The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War is a political must. The title is actually quite misleading. This is not so much about secret foreign policy as about the origins of that foreign policy in a radical race doctrine which western states have successfully disguised as a mad doctrine cooked up by Hitler and Nazi elites, swallowed hook, line, and sinker by a gullible German people. Bradley’s book should be required reading because the so-called Nazi ideology was driving American imperial ambition and policy 100 years before Hitler arrived on the European scene.
Bradley’s main thesis concern American – especially President Teddy Roosevelt’s – manipulation of Japan to become surrogate Aryans carrying out conquest in the Far East, over-cooking this to the point that Japan one day would attack Pearl Harbor. Bradley details the historical record clearly, showing American advisors, and Roosevelt himself, grooming Japanese representatives, advising them of their duty to carry out the “white civilizing mission” all over the globe. This would properly include conquering Korea, for a start, and placing it under harsh Japanese tutelage. In other cases, such as Taiwan, this baldly meant efforts to exterminate “inferior” peoples.
This hitherto suppressed history makes sense of Japan’s plans for imperial expansion and outrage when the United States panicked in the 20th century, and cutting off Japanese imperial life-lines in the Far East. There is also a larger story of Japanese modern history to which Bradley makes a great contribution, in particular, Japan’s failed push for “racial equality” to be inserted into the League of Nations charter at the 1919 Paris Peace Talks, not to mention Japan’s rapid-fire transformation into a western-style state, and its decision to model its own imperialism on that of island-based Britain.
In the course of telling the story of American manipulation of Japan, Bradley illuminates the larger field of race-based American foreign policy in the 19th century. Bradley produces verbatim statements, private writings, and recorded conversations of leading political elites, especially the forceful and effective President Teddy Roosevelt. Here we see starkly articulated a policy in which the extermination of entire peoples is dictated by the (white man’s) judgment that they are incapable of adopting white civilization.
The essential theory, held without reservation by Teddy Roosevelt, was really an elaborate mythology accepted as scientific doctrine and a guide to action among all western imperial states. It stated that the German/Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic peoples were the sole descendants of an ancient, superior Aryan race from Persia who almost disappeared because they had allowed themselves to be submerged and degraded in surrounding “inferior” but large civilizations. A tiny group managed to migrate to “the forests of Germany” emerging as modern Teutons, a pure race born to rule the world.
Life Magazine Waterboarding of Filipino 1902
We learn that Rudyard Kipling’s most famous poem White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands, (1899), with its startling race images, was written specifically to encourage the United States at that time to continue their extermination policies in the Philippines. This, again, illustrates the truly culture-wide nature of racism, where such a poem was beloved, and oft-cited, rather than rejected as “racism”. In an age where race-thinking was a norm, “racism” as a derogatory concept did not have the meaning it has acquired in the West today.
In Teddy Roosevelt’s time, as the Kipling poem makes clear, race-thinking permeated all levels of western societies. The media of the time carried popular accounts including graphic pictures and cartoons of the waterboarding of Filipinos recounted as routine in soldiers’ letters home and popularized in US Army marching songs. Today, “race-thinking” is rejected, and its existence as a recent (and still-present) political doctrine of Western Imperialism buried as deeply as possible by court historians and media. I certainly did not learn in history class that an estimated 2, even 3 million Filipinos were killed by Americans in military campaigns and concentration camps where torture, executions, and starvation – including that of women and children – were routine policy, if not sport.
Prairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830-1890 by Peter Pagnamenta illustrates Bradley’s thesis, though more in passing, which is all the more chilling. While I enjoyed the tale of British aristocrats and their infatuation with the American West, I had been somewhat startled by the author’s repeated observation that many of these aristocrats, including Queen Victoria herself, expressed regret that the American Indian was “doomed to disappear.” This was not accompanied by indignation, or even surprise, much less any attempts to intervene on the part of the British nobility, despite their personal admiration, in many cases, for particular American Indians they had met.
In Bradley’s book, we learn why the British accepted the coming disappearance of the American Indian in such a resigned, open manner. They recognized and shared the cornerstone of President Theordore Roosevelt’s policies – the fact that Aryan supremacy race doctrines included the historically – some thought divinely given – mandate for white, Teuton, German Anglo-Saxons, the last of the Aryans, to push ever westward, emptying the planet of inferior, non-Aryan peoples. The formation of the United States was conceptualized by elites as a westward movement, initially of Anglo-Saxon Germans (remnant survivors of Persian Aryans) who invaded England, nearly exterminated the early Briton-Celts, and then pushed westward again, taking ownership of the North American continent, which again entailed emptying it of “inferior peoples.”
British Aristocrat Hunting Bison American West
Thus the Indian had been duly examined – by white men – and deemed incapable of adopting white/Aryan civilization. For this reason, their extermination was historically mandated, the sentence to be carried out, in stages if necessary, by the US Government. The wiping out of the buffalo was a genocidal move to eliminate the food supply of the Indian tribes (and British aristocrats embraced the “sport” with vigor. The reservations were not haphazard responses by US planners, but – as with all such concentration camps – were instruments of first cultural and then physical degradation and, ultimately, death of a people.
Similarly, the concentration camps which riddled the Philippines as part of the US occupation were forms of extermination which supplemented the military, in some cases “hunting” expeditions of people whose extermination was in the historical works.
James Bradley’s book, The Imperial Cruise (and I do recommend Prairie Fever to supplement this) illuminates a dark, hidden corner of the revered Teddy Roosevelt’s American and its race-based imperial policy at home and abroad. We need to recognize that the Aryan supremacy doctrine was by no means unique to Hitler and the Nazis, emerging as it did in Germany late in the day after its adoption by British, European, and American Imperialism.
Review of The Imperial Cruise in the New York Times
Another important work on the largely suppressed history of race and empire is Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya. Here we have the first honest revelations of British genocidal policies in Kenya during the Mau-Mau War of the 1950s. This was an uprising of Kenyans after decades of already systematic brutality at the hands of the British colonial power. Billed as just a small round-up, internment and possibly rough treatment of a few murderous rebels, it turns out that the British took a page from Hitler’s use of camps as the political instrument of terror for control as well as for the extermination of undesirable elements of the state.
The British forced a huge portion of Kenya’s population into concentration camps, subjecting them to officially-approved, systematic degradation through torture, forced labor, and starvation; at least 90,000 Kenyans died and more were terribly scarred, inside and out.
Fortunately, the British government has been forced to reveal long-hidden (many were destroyed) archives of this period, and a group of Kenyan survivors has filed a 40,000-person lawsuit. We must hope not only for some small semblance of “compensation”, but further revelation of Truth, so rightly known as the Daughter of Time.
Reviews of Imperial Reckoning..
The Truth, Nothing But the Brutal Truth
Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt by Richard Gott.is another shocking book on the brutal, long-suppressed realities of British Imperialism. Like Bradley’s expose of American Imperialism, Gott’s book has sparked angry reviews. In Gott’s case, his book brings together in relentless sequence an endless array of British repressive policies and the revolts they inspired. In showing that Empire was based solely on the British use of force, Gott tears apart the fairy-tales of Empire so dear to British culture.Gott does not spare US Imperialism – describing the American War of Independence as fought to position the founding fathers to deal effectively and finally with the American Indians in taking the American continent away from them.
Gott’s book has been criticized for having weak, out-of-date (often – god forbid – “native”) sources, but many of the later sources have been blatant apologia for the glories, or at least benefits of Empire, so I would give Gott considerable room here. He is also criticized for for failing to distinguish between kinds of violence, revolt and repression, such as all-out political uprisings versus skirmishes over economic resources. This, like most criticisms, belongs to the “nuance and complexity” school, who find the focus on violence to be too simplistic. Not if you are the one taking the beating, and there were hundreds of thousands taking various kinds of beatings – millions, if we look at famines and diseases that all but wiped out whole peoples and were knowingly induced as methods of control (let’s start with Ireland).
Gott is faulted for failing to include such things as wide-scale collaboration among the repressed with the occupying powers. But collaboration was always one of the best ways – sometimes the only way – to survive in an environment in which the indigenous person was completely at the mercy of a new, always potentially violent presence. And collaboration comes at a psychological cost, and sometimes a very real, dangerous social cost.
Those insisting on the need to show “complexity and nuance” want to insist that there were “benefits of empire” – roads, railways, new forms of government, healthcare, and so on – and that these deserve the same amount of space that the violence does. This, on the one hand, looks like one more chorus of “look how well we carried the White Man’s burden”; on the other hand, even the critics of critics of Empire usually start by admitting a) violence was indeed very much present and b) most of the violence has been downplayed, or even written out of the history of Empire. So if there is a question of balance here, it looks like the scales have been deliberately on the side of white-washing Empire, as opposed to telling a “nuanced” truth.
Bengal Famine of 1770 Due to Forced Replacement of Food Crops With Opium Crops by British East India Company. It is estimated to have taken 10 million lives.
Then there is the “failure to provide context” criticism – that the critic of Empire fails to show the context for various atrocities and massacres committed by a colonial power – usually the fact that “the rebels” committed murders and atrocities and had to be taught a stiff lesson. But if we want a context, how about imprisoning an entire people, forcing them to labor for you, stealing their resources including basic food (forcing opium to be grown in Bengal for export to China on lands formerly used to grow food), suppressing their language and culture, while beating, torturing and executing – on any whim – anyone you choose?
If there is a “context missing” surely it is the stark brutality of the overarching presence of Imperialism itself, where colonial administrations were empowered to maintain control of the imperial prize by any means necessary. The violence inhered in the fabric of enslavement, in the daily reminders of one’s inferiority, in the examples of brute force which were intended as instruments of quiet, ever-present terror.
There is something willfully obtuse about blaming those who are already the victims of repression for acts committed in their attempts to rebel. It is like blaming a rape victim, pinned to the ground, for gouging her assailant’s eyes, or blaming the Palestinians for “excessive force” in an uprising against the illegal occupation by the Israeli State.
Such obscurantism beggars the faculty of indignation. The fundamental, salient point of the Age of Imperialism was that Empire was founded on and rested on white men carrying guns and pointing them at brown and black people carrying sticks and knives. It ignores, as only an oppressor can, that the ultimate criteria for most human beings, of any color, is whether one is free, or one is not.
As long as we cling to these self-exculpatory attitudes, we show the brainwashing of Empire remains with us, a toxic residue from an era of sin which remains unshriven.
A Review of Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt
Race-Thinking and Imperialism in the Origins of Totalitarianism
Of course, no understanding of race-thinking and Western Imperialism is complete without reading – and rereading – The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. This is a brilliant analysis of the totalitarian state (Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) as a new genus of state invaded as if by political cancer, having the Camp and the institution of state-wide Terror as its main instruments of political control.
This book remains vital reading for many reasons:
- Despite the collapse of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union we are watching the slide towards totalitarianism many see in western states, especially the United States, as we speak.
- Arendt’s chapter on race-thinking and its origins and application in Imperialism is perhaps the best in the book. And since we in western states today must live in a world shaped by 19th century race-based Imperialism, we have little choice but to understand imperialism -and why the West is hated in much of the world.
- Most important of all, Arendt shows clearly how the race-thinking of Imperialism had a boomerang effect, bringing race-based nationalism – culminating in fascism – to European home states themselves. The ethnic cleansing of an Imperialism bearing the banner of Aryan supremacy became the ethnic cleansing of Aryan Nazi Germany. A more recent outbreak was yet another “Balkan War” in the 1990s in which non-Aryan but still deadly ethnic cleansing became the main goal of war.
- At the present time we see mass migrations of “foreign” people into the nation-states of Europe and the United States, the rhetoric of national identity and race is rising. It looks like the children of Imperialism are coming home.