cruise is a sanctimonious, unsubstantiated, anti-American screed. Much is said, little is proven, credibility is almost entirely lacking. Bradley falls into the well-worn trap of reading current standards, current social mores into the past. But even worse, he creates one-dimensional caricatures of many of the characters in the story, defining them only by their worst trait. This is history at its worst.
By way of example, Bradley defines Teddy Roosevelt almost entirely as a hopeless, arrogant, paternalistic racist, as if that is all he ever was. He continually describes Americans as American Aryans, a pejorative that paints all Caucasian Americans in a negative light, drawing the inevitable comparison to Hitler’s Nazi’s. He describes the actions of American soldiers only in terms of atrocities, making it seem that those who committed atrocities were the norm rather than the exception. He paints all of America, and her foreign policy in particular, in only the worst terms and then assigns to her the blame for every Pacific conflict of the twentieth century. Read Bradley and you would assume that Japan would never have considered invading China were it not for America’s suggestions and demands.
Ironically, as Bradley goes on and on he begins to sound like he is the one who is racist. Reading this book one would think that the history of the Pacific nations was all sweet and peaceful until the evil Aryan Americans showed up and began to teach the “Pacific Negroes” how to make war. One would assume that no Japanese leader was clever enough to be deceptive until the Americans taught Western-style deceit.
Bradley’s anger, his snideness, show themselves from cover-to-cover. His mocking tone, his inability to be at all objective, taint this book, leaving it far less than credible history. It’s just a mess and one not worth bothering with.
Verdict: Buy it if you want to learn how not to do history.