Friday, October 19, 2012

Imperial America

First Great Triumph

First Great Triumph 

by Warren Zimmermann

"Events from 1898 through the Roosevelt Presidency were the direct result of expansionist policies that began overland during the nineteenth century and reflected an ambition to extend American influence overseas as well." (p 475)

Writing en route to Cuba during the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt envisioned the coming campaign as "the first great triumph in what will be a world movement." That movement—the emergence of the United States as a world power—is the subject of this thoughtful approach to the history and diplomacy of the era of the Spanish American War. The first half of the book, after an overview of the United States in 1898, consist of essays on five men who exemplified the expansionist movement and played a part in its development. They include the poet, journalist, and diplomat John Hay; Alfred T. Mahan, theorist of sea power; Elihu Root, corporation lawyer, government administrator, and presidential adviser; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, expansionist spokesman and mentor of Theodore Roosevelt, and finally, TR himself. Mahan narrates the stories of these lives of the leaders of this era with attention to their accomplishments and, in the cases of Alfred T. Mahan and Elihu Root, these were a revelation to me. 

 The second half of the book was a more traditional history of the era and in it the author, while decrying the advent of American imperialism, betrayed his own preference for big government.  He concludes with an analysis of the legacy on the twentieth century of the expansion led by these five men:  the creation of an authentic American Imperialism (for better or worse),  the preparation of the United States to be a great power, the first comprehensive assertion of of U. S. security interests abroad, the creation of foreign policy priorities in human rights and stability, and finally strengthening the American presidency.  This final legacy has grown unwieldy at the beginning of our new century. Overall Zimmermann's book was an excellent historical overview of a formative period for American foreign relations.

First Great Triumph by Warren Zimmermann. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

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