“Excellent . . . An engrossing and timely history of five men who embraced the imperialist ethic.” James Chace, The New York Review of Books
“What gives Mr. Zimmermann's book its special character is his singling out of Roosevelt, Lodge and company as 'the fathers of American imperialism' and showing how their vision of the nation was transformed into reality. And that makes for a good story, full of craggy individualists and events that retain their power to amaze.” Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
“Riveting . . . [First Great Triumph] is essential background for anyone interested in how the United States arrived at its present place in the world . . . [and] a fascinating visit to an era that has received far too little attention.” Richard Holbrooke, Foreign Affairs
Like Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, Zimmermann's account takes its readers deep into a small, captivating circle of figures instrumental in shaping American thought and history: in this case, the five men most responsible for making the United States a major player on the international stage at the start of the 20th century. The key players are Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge (Republican senator from Massachusetts), John Hay (enigmatic secretary of state to McKinley and TR), Elihu Root (hard-edged New York corporate attorney, later to serve as a gruffly paternalistic colonial administrator), and naval strategist Admiral Alfred T. Mahan. Mahan, perhaps the least well-known of the five, emerges as the group's touchstone. An ardent admirer of the standing British fleet and the British colonial system it helped police, Mahan believed the United States should institute similar military might to help administer an American world view. He aggressively lobbied for the establishment and maintenance of a large, well-funded navy and for strict enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine, with U.S. domination of such strategically important outposts as Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. In this fascinating and engaging account, Zimmermann (Origins of Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and Its Destroyers), a former U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia), does a brilliant job of showing how Mahan's views enabled the United States to bootstrap up to the status of world colonial power within the short space of just five years, from 1898 to 1903. Illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.) Forecast: The readers who made The Metaphysical Club and Theodore Rex bestsellers are the ideal audience for this outstanding history; if they learn of the book, expect healthy sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
During the Cold War, political scientists and foreign policy theorists largely ignored historical events before 1945 when searching for the underlying roots of American foreign policy. Those earlier periods, with the occasional exception of the failed foreign policy efforts of Woodrow Wilson, were ignored or treated as colorful sideshows. Analysis was focused on the Cold War, which often was presented as if it had sprung without historical context directly out of the Truman administration's response to the Soviet challenge right after World War II. American foreign policy was viewed simply as the sum of its Cold War components. Events before World War II were reserved for specialists and historians, something that hardly existed for most Americans without relevance to the modern era.
As it turns out and as many historians knew all along the United States always had a foreign policy, with underlying themes and motives that grew organically out of the domestic American experience. American foreign policy did not start in 1945, or even 1917. A central political struggle between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson concerned relations with Britain and France, as both David McCullough and Joseph Ellis reminded us. There had been the Monroe Doctrine, the Spanish-American War, several near-wars with the British, the annexation of Hawaii, the conquest of the Philippines, the Open Door policy toward China, and much more. To be sure, these events were all part of any basic American history course. But too few Americans study history, and in any case, these events were usually presented merely as a sideshow to the grand sweep of America's domestic history.
America's preeminence as a superpower has its roots in how corporate lawyer Elihu Root, naval strategist Alfred T. Mahan, U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Secretary of State John Hay, and politician Theodore Roosevelt led the nation in articulating and shaping American imperialism. A career diplomat and a former ambassador to Yugoslavia, Zimmermann (Columbia Univ. and Johns Hopkins; Origins of a Catastrophe) argues that the "consequences right up to today" of American expansionism between the 1880s and 1910s "owes a great deal to" the five fathers of modern American imperialism. Part one comprises the biographies of these architects of an aggressive imperialist policy, and part two narrates mainly the war against Spain and TR's presidency. Zimmermann admirably presents complex individuals and their extremely complex historical era in a manner accessible to the layperson. This readable, richly detailed, scholarly work, based on primary and secondary sources, is rewarding to readers who want more than an introductory historical treatment of the origins of today's American foreign policy. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A vigorous history of America's rise to global power in the closing years of the 19th century. Ambassador to Yugoslavia during the first Bush administration-Origins of a Catastrophe (1996) details his experiences there-Zimmerman is no stranger to power politics and saber rattling. He opens this lucid account by noting that modern Americans do not much like to think of their country as having an imperialist past. Indeed, he writes, imperialism "was not very popular in 1898 either," so that two of the chief architects of America's global expansion, Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, resorted to euphemisms such as "Americanism" and "large policy." Whatever they called it, Roosevelt and Lodge, along with naval strategist Alfred Mahan, Secretary of State John Hay, and lawyer-administrator Elihu Root (later Secretary of War and of State), developed an encompassing policy that first led to the acquisition of huge chunks of territory by defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898. This was so resounding a victory, Zimmerman observes, that the issue was not what the Spanish were willing to concede, "but what the Americans would demand." What they took was nearly direct economic control of places such as the Philippines and Cuba. To one degree or another, the author notes, all these men operated under conceptions of manifest destiny and a variant of social Darwinism that considered it the white man's burden (Kipling wrote the poem of that title after an argument with Roosevelt) to rule the world, a goal that could be achieved only through war. Zimmerman examines the legacy of those attitudes in light of subsequent history, observing pointedly, "Many in Congress still remainwedded to triumphal rhetoric about the primacy of U.S. power without doing much to make that power relevant or acceptable to others." An intelligent, highly readable contribution to the historical literature, usefully updating such standard texts as Howard K. Beale's Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (1956).