There is a new school of revisionists history that is determined to compare Theodore Roosevelt with George W. Bush ans damn them both in the process and this book is one of the more flawed contributions to a flawed genre. First of all we have to accept the facts about the Maine that the author presents as hard and fast evidence when the best evidence suggest that nobody knew then – or can conclusively state now – exactly what happened. Second we have to accept McKinley as a sort of pompous buffoon when, in reality, he was an immensely popular president who managed a level of prosperity unknown before in the nation’s history. Finally we have Theodore Roosevelt as the enfant terrible of the age of imperialism who did not play well with others.
Roosevelt is certainly the most complex and interesting character in the bunch and his meteoric rise has done as much to obscure as to define the man but the underlying point is he was not only a very intelligent – and when need be shrewd – man but he was also a master politician who had a long and fruitful relationship with both Henry Cabot Lodge and Thomas Reed. William James was the Thoreau of his day – a pious gas-bag devoid of any real accomplishment – and William Randolph Hearst may have been the ringmaster of the popular media circus of his time and in spite of carrying the traditions of yellow journalism on to the History Channel [one of Hearst’s current ventures] there was nothing reliable in his publications then or now.
What we are left with is a poorly constructed philippic that is squarely in the tradition of James and Hearst and unworthy of the other actors. Roosevelt certainly had his critics, Henry F. Pringle wrote the standard condemnation of the man in 1931 that misinformed at least two generations about him and Morton Keller gathered a selection of his critics into a profile published in 1967 but Thomas could not fill the shoes of any of these any more than W could fill TR’s. For a balanced view the three volumes of Edmund Morris show him, warts and all, as one of the two occupants of Rushmore who actually deserve to be there.
The war lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the rush to empire, 1898 New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010 Evan Thomas United States Politics and government 1897-1901 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. viii, 471 p.: ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 447-453) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
On February 15th, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. That the explosion was almost certainly a self-inflicted accident, mattered not to warmongers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge. Along with newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, they fabricated evidence of a Spanish attack and, as they had long hoped, President McKinley soon declared war.
That war would turn out to a bloody quagmire that would come at tremendous cost. It would transform Roosevelt into an American hero, but would shatter friendships among Roosevelt, Lodge and their close friends and former allies philosopher William James and the powerful Speaker of the House Thomas Reed.
A book with uncanny resonance with the recent invasion of Iraq, The War Lovers is a thrilling war story, as well as a powerful chronicle of friendships torn asunder by an invented enemy and a rush to battle.