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.
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.