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The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark…

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American… (edition 2017)

by Stephen Kinzer (Author)

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15617120,927 (4.13)8
How should the United States act in the world? Americans cannot decide. Sometimes we burn with righteous anger, launching foreign wars and deposing governments. Then we retreat -- until the cycle begins again. No matter how often we debate this question, none of what we say is original. Every argument is a pale shadow of the first and greatest debate, which erupted more than a century ago. Its themes resurface every time Americans argue whether to intervene in a foreign country. Stephen Kinzer transports us to the dawn of the twentieth century, when the United States first found itself with the chance to dominate faraway lands. That prospect thrilled some Americans. It horrified others. Their debate gripped the nation. The country's best-known political and intellectual leaders took sides. Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Randolph Hearst pushed for imperial expansion; Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, and Andrew Carnegie preached restraint. Only once before ― in the period when the United States was founded ― have so many brilliant Americans so eloquently debated a question so fraught with meaning for all humanity.… (more)
Title:The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire
Authors:Stephen Kinzer (Author)
Info:Henry Holt and Co. (2017), Edition: 1st, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer



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This book explores the strains of American foreign policy which veers over the course of history between imperialist and interventionist goals and isolationism. Kinzer argues that these two positions have a long history, and the tension between them has repeated since at least the turn of the twentieth century. The imperialist urge emerges with the outbreak of the Spanish American War and the United States taking control of foreign territories for the first time in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. The interventionists argue that the peoples of these lands will find freedom under American control, seemingly at odds with the democratic ideals of our own Revolution. Anti-imperialists then as now try to get Americans to cling to these principles and restrain their militarist impulses, with Mark Twain the most prominent voice. Theodore Roosevelt stands as the icon of imperialism in this book, although Kinzer describes Henry Cabot Lodge as the actor working behind the scenes of the imperialist cause, up to and including engineering Roosevelt's rise to the presidency. ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 26, 2018 |
5477. The True Flag Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire, by Stephen Kinzer (read 17 Jun 2017) This is an easy-to-read account of the fight to prevent the U.S. from becoming an empire. It tells of the fight against Teddy Roosevelt and Senator Lodge to prevent the U.S. conquering the Philippines. Instead of supporting the fight for independence the U.S. in a vicious war literally conquered a people who had thought we would help them win independence. It is a sad story. In the concluding chapter the author expatiates on various events of the 20th century, some of which discussion is questionable. For instance, he seems to blame us for becoming involved in the fight against Hitler! But till the last chapter the book is commendable and well-told, though the events related are sad. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jun 17, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Interventionist or Isolationist? How should the US behave in the world? In 1898, Americans were confronted with this question... and we've been debating ever since. Kinzer brings us a vivid cast of characters, headed by Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and William Randolph Hearst on one side of the debate, and Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Andrew Carnegie on the other. A fascinating look at the history underpinning present US involvement in world affairs, as well as an opportunity for the reader to decide whether or not we should modify our approach and in what way. Do we still believe the arguments put forward for one or the other? Where does true safety lie? Has US military might turned us into a guard dog? Or a bully? Highly recommended and fascinating read. ( )
  Carrie.Kilgore | Jun 17, 2017 |
This well-conceived book tells of America's ambivalence with policies of expansionism and intervention in the world. Throughout the twentieth century America's foreign policy has included periods and episodes of active intervention ranging from imperialistic-style colonialism to covert and overt attempts at regime change. This activism on the world stage has seen countervailing times of isolationism when Americans eschewed involvement in affairs beyond our borders.

Kinzer marks the beginning of this contradictory sense of proper policy with the Spanish-American War of 1898. There was a thirst for war among some thought leaders including most notably journalist William Randolph Hearst, the ambitious rising star in politics Theodore Roosevelt and his close ally and mentor Henry Cabot Lodge. Spanish human rights atrocities in Cuba and the Philippines, inflamed by the so-called yellow journalism of the era, prompted America to declare war on Spain on humanitarian grounds and to bring the blessings of American-style democracy to oppressed people. What began as a war of liberation fairly quickly changed to colonial occupation of the conquered islands. At the same time, the country determined to annex the Hawaiian Islands, an action seemingly driven by commercial interests that had taken hold on the islands.

The factors behind this expansionist outlook following the war did, indeed, seem to lie in the chance for economic gains for America. American business had become so productive that there was worry that without new markets the growth of our economy would stall. What better way to open up trading possibilities than to take control of entire nations of people? Those who favored expansionism also looked at the rise of colonialism of the European powers and feared that without similar policy on our part America would be cut out of foreign markets. This policy was clothed in a morally disingenuous notion that it was the obligation of the Anglo-Saxon nations (the so-called "White Man's Burden") to bring the blessings of their advanced cultures to primitives, a manifestation of the overt racism that existed at the time.

Against this tide of American imperialism was the strongly held view by many that colonialism was antithetical to the values and principles that distinguished America from the rest of the world. America had broken the bonds of its colonial master to found a nation based on the principle of consent of the governed and certainly the imposition of authority over others was repugnant to the nation's values. The Anti-Imperialists organized a campaign to have America's military victories result in independence and self-governance for the people freed from Spain's yoke. Leading lights in this movement were the industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie, populist democrat William Jennings Bryan, the notable political figure Carl Schurz and Mark Twain. Bryan was thought by this alliance to be the key to prevailing as his popularity across the country made him potentially the next president. Bryan betrayed the aims of these advocates by taking a conciliatory stance in the hopes of political gain. President McKinley was equivocal on the matter and in the end went along with the wishes of the expansionists.

What followed was a disastrous occupation of the Philippines in which insurgents seeking independence fought American troops for several years in a campaign featuring torture and indiscriminate killing and pillage of civilians by the American occupiers.

Throughout the remainder of the century (and up to the present) American policy has shifted between an activist role in world affairs and isolationism. Before both world wars the sentiment of overwhelming numbers of the American public had been to stay out of the affairs of the rest of the world. After World War II American fears of communism marked a steady utilization of interventionism, sometimes covert and sometimes military. The idea of "threats" against which our engagement must be brought to bear seems to persist even after the decline of the other major super power of the world. Most of these interventions have turned out badly for the United States for the same reasons as in the Philippine occupation: arrogance, ignorance or blindness to the cultural and political ethos of other countries, and the unwillingness of the American people to suffer long term or large scale sacrifices in pursuit of foreign policy. There is a case to be made as well that underlying most if not all foreign engagements is not the altruistic spread of our morally superior "way of life", but rather the assurance of preserving and advancing the economic interests of our nation. Moreover, the idea that foreign wars are necessary to "preserve our freedom" is a cynical trope used to bring the people to a willingness to go along.

In one sense, American expansionism predates our forays into the world scene. America was expansionist since its inception albeit within the boundaries of our portion of the continent. This continental expansion was always at the expense of others who occupied the land, was decidedly racist and unquestionably motivated by hoped for economic gain. By the late 1890's our own territory had been completely occupied and it would not be a terrible leap of logic to strive to continue in this vein on the world stage. Perhaps strangely, internal expansion did not seem morally indefensible to most, but expansion beyond our national borders raised qualms about its incongruity with widely held core American values.

A word should be added about the book's picture of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt is today admired in many respects for his activism, particularly with regard to conservation and his efforts to curtail monopolies and trusts. But, his belligerence and war mongering are quite unappealing. Roosevelt believed that war was necessary and salutary for society, that it was an integral component of a "manly" character. He shared the view of many that the superiority of Anglo-Saxon justified the imposition of western values on the "lessor races." Such view is abhorrent to our values today.

The author carries the story of American interventionism up to the present and his sentiments, with which I agree, are that great care and consideration should be applied to decisions to intervene abroad and that it would be wise to utilize the lessons of history in these circumstances. ( )
  stevesmits | May 29, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
1898 was a terrible, terrible year.
A ship boiler room explosion turned into a pretext for war across the globe that a reluctant President McKinley who had seen the losses of the US Civil War first hand, did not want.
The rise of superiority biases against inferiors, perceived as such for their race, color or religion.
The fuel of mass media and a press that sold the news and bought any rumor.
The jingoistic dithyrambs of Theodore Roosevelt and their counter-discourses by Mark Twain, a man who had seen the miseries, hidden by pumps and circumstances, of Empire through his world travels.
Mr. Kinzer's short and lively rendition of these debates shows that history repeats itself as an ever lasting parody.
The empire of liberty and the capture of Guam under Spanish control since 1668 by the U.S. Navy through its U.S.S. Charleston is unique in that the naval bombardment of an out of use and out of ammo citadel is believed to be by two apologetic Spanish officers, a gun salute.

Shortly after finishing this book, I saw the 2016 movie by Spanish Director Salvador Calvo "1898. Los Ășltimos de Filipinas" that describes how a Spanish company of 50 forgotten by its government sustains a siege in Baler in the Philippines against the revolutionary forces of Philippino leader Aguinaldo. The portrayal of the book of Aguinaldo and the Philippino's people resistance is a moving passage of this book as it was directed against the Spanish first as a US ally and then as an enemy of the USA.I am now ready to know more about this 400 years Spanish occupation that dated from Ferdinand Magellan 1521 travel and feel I have now a better understanding after reading this book of how the ethical dilemma represented by the USA succeeding a long colonial occupation agitated the public then. ( )
  Artymedon | Apr 5, 2017 |
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