When I discovered my public library had an available copy of James Bradley’s 2009 book The Imperial Cruise: A Short History I didn’t grab it because I’d read his previous books Flags of Our Fathers or Flyboys. I grabbed it because after reading two books on the year 1913, (one by Charles Emmerson and the other by Florian Illies) I was in the mood to read another book about the pre-First World War world. Since Imperial Cruise is Bradley’s examination of the geopolitical power plays and secret diplomacy in the year 1905 I thought it would make the perfect follow-up read.
However, The Imperial Cruise turned out to be one of those books I didn’t expect it to be. The thought of a luxury cruise liner packed full of American politicians in addition to President Teddy Roosevelt’s slightly scandalous 21-year-old daughter and her congressman suitor (a man considerably older, not to mention a notorious womanizer and frequent customer of Washington’s brothels) crossing the Pacific Ocean on a secret mission to remake North Asia’s political landscape sounded like it might be another In the Garden of Beasts. But alas, it was not to be. Mostly, the book is Bradley’s attempt to explain US foreign policy as product of America’s imperialistic desires, desires rooted in white Anglo-Saxon racial superiority. Once the American West was conquered and its native population either killed off or subjugated, America turned its hungry eyes towards Hawaii, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines.
According to Bradley, the Japanese were secretly given a green light by Teddy Roosevelt to flex their new-found military muscle in North Asia. (It had to be secret because any treaty signed by the President needs to be ratified by Congress.) This would lead to Korea being annexed, Russia’s army and navy bested in battle and vast stretches of China conquered and occupied. Four decades later this American-approved Japanese blueprint for imperial expansion would eventually lead to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and four years of bloody conflict in Asia and the Pacific.
I found The Imperial Cruise a fast-paced read and learned a lot about America’s overthrow of Hawaii and its bloody pacification of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. The stuff on the Russo-Japanese War was interesting too. But overall, how much did I enjoy the book? Well, I felt some parts were very good while some parts were kind of just OK. Perhaps like a lot of readers, I’m not sure I bought everything Bradley served up, but it made for an interesting book. (He’s taken a lot of hits on Amazon with many, if not most readers being highly critical of his historical analysis.) With all that in mind, I think I’d like to give his latest book The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia a shot. It looks promising.