I Hate Teddy Roosevelt

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I think this should be the name of Imperial Cruise by James Bradley. The author has written two other books, his first being Flags of Our Fathers about the flag raising at Iwo Jima and his father’s role in that famous scene. Mr. Bradley’s father was a US Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines. (All corpsmen in the Marines come from the Navy reflecting the origination of the Marines as part of the Navy. They only became a separate service after World War Two.)

Flags of Our Fathers was a deeply personal and deeply touching book about the author’s discovery of a part of his father’s life which his father would not discuss. The book was made into a very good movie. Flyboys, the author’s second book is just as good, so friends tell me. I haven’t yet read it although I plan to. So when I saw Imperial Cruise I bought it right away. As in every relationship, even one as tenuous as author and reader, there is disappointment and no one can live up to expectations all the time. Alas, this book is a disappointment. In fact, it isn’t even worth reading.

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Mr. Bradley holds Theodore Roosevelt responsible for World War Two in the Pacific because of Roosevelt’s secret, quite shocking, and probably illegal diplomatic promises to Japan in which TR urges Japan to take over that part of the world. In a time when racism was an organizing principle of society, the West more or less raised the Japanese to the level of white people and told them to slap the rest of Asia into line.

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Unfortunately, it seems to me that Mr. Bradley decided Theodore Roosevelt was a jerk and progenitor of World War Two before he wrote the book. If you believe something very strongly and sit down and write a book to buttress your belief, you haven’t done your reader much of a service. The book’s main thesis presupposes a “counter-factual”. In such a scenario, one takes an action from the past and suggests that if that action had not been taken, then a series of events, usually undesirable, would not have happened at some time in the future.

Every counter-factual argument about history contains an inherent contradiction because it is based on the following presumption: if the specified action did not take place for some reason, all other actions by all parties must remain the same for the counter-factual to work. This assumes no one changes any of their subsequent actions.

A classic counter factual is this: had Nazi Germany been able to put her jet fighters into the air a year before it actually did, then that would have stopped the Allied bombing of Germany which would have allowed Germany to rebuild her industrial base, re-equip their army, and force the Allies into a negotiated peace. But this argument is meaningless because it assumes the Allies don’t change anything they are doing.

This goes a long way toward explaining the central flaw in this book. A far more illuminating book on the interactions of the Japanese and the Americans which did lead to war is: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix. This Pulitzer Prize winning history explains in detail the intricacies of decision making in Japan and just as important, tells us how they saw themselves and the cultural prism through which they viewed our actions and our decisions as well as those of Great Britain. This is the best history of modern Japan I have ever read and I learned more reading this book than I learned reading a dozen other books on the subject. This is actually one of the best books I have read.

[Photo of Nagasaki during 1905 visit to Japan courtesy of the H.F. Woods Camp Trust]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

3 thoughts on “I Hate Teddy Roosevelt”

  1. Was Hirohito spared the gallows in some sort of quasi-formal deal between the Allies and Japan to hasten the end of the war? That’s my unsubstantiated understanding. I suppose that’s one of the things I’ll find out when I read the book.

  2. I thank you gentlemen for your confidence in my judgement. There are good reasons why this book won so many awards. Hirohito was not the kindly old man who raised fish we remember. He was fully involved in the Japanese military effort in WW II, helped foster it, start it and maintain it. He should have been hanged.

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