Stephen Kinzer’s True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the birth of American Empire is an important examination of another portion of American history too few Americans understand. Specifically, the book looks at the discussion of American imperialism that took place during and after the War of 1898.
The book uses the experiences and words of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain to primarily tell the story. Roosevelt represents the faction of Americans who, ruled by racism and corporate greed, believe in American imperialism. Twain, on the other hand, has traveled extensively and understands the immoral nature and foolishness of imperialism.
When I first heard about True Flag, I wasn’t sure I would read it. Usually, I don’t like books that spend a lot of time on the words and thoughts of a person or two. I read True Flag because I have found all of the books authored by Stephen Kinzer I have read to be extremely informative. By the end of True Flag, I was very glad I trusted my belief in Mr. Kinzer’s work.
Reading True Flag while America is struggling to find its way out of Afghanistan and Iraq and while America is trying to decide how much more it will be involved in Syria was interesting. As True Flag illustrates, had a few events gone differently, or a few more people had shown courage more than a century ago, America may not be stuck in endless wars today.
Reading the book, I kept thinking about how silly the Declaration of Independence has always been. America, instead of living up to the ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence, has always denied liberty to many–especially those who aren’t white. The reality that America has done little more than offer platitudes toward the ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence is not new. Neither is the idea that America’s true ideals have always been racism and corporate greed. But reading about the debate that set America on the course of spreading its true ideals around the world was fascinating.
As much as I follow history, I knew Theodore Roosevelt was overrated and his racism too easily dismissed. But True Flag uses Roosevelt’s words and accurate representations of his actions to demonstrate how much damage Theodore Roosevelt did to America.
Mark Twain, whose fiction I have always enjoyed, took a big step forward in my mind. Twain’s commentaries on American imperialism are worth remembering today.
As True Flag indicates, America had a choice in the late 1800s and early 1900s; unfortunately, racism and greed caused too many Americans to make the wrong decision. Hopefully, America can someday attempt to live by the ideals in the Declaration of Independence. American racism and corporate greed haven’t done much for America or the world.