Saturday, April 2, 2011

Re-think History; Re-think Your Country; Re-think Yourself

The Imperial Cruise: The Secret History of Empire and War, by James Bradley (Read by Richard Poe)

Every now and then, a book grabs you and just shakes you to the core.  For me, this was such a book.

To set the stage for his revelations, James Bradley tells the strange story of Theodore Roosevelt's daughter from his first marriage.  Apparently his wife died within days of giving birth to Alice and within hours of the death of his mother in the same house.  Roosevelt never mentioned or acknowledged his first wife again.  His daughter was raised primarily by his second wife, Edith.

This story is important to an understanding of Roosevelt and some of the revelations in this book.  Without some understanding - and, indeed, some proof - of what can only be Roosevelt's astonishing ability to deny what is so obviously true, no sensible reader could possibly believe what is to come.  In effect, Roosevelt wrote his first marriage out of existence, even in the face of his very real daughter and without regard for any consequences to her.  It was a strategy he used often, as it turns out.

But that is not really the part that grabbed me. The Imperial Cruise was actually a diplomatic mission to Aisa that generally conducted a good deal of covert business. As the ship moves from one Pacific port to the next, Bradley reveals the back story of how what went on before defined the diplomacy of the cruise and led to the Pacific tragedy of World War II.

But it was not this diplomatic duplicity and it disastrous outcomes - or even the massive ego and arrogance that made it possible, that really grabbed me, although it is getting closer.  The thing that grabbed me and gave my soul a vigorous shake was the realization of the profound and powerful current of racism that is at the very heart of our nation, that has guided our expansion and growth. 

Manifest Destiny, it turns out, was not just about a bouyant and
jubilant natural expansion across this vast country.  In fact, that view, as taught in school, is profoundly dishonest. 
Roosevelt actually intended to extend the Monroe Doctrine across the Pacific.  Along the way, he intended to gain territory and markets.  He intended to enlighten or exterminate native populations wherever they got in the way. He did not care much whether those native peoples were enlightened or exterminated.  And he did not really think enlightenment was a serious possibility.

This book is simply amazing.  If you are interested in American history, it is a must read.  A New York Times reveiw said, "The Imperial Cruise is startling enough to reshape conventional wisdom about Roosevelt’s presidency."  I would go farther than that.  This book re-shaped how I look at our history and since reading it, I have been thinking about how this country should move forward with a little more integrity both domestically and internationally.

I have also been thinking about racism - and especially my own - in a very different way.   If you read this book, prepare to be challenged to the core.

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