A dynamic examination of America’s rush into the Spanish-American War.
On Feb. 15, 1898, a mysterious explosion destroyed the U.S.S. Maine off the coast of Cuba, killing more than 250 American crewmen. Though the cause is still unknown, many in the United States, including some powerful political figures, wanted a war—even one waged on false pretenses. Longtime Newsweek editor Thomas (Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941–1945, 2006, etc.) focuses on three men who were especially eager: Theodore Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley; Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, and Roosevelt’s close friend; and William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy publisher. The author ably sketches the personalities of all three men and the hawkish beliefs that they, and a large part of the American public, shared. They saw the United States as the world’s protector, a nation that had a moral right to intervene in other countries’ affairs, or even seize other countries’ territory. Thomas also profiles two major dissenters: the powerful, dovish Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, who lost his best friend in the Civil War, and philosopher William James, who viewed the country’s policy of foreign conquest as a betrayal of the American value of self-determination. The author goes beyond politics as well, delving into the psychology of his principals. Roosevelt’s preoccupation with violence and physical toughness were certainly related to his warlike policies; Lodge’s reserved manner disguised a fierce determination; Hearst’s hawkishness seemed inextricably linked to his desire to boost circulation numbers. Thomas wisely keeps these engaging figures front and center, and his multifaceted portraits lend the book a sweeping, almost cinematic quality.
A lively, well-rounded look at politics and personalities in late-19th-century America.