: The war lovers: roosevelt, lodge, hearst, and the rush to empire, 1898 (9780316004091) : Evan Thomas : Books
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The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, And The Rush To Empire, 1898

by Evan Thomas
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publishing date: 27/04/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780316004091
  • ISBN: 031600409X


Evan Thomas and Sebastian Junger: Author One-on-One
In this Amazon exclusive, we brought together authors Sebastian Junger and Evan Thomas and asked them to interview each other.

Evan Thomas is one of the most respected historians and journalists writing today. He is the author of The War Lovers. Sebastian Junger is an internationally acclaimed author and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He is the author of War. Read on to see Sebastian Junger and Evan Thomas talk about their books.

Evan Thomas: War really is hell in your book. And yet it seems to captivate some of the men who fight it. Why?

Sebastian Junger: War is hell, as the saying goes--but it isn't only that. It's a lot of other things, too--most of them delivered in forms that are way more pure and intense than what is available back home. The undeniable hellishness of war forces men to bond in ways that aren't necessary--or even possible-- in civilian society. The closest thing to it might be the parent-child bond, but that is not reciprocal. Children are generally not prepared to die for their parents, whereas the men in a platoon of combat infantry for the most part are prepared to do that for each other. For a lot of men, the security of being enclosed by a group like that apparently outweighs the terrors of being in combat. During World War II, wounded soldiers kept going AWOL from the rear-base hospitals in order to rejoin their units on the front line. Clearly, for those men, rejoining their comrades was more important than the risk of death.

I'm curious about the reactions of foot soldiers in previous wars--the Civil War, the Spanish-American War. Are there letters from soldiers describing their anguish at being separated from their comrades? Or is this a modern phenomenon?

Thomas: In the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt made a cult out of his band of brothers, the Rough Riders, with the twist that he was bringing together gentlemen and cowboys to be true Americans. It was a romantic ideal but largely realized in the short (several week) war they fought--two battles, about a 15 percent casualty rate. The anguish you speak of was felt by the Rough Riders who were left behind--there was no room on the transports for roughly a third of Roosevelt's troopers, and they had to stay behind in Florida. Roosevelt wrote of them weeping over being separated from their comrades and missing out on the fight.

Roosevelt's war lust was sated by the Spanish-American War--for a time. He was not a notably bellicose president ("Talk softly but carry a big stick"). But when World War I came, he was almost pathologically driven to get back into the fight. He badgered President Wilson to let him raise a division. (Wilson, not wanting to create a martyr, said no.) Do you think the brotherhood of combat is in some ways addictive? What is it like for the soldiers and marines coming home?

Junger: It's amazing to see these same themes played out war after war. Politicians seize war for themselves, in some ways, and the public certainly holds them accountable for it--but the men who actually do the fighting are extraordinarily conflicted about it all. Only one man in the platoon I was with chose to leave the army after the deployment--Brendan O'Byrne, a main character in my book and now someone I consider a good friend. A few weeks ago we were hanging out with a family I know, and the talk turned to how rough the fighting was in Afghanistan. The mother, a woman in her thirties, asked Brendan if there was anything he missed about the experience. Brendan looked at her and said, without any irony, "Yes, almost all of it." I think what Brendan meant was that he missed an existence where every detail mattered--whether you tied your shoelaces, whether you cleaned your rifle--and you never had to question the allegiance of your friends. As Brendan said at another point, "There are guys in the platoon who straight-up hate each other-- but they'd all die for each other." Once they've been exposed to that, it's very hard for these guys to go back to a seemingly meaningless and ill-defined civilian life.

What happened to the men after they returned from their adventures with Roosevelt? Where did their lives lead them?

Thomas: The Rough Riders seem to have had endless reunions--but nothing like the PTSD so widely reported today. But perhaps that was because they were only fighting for about a month--a "splendid little war," as diplomat John Hay called it, apparently without irony. In The War Lovers, I was looking at another kind of camaraderie--the bond of men who want to get the country into war, who think that war will somehow restore the nation to spiritual greatness. Roosevelt and his best friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, believed that America at the end of the 19th century had become "overcivilized"--that young men were turning soft and needed to somehow stir "the wolf rising in the heart," as Roosevelt put it. "All the great races have been fighting races," he said. It is significant that Roosevelt and Lodge, who pushed America to go to war with Spain in 1898, had written about war a great deal but never seen it. President William McKinley resisted; he had, as he noted, seen "the dead piled up at Antietam" in the Civil War. But the hawks in America were able to roll the doves, not for the last time.

Before The War Lovers I wrote Sea of Thunder, a book about the last naval battle of World War II, Leyte Gulf. I interviewed a number of survivors from the USS Johnston, a destroyer sunk in the battle after an unbelievably brave fight against superior forces. About 220 men went in the water but only about half of them were rescued. Because of a series of mistakes by the navy, they were left in the water for two and half days. The sharks came on the first night. For a long time, the survivors did not talk much about it. But then, after Tom Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation, they began having reunions and speaking--almost compulsively--bout their experiences. The recollections are often harrowing. Yet even years later, when the veterans compiled their recollections in a book of about eighty oral histories, the veterans did not speak of their own fear, with only one exception, as I recall. Somehow acknowledging fear remained a taboo.

In War you write about fear in clinical and fascinating ways. Did you have a hard time getting men to talk about fear?

Junger: Getting the men to talk about fear was very hard because, well, I think they were afraid of it. Their biggest worry seemed to be failing the other men of the platoon in some way, and whenever someone got killed, a common reaction was to search their own actions for blame. They didn't want to believe that a good man could get killed for no reason; someone had to be at fault. During combat, their personal fear effectively got subsumed by the greater anxiety that they would fail to do their job and someone else would get killed. The shame of that would last a lifetime, and they would literally do suicidal things to help platoon mates who were in danger. The classic story of a man throwing himself on a hand grenade--certain death, but an action that will almost certainly save everyone else--is neither a Hollywood cliché nor something that only happened in wars gone by. It is something that happens with regularity, and I don't think it can be explained by "army training" or any kind of suicidal impulse. I think that kind of courage goes to the heart of what it means to be human and to affiliate with others in a kind of transcendent way. Of course, once you have experienced a bond like that, everything else looks pathetic and uninteresting. That may be one reason combat vets have such a hard time returning to society..

My guess is that the survivors of the USS Johnston were more traumatized by the deaths of their comrades than the prospect of their own death. Did any of them speak to that? What were their nightmares about? Has anyone studied the effect of that trauma on their lives--divorce rate, suicide rate, that kind of thing?

Thomas: They certainly described the deaths of their colleagues--who went mad from drinking seawater, or were killed by sharks, or died from untreated wounds or exposure (the seawater was about 86 degrees at night, cold if you spent all night immersed in it). Some just swam away and drowned. In one or two cases, men begged to be put out of their misery and were. There were complicated emotions over the deaths. There wasn't enough room on the rafts for all the men, so when one died, it made room for another. I am sure there was terrible guilt, but I didn't get into it with the survivors I interviewed. I don't think they were studied as a cohort. I think they were expected to go on with their lives, and I think by and large they did.

Nations are changed by war--but somehow, only for a time. We have a way of forgetting the horrors of war, in the need young men (and old men who missed war) have to some experience the greatest challenge to their manhood. This was true in the period I wrote about in The War Lovers, more than three decades after the Civil War: men like Roosevelt and Lodge wanted to somehow experience the glories of war, and not think too hard about the way wars often turn out in unexpected ways. I know in Cuba, where I visited to research The War Lovers, the Cubans don't think of the Americans as their liberators from Spanish rule, but rather as foreign invaders. That's unfair, and in many ways just plain wrong, but not so hard to understand if you put yourself in the shoes of a country occupied by a foreign army. Some things never change.

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  • Enjoyable read
    From Amazon

    I finished this book with more knowledge of Roosevelt and Hearst than when I started. Read along side THE IMPERIAL CRUISE by Bradley and you really come away with a different feel for Roosevelt than you may have had from history classes in college. I agree with some of the writers that the author does have a Democrat slant to his writing and probably never voted for or supported anyone in the Republican party. Once you understand that slant, you can take some of the comments for what they are meant to support: Vote Democrat and you will have no wars. All in all, I enjoyed the book.

  • Dull and uninteresting
    From Amazon

    Evan Thomas doesn't seem to have a purpose with the War Lovers. He seems to want to tell us how the Spanish-American War was fought out of the need of those American males, all white of course, who were too young to fight in the Civil War but who could remember the times, felt their masculinity was at risk because there were no more wars to fight. He raises people like Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge to almost a state of caricature. No this book is focused on how the Spanish American war was just the Iraq War of the late 19th Century fought by a bunch of ignorant men. No mention is made of the actual men who did the fighting, well very little really. There is no sense in how this war helped to shape the rise of America as a global power and helped it to build the fortitude to fight in two world wars. Basically, this is a dull book not worth the time spend reading it. Find something better.

  • Revisionist History at its worst
    From Amazon

    I should have learned after reading the politically correct hatchet job in Sea of Thunder. But this title sucked me in...and imagine extremely liberal author trying to compare Roosevelt's war to the present day conflict in Iraq and Cheney. Where have I seen this before? EPIC FAIL. Maybe this Newsweek Editor will simply learn to tell the story and get out of the way, but he can't help himself. On top of that, the history presented is skewed, biased, and out of context. It is plain to see why Evan Thomas and his ilk has chased all their readership away from extremely liberal rags like Newsweek. They never learn. Evan Thomas belongs in the same class as James Bradley (Flyboys) as authors who just love to rip America, our military and our conservative leaders.

  • Everything Old is New Again
    From Amazon

    The War Lovers, by award-winning journalist Evan Thomas, serves as a reminder that everything old is new again. While economic issues are eternal, the America of the late 19th century was faced with a different set of problems, including a perceived "need" by high-ranking officials to expand the American "brand." While Spain was pressing an iron boot on the neck of a Cuban nation yearning to be free, many of this country's leaders --- for the purposes of this book, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Randolph Hearst --- sought to garner public and political support to lead the charge --- literally --- to aid another nation struggling for independence. Thomas highlights the ambitions of these three men, as well as a selection of those opposed to involvement, for any number of reasons, such as President William McKinley and psychologist/philosopher William James (whose inclusion strikes me as misplaced). Roosevelt and Hearst receive most of the attention in this volume. Thomas runs through a detailed account of each of the principals' backgrounds as a way of explaining how they arrived at their respective points of view. He does not necessarily paint them in the most glowing light. Roosevelt, who was serving as Secretary of the Navy immediately prior to the Spanish American War, was torn between the (dull) duties of family life and the desire to prove his manhood. Likewise, Hearst --- publisher of the New York Journal and the Rupert Murdoch of his day --- desperately wanted to prove his importance not just as a news conduit, but as a news maker by creating a public opinion situation that fairly demanded U.S. military action. In fact, as Evans reports, several instances of atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish were, if not made up out of whole cloth, grossly exaggerated in order to fan the flames of patriotism and extend paternalism to a less fortunate nation. (The War Lovers refers not only to the main subjects, but in a broader sense to those either too young to have fought in the War Between the States or too old to serve in the current situation, as if they missed something endemic to proving their masculinity.) The first half of the book deals with Roosevelt, Lodge, and their contemporaries looking for almost any excuse or provocation to expand the American way of life, while the second --- and better --- half reports on how the U.S. entered into and won the War. Thomas is at his best --- if a bit too graphic at times --- when describing the preparation for and engagement in battle: how the men fought not only the Spanish, but the elements of heart, hunger, and disease. More men died of Yellow Fever than wounds sustained at the hands of the enemy. Roosevelt --- who resigned his position in the administration to lead the famous Rough Riders --- is shown as a man hungry for action, yet unsure of how he would hold up in the face of combat. He is presented in multiple lights: impetuous, proud, vain, beloved by his underlings, mistrusted by his equals, a cipher to his family. That he politicked for a Medal of Honor for his admittedly brave deeds is a sad discovery, a disappointment for those readers more comfortable with a modest hero. Thomas has been making the talk show rounds, discussing his book and comparing that conflict with the war against Iraq, even to go as far as describing a waterboarding-like torture employed against the enemy. It is slightly disingenuous, a forced way to connect an event from so long ago to make it appear contemporary. Armed conflicts will always have similar characteristics if examined closely enough. It seems unnecessary to force the pieces to fit.

  • doubtful premise
    From Amazon

    I heard the author on NPR: he was talking about how war is human nature, which seems to me pretty meaningless since clearly peace is human nature too. We have more peace than war--how come peace isn't human nature, and war isn't the un-natural exception? there are no IED's in nature. But I understood why when he talked about his own complicity, as a journalist, in the run up to the Iraq War. the Iraq War was unmistakeably based on a series of faulty premises and the utter failure of most journalists to do any investigating. We attacked the wrong guy, in the wrong place, for the wrong reasons. He admits to this, but then he gets to claim it's "human nature." What a load of nonsense. It was laziness and lack of thought, coupled to arrogance. It's not "human nature:" the whole argument is a piece of self-justifying nonsense. It was journalists failing to do their job, because it might be unpopular. Maybe that's human nature--journalists craving approval? It's exactly like saying the BP oil spill was "human nature."

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