December 10, 2009

Just finished reading James Brady’s “The Imperial Cruise”, the story of the diplomatic mission taken across the Pacific to Hawaii and the Orient in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt’s designated liaison, Secretary of War (and future President) William Howard Taft and a group of politicos and well-connecteds that included his celebrated daughter Alice. I’d read – and enjoyed – Brady’s previous “Flyboys” and “Flags of Our Fathers”, but this time came away very disappointed at a work that is not only angry and bitter, but juvenile in its pathetic attempt to masquerade diatribe and screed as history.

It’s not just Brady’s cynical use of Roosevelt’s name as “Teddy” and the use of slang terms like “Japs” throughout the book – as if Roosevelt (and, by guilt of association, we as a people) were nothing more than a petulant child spouting ignorant, racist ideas – it’s the whole seething anger Brady seems to have against anything and anyone associated with America’s westward expansion.

Jeff Pierce, one of the reviewers of Brady’s book on, nails Brady’s attempt at historical revisionism far better than I could (my boldings):

Sorry, but this book is not history. It is a collection of cherry-picked “facts” and quotes, designed to write a politically correct screed about Teddy Roosevelt, American racism, imperialism, and how America blundered into laying the foundation for wars in Asia. In all truth, the author needed to do a lot more research and reading. The reality does not match his narrative.

The book is full of factual errors, and the author chose his information very carelessly. He uses the [Edmund] Morris biography of Theodore Roosevelt to prove his “points,” even though they are the opposite of
what Morris intended. He also seems determined to make Theodore Roosevelt into something he was not. Lord knows TR had his faults, but the figure that emerges from this book is not terribly accurate. I am sure part of the problem is the author’s attempt to fit early 1900s thinking into today’s politically correct obsession. It does not work. There are many today who would frown upon Theodore Roosevelt. This book is a good example of that school of thought.

Pierce is right on target here. If you want to play historian, deal with history as it was at the time and put those you wish to write of in the context of their times. Don’t attempt to overlay the current day’s ethos and thinking onto another age’s. Roosevelt and those like him can only truly be judged in the context of their times in comparison with his contemporaries. In that way, the true Roosevelt warts and all will come out; any true historian plying his craft understands that.

The whole problem with historical revisionism is the idea that somehow we as a people and culture are so much better, caring, understanding, and advanced as compared to those peoples and cultures of a century or centuries ago. It’s misguided and narrow-minded. My guess is that someone gazing down on this planet from 30,000 feet since, say, two thousand years ago is going to have a damned hard time seeing any grand improvement in the general human condition. There is still hunger, poverty, wars, cultres clashing, people being run off one land for another, and the rich and the poor. The geography may change, but the basic story remains the same.

One can easily find fault with many of the actions taken by so-called “Americans” since the first Europeans landed on our shores, but please, let’s not rush to color everything we’ve ever done as a nation and a people as all bad and replacing the all good.

The very essence of humankind since the beginning of time has been to assert one’s language, culture, and civilization upon previous ones. It has always been like that – people only point nasty fingers at the Europeans and Americans because there are so many people who have written of our history. If there were as many books written about ancient African, Asian, and South American civilizations I’m sure people would be aghast to find out they were as uncompromisingly ruthless and violent as we have been. That’s the nature of humankind, pure and simple.

I’m not defending any practices of the 18th, 19th, and early twentieth centuries – Lord knows, we as a nation and a people have made our grevious mistakes, but we’ve also paid dearly for them. In that way Brady is right – the seeds that led to the carnage brought about by World War II in the Pacific were planted by the very policies, actions, and treatment we dished out decades before, out of our “Aryan” tendencies and beliefs, oftentimes under Roosevelt’s edicts. But it’s not as if we as a people got off scot-free: after all, we paid dearly for those mistakes in American blood then, and we continue to do so today under the arguably false guise of “nation building” in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like the song goes, “when will they ever learn”…

One final note: Brady’s smug, self-congratulatory inclusion of his own “Peace Foundation” and “Youth For Understanding” initiatives in his Acknowledgements section (designed, in his own words, to “talk about our differences rather than go to war over them”), ignores a very common fact that those of his ilk fail to understand: Americans and Europeans aren’t the only ones who’ve ever sought to create death, destruction, and havoc across the globe these thousands of years. May he never be on a plane suddenly targeted at some glistening New York City skyscraper; I doubt those doing the flying will want to take any time out of their mission of death to “hash over” our cultural differences peacefully.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 00:24 | Comments Off on Historical Revisionism
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