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THE TRUE FLAG by Stephen Kinzer Kirkus Star


Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire

by Stephen Kinzer

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62779-216-5
Publisher: Henry Holt

A timely work on the vociferous sides taken over the Spanish-American War of 1898—and how that history relates to the ongoing debate regarding American imperialism.

In this engaging, well-focused history, Kinzer (The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World, 2013, etc.), a former New York Times bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua and Boston Globe Latin America correspondent, plunges into the heated conversations in Washington and the tabloids over American expansionist designs on Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam at the turn of the 19th century. During a “ravenous fifty-five day spasm” in the summer of 1898, the United States “asserted control” over these far-flung nations—totaling 11 million people—by handily defeating the Spanish fleet and thus acquiring rather suddenly an overseas empire. Was this even constitutional, and had not founder George Washington himself warned against “the mischiefs of foreign intrigue”? Using the excerpts of speeches and editorials, Kinzer skillfully extracts an immediate sense of the heated debate that gripped the country, centering around the jingoist triumvirate of Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, the consummate Washington insider; Theodore Roosevelt, who became Assistant Secretary of the Navy and then vice president; and the powerful publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, proprietor of the New York Journal. While the first two gave powerful, persuasive speeches on the need to extend “national authority over alien communities” and offer the U.S. urgent new markets, Hearst acted as the “mighty megaphone” for the imperialist message, especially when the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor gave the casus belli to attack Spain. Rather late in the game, Mark Twain, who was traveling abroad and saw firsthand President William McKinley’s racist American policy of “benevolent assimilation,” emerged as an effective advocate for anti-imperialism, as did Andrew Carnegie and (conflictedly) William Jennings Bryan. In the last chapter, Kinzer astutely brings the debate from the turn of the century to the present.

A tremendously elucidating book that should be required reading for civics courses.