The story of a forgotten diplomatic excursion inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s bigotry.
Bradley (Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, 2003, etc.)—who wrote about his father’s experience at Iwo Jima in Flags of Our Fathers (2000)—examines a little-known effort by Roosevelt to manipulate the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War and extend the Monroe Doctrine to Asia by encouraging Japan to act as a proxy for the West. In the summer of 1905, a party that included Secretary of War William Taft and Roosevelt’s rebellious daughter Alice set sail on the ocean liner Manchuria to their Pacific destinations of Hawaii, Korea, Japan, China and the Philippines. At the time, the voyage captured the public imagination. However, Taft was charged with an agenda that included maintaining dominance over American territories—the protests of America’s Hawaiian and Filipino “wards” notwithstanding—and promoting Roosevelt’s dream of an “Open Door” in Asia. Bradley argues that the mission was a result of the president’s adherence to a crackpot philosophy of “Aryan” racial superiority. “Like many Americans,” he writes, “Roosevelt held dearly to a powerful myth that proclaimed the White Christian as the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder.” In Roosevelt’s mind, this excused American brutality in subduing Filipino insurgents, and it furthered his public image as a wise Western warrior. However, the president made a major intellectual blunder when he decided the Japanese could be considered “Honorary Aryans,” due to “the Japanese eagerness to emulate White Christian ways.” This, coupled with his contempt for the Chinese, Filipino and Hawaiian peoples, inspired him to play nation-builder, with disastrous consequences. Bradley asserts that Taft and Roosevelt violated the Constitution by offering Japan a secret deal, characterized as a “Monroe Doctrine for Asia.” Arguably, Japanese pique over America’s unwillingness to acknowledge this subterfuge fueled their expansionist dreams and pointed the way toward the Pearl Harbor attack.
A rueful, disturbing account of a regrettable period of American imperialism.