The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley

I finished James Bradley’s The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War a few days ago and I have been thinking about the book ever since.  He writes about an ugly period of our country’s foreign policy – when the United States joined the ranks of the colonial powers by its acquisition of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba (Cuba for a brief period).  Our leaders at the time cloaked our colonization in terms of helping the natives to become civilized and then giving them back their sovereignty once they were civilized.

The book centers around the 1905 cruise led by Secretary of War William Howard Taft that visited the Phillipines, Japan, China, and Korea and that had a secret agenda – Taft was ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt to make an unofficial treaty with Japan that encouraged the Japanese to adopt their own “Monroe Doctrine” for Asia.  Bradley claims that this secret treaty caused the Japanese to be more aggressive in their foreign affairs and eventually led to war with the United States (Bradley never explains how this treaty led to the events of World War II in the Pacific – there were too many other events that occurred between the signing and the beginning of World War II).

I do think that Bradley is dead-on with his criticism of Taft – he knew practically nothing of the countries he was visiting, but he was our lead diplomat in the tour.  In trying to project a strong American image, Taft came across at times as clueless.  Bradley states that Taft was sent because he was a front man and “yes” man for Roosevelt (apparently Roosevelt was the de facto Secretary of State and Secretary of War).

I thought the book was going to be about the cruise and the secret mission, but that was just a small part of the book.  Bradley goes off on wide tagents – such as brief histories of colonial Phillipines and the opening of Japan to Westerners.  Many of these side trips are not necessary and take away from the focus of the book.

Bradley hammers away at Roosevelt’s racist beliefs – Roosevelt called the Filipino people Pacific blacks (except using the N word).  Bradley points out that most American leaders held the same view – Bradley calls those who held the view that white people were superior to the other races and that it was the “white man’s burden” to civilize the other races, Aryans.   Although the views of Roosevelt and others is shameful in our eyes, we must keep in mind that this was a very different time and most white Americans held this view (Roosevelt was not much different from the majority of the people he represented).  It is too easy to project our modern views and judgments on those people in the past.

I also take issue with Bradley’s disrespectful language – he calls Roosevelt “Teddy” throughout the book.  Although he disagrees with Roosevelt and his policies, that is not an excuse for the disrespectful language – a lesson many of today’s politicians need to learn as well. This disrespect causes one to question Bradley’s subjectivity.  I also take issue with his liberal use of “white Christian” whenever discussing the racial prejudices and stereotypes of whites in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Just because some Christian missionaries and others who professed to be Christians held racist views does not mean that all white Christians did.

In the end, I did not learn much about what occurred on the cruise other than a few snippets of information.  I did learn that Roosevelt was not a perfect person, but who is?


  1. As a Christian and an Aryan I too got annoyed with the overuse of the words “Christian” and “Aryan” — “Darwinian” would have been more justified — but Bradey’s facts are substantially correct with a few exceptions. (Russian and Japanese losses in 1904-05 are one glaring example.) U.S. brutality in the Philippines and TR’s systematic favoring of Japan in Korea (as opposed to China or Russia, also contenders for an inevitable takeover — are entirely factual and were one reason for World War II. U.S. racism was also a major reason. Sad fact — Americans murdered far more people in the Philippines in 1899 – 1906 than the Japanese murdered in Korea from 1905 – 1945, and for all their brusque and often brutal mistreatment of Koreans, the Japanese left behind a developed economy and literate population with excellent hygiene and a strong work ethic. Then Dean Acheson declared Korea outsise the U.S. defense perimeter, the Communists attacked, and the hapless Koreans had to start over again after losing as many people as the Japanese lost in U.S. air raids when they had a surrender offer on the table….About three million each. Neither countryu has forgotten that. Good work, Bradey — an honest and highly readablwe book.

  2. I also felt “Darwinian” is a better description of the political and racist attitude described in The Imperial Cruise. On my blog I reviewed the book using Ben Stien’s excellent movie “Expelled, no intelligence allowed” to explain the common view of scientists and politicians alike of so called “Aryan” superiority. James Bradley fails to link Darwinism as the driving force behind the racism at the end of the 19th century and beyond. Evolution and survival of the fittest are ideas that led to Eugenics and genocide of so called “lesser races”. Had President Roosevelt not bypassed Congress and ignored the Constitution he could not have carried out his horrible ideas. This does not make the United States the monster Mr. Bradley makes us out to be. I have no doubt most Americans would have been appalled by these covert operations at the time they were committed if they had the opportunity to know about them, this may be why they were done in secret.

  3. This is a stagering account of American history. It makes Nazi aggression seem tepid in historical perspective. It teaches so many lessons and should be required reading for every American. We can’t take back what was done nor is it our generations obligation to apologize but we must learn these lessons as we appear to have not learned from these gross mistakes and abusses Bradley illustrates here.

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