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

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

by Stephen Kinzer
 

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The bestselling author of Overthrow and The Brothers brings to life the forgotten political debate that set America’s interventionist course in the world for the twentieth century and beyond.

How should the United States act in the world? Americans cannot decide. Sometimes we burn with righteous anger, launching foreign wars and

Overview

The bestselling author of Overthrow and The Brothers brings to life the forgotten political debate that set America’s interventionist course in the world for the twentieth century and beyond.

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.

Revealing a piece of forgotten history, 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.

All Americans, regardless of political perspective, can take inspiration from the titans who faced off in this epic confrontation. Their words are amazingly current. Every argument over America’s role in the world grows from this one. It all starts here.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 11/07/2016
Acclaimed journalist Kinzer (The Brothers) spotlights the domestic discord and clamor over America’s imperial ventures at the dawn of the 20th century. After a century of continental expansion, the U.S. encountered the opportunity to expand overseas by capturing Spanish colonial possessions and other territories and peoples within its reach. The nation plunged into arguably “the farthest-reaching debate” in its history with political and intellectual giants contesting “the imperial idea” to determine America’s place in the world and in history. Expansionists proclaimed benevolent intent and a civilizing mission while touting the economic benefits of conquest; anti-imperialists recalled America’s anticolonial origins and condemned imperialist violence and brutality. The former largely triumphed, as the U.S. soon controlled Cuba and annexed Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines in a swift series of subjugations. In Kinzer’s gripping narrative, the egotistical Theodore Roosevelt emerges in his aggressively hypermasculine fashion as the most outspoken expansionist, while Mark Twain embarks on the “least-known phase of his career” to resist the violent drive toward empire. Kinzer ably conveys the passion and ferment of this brief period, situating this grand debate in the context of U.S. foreign policy history and convincingly arguing that the imperial/anti-imperial dichotomy remains a dominant feature of the American psyche. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

"One could not ask for a timelier argument...Kinzer is right: the first debate over American empire at the end of the nineteenth century speaks to our own time."—The New York Review of Books

"A well-researched account, which also gestures toward subsequent U.S. interventions"—The New Yorker

"lively and very readable reconstruction of one of American history's most consequential debates....What's striking now is how much this century-old debate mirrors contemporary issues and positions"—Dallas Morning News

"[A] gripping narrative . . . Kinzer ably conveys the passion and ferment of this brief period, situating this grand debate in the context of U.S. foreign policy history and convincingly arguing that the imperial/anti-imperial dichotomy remains a dominant feature of the American psyche." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this engaging, well-focused history…Kinzer astutely brings the debate [over American imperialism] from the turn of the century to the present. A tremendously elucidating book that should be required reading for civics courses."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This straight-forward treatment of America’s struggle to define its international posture is essential for readers at all levels as we continue this debate and wonder, ‘Why don’t they like us?’”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Stephen Kinzer’s The True Flag is a marvelous and timely look at the rise of American imperialism at the turn of the twentieth century. All the big power players of the era – Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain among them – are analyzed cogently as intellectuals of great merit. An outstanding book!”
Douglas Brinkley, author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America and professor of history, Rice University

“Even in the pages of a novel, it would be impossible to find more extraordinary characters than Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. That these two men locked horns over one of the most fundamental issues facing a young nation is a stunning turn of events, one that Stephen Kinzer, through meticulous research and masterful writing, has turned into a fascinating, fast-paced narrative.”
Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt, Destiny of the Republic, and Hero of the Empire

“At a moment when Americans are hotly debating their country’s role in the world, Stephen Kinzer takes us back to the origins of the modern debate. His account of the battle between imperialists and anti-imperialists at the end of the nineteenth century is riveting, uplifting, dismaying—and as timely as can be.”
H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War

“In The True Flag, Stephen Kinzer gives us much more than the story of the birth of American dominion. He shows why we Americans were attracted to empire, how we have nurtured it to maturity, and what our choices are now. I thank him for helping me better understand how America acts in the world today.”
James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, The Imperial Cruise, and The China Mirage

“Stephen Kinzer’s lively and incisive history takes us back more than a century to a fateful turning point: the moment when the United States first assumed the right to overthrow or build up regimes in distant parts of the globe. I hope American leaders will read this book and think long and hard about the warning it sounds." —Adam Hochschild, author of Spain in Our Hearts and King Leopold’s Ghost

Library Journal
★ 10/15/2016
Does the U.S. flag represent liberty or conquest? Kinzer (The Brothers) recounts how Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt justified overseas expansion, engineered the Spanish American War, and finagled U.S. domination of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. Without ignoring U.S. continental expansion, he argues that this momentous shift in U.S. foreign policy initiated the rancorous, ever-relevant debate over America's role in world affairs. Anti-imperialists, including William Jennings Bryan, Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, and Samuel Gompers, argued that imperialism contradicted America's mission to defend liberty, warning that the nation's lust for power, territory, markets, and resources signaled the downfall of the republic itself. Kinzer's final chapter briefly covers the roller coaster of U.S. intervention and retreat from Roosevelt's presidency to the present and points out the acrimonious consequences—abroad and at home—of promoting American interests without fully analyzing diverse positions. He also discusses the legacy of the anti-imperialists, and suggests that there's still time to alter our approach to "solving" global problems. VERDICT This straightforward treatment of America's struggle to define its international posture is essential for readers at all levels as we continue this debate and wonder, "Why don't they like us?" [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/16.]—Margaret Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-10-11
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781627792165
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
01/24/2017
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
15,409
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Kinzer is the author of The Brothers, Reset, Overthrow, All the Shah’s Men, and other books. An award-winning foreign correspondent, he served as The New York Times’s bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua and as The Boston Globe’s Latin America correspondent. He is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University and writes a column on world affairs for The Boston Globe. He lives in Boston.

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