During the Iraq war, political pundits often compared the quagmire there to the war in Vietnam. The better comparison, however, was the Spanish-American War of 1898.
In the lead up to that war, a cabal of wealthy oligarchs espoused the need for a war to bolster America’s image and begin the country’s empire building. In the Iraq war, a cabal of wealthy oligarchs – in this case the Project for a New American Century which provided most of President George W. Bush’s cabinet – urged a war with Iraq to promote an American “hegemony” over the Middle East.
In both conflicts, false intelligence played a major role in stirring up war fever. In 1898, Americans were fed stories of Spanish atrocities (mostly false) and were told the USS Maine was blown up by Spanish terrorists (she was actually destroyed by an internal fire that ignited a powder magazine). In 2003, Americans were fed stories about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (already wiped out by Operation Desert Crossing during the Clinton administration) and that Saddam Hussein was tied in with Osama Bin Laden (false).
Both conflicts, after quick initial victories, resulted in the U.S. being bogged down in long-term insurgencies. (When the U.S. decided to annex the Philippines as a colony after liberating it from the Spanish, the Filipino “insurrectos” rose up in arms. The resulting conflict lasted well into the new 20th century, cost both sides thousands of lives, and became very unpopular with the American people.)
It is no wonder then that reading Evan Thomas’ The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898
seemed more like reading recent history than reading about a war that was fought more than 100 years ago.
Thomas’ well-researched book delves into the lives of the men most responsible for leading the country to war: Theodore Roosevelt, whose only concept of war were tales of glory from the Civil War; Henry Cabot Lodge, who saw the United States as an emerging empire; and William Randolph Hearst, the yellow journalism kingpin and dandy who saw war as a way to sell more newspapers and buff up his own manhood.
Thomas avoids many of the mistakes common among historians. His writing is clear, concise, entertaining, and easily digestible. The reader comes to know the men behind the history not as some distant historical figures but as real individuals, with all their flaws and deceits, and in the end, their sense of failure.
There is only one hero in this book, and he did not charge up a hill in Cuba. He is Thomas reed, the politically powerful Speaker of the House who tried desperately to prevent the war, sacrificing his political career in the process.