Warren Zimmermann
Warren Zimmermann
First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power
ISBN: 0374179395
First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power
—from the publisher's website

Americans like to think they have no imperial past. In fact, the United States became an imperial nation within five short years a century ago (1898-1903), exploding onto the international scene with the conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and (indirectly) Panama. How did the nation become a player in world politics so suddenly—and what inspired the move toward imperialism in the first place?

The renowned diplomat and writer Warren Zimmermann seeks answers in the lives and relationships of five remarkable figures: the hyper-energetic Theodore Roosevelt, the ascetic naval strategist Alfred T. Mahan, the bigoted and wily Henry Cabot Lodge, the self-doubting moderate Secretary of State John Hay, and the hard-edged corporate lawyer turned colonial administrator Elihu Root. Faced with difficult choices, these extraordinary men, all close friends, instituted new political and diplomatic policies with intermittent audacity, arrogance, generosity, paternalism, and vision.

Zimmermann's discerning account of these five men also examines the ways they exploited the readiness of the American people to support a surge of expansion overseas. He makes it clear why no discussion of America's international responsibilities today can be complete without understanding how the United States claimed its global powers a century ago.

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TRANSCRIPT
First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power
Program Air Date: January 19, 2003

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Warren Zimmerman, why did you call your book "The First Great Triumph"?
WARREN ZIMMERMAN, AUTHOR, "FIRST GREAT TRIUMPH": Because I came across a quote that Theodore Roosevelt made when he was a lieutenant colonel of volunteers on the troop ship going to Cuba in the Spanish-American war. He was going to fight the Spanish. And he wrote his sister that, "If we are allowed to succeed in this, it will be the first great triumph in what will become a world movement." And they did succeed, and it was.
LAMB:Talk about these people on the cover. Who`s this man right there?
ZIMMERMAN: OK, that`s -- that`s John Hay. He`s the oldest of the five, and in a way, the most interesting. John Hay was McKinley and Roosevelt`s secretary of state, but he began his career by being one of the two aides to Abraham Lincoln in the White House.
LAMB:Who`s this man here?
ZIMMERMAN: That`s Alfred Mahan. Alfred Mahan was a captain in the U.S. Navy. He was a career naval officer. But he didn`t really like being on shipboard nearly as much as he liked writing. He was one of the great naval intellectuals in our history, and he gave us a strategy of imperialism.
LAMB:The man on top is fairly obvious, but tell us why he`s in this book.
ZIMMERMAN: That`s Theodore Roosevelt, of course. He`s in this book as a fairly young man because I focus on 1898, the Spanish-American war, when we first became a colonial power. Roosevelt was a 39-year-old assistant secretary of the Navy, and he considered that his major job was to get us into a war with Spain. He was the number one warmonger in the United States.
LAMB:Who`s the man with the curly hair and the beard and the mustache?
ZIMMERMAN: That`s Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt`s very close friend, who was the junior senator from Massachusetts and probably the most important imperialist in the Senate. He also wanted us to get into a war with Spain as soon as we could.
LAMB:And the last fellow there on the right.
ZIMMERMAN: The last one is Elihu Root, a corporate lawyer in New York till after the age of 50, no experience in Washington, but McKinley got him to come down after we had defeated the Spanish to become America`s first colonial administrator. So he administered the colonies we took -- the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
LAMB:What`s an imperialist?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, there are many definitions of imperialist. The one I like was actually Captain Mahan`s definition. He said that imperialism is national authority wielded over alien communities. So you see, his definition didn`t just mean that you control territory, it meant that you have influence. And in that sense -- and I try to use the word fairly neutrally. In that sense, the United States has been an imperialist for a long time, and certainly in the second half of the 20th century, when we had an enormous influence in NATO, when we were one of the two great powers of the world, when the dollar was the reserve currency for everybody. Those were all imperial things because of the influence that we wielded.
LAMB:You have a picture here that you -- you actually start the book by talking about the Great White Fleet. What is this picture from?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, what I wanted to do was make the contrast between the days when America was not a great power -- of course, nobody who was watching this will remember those days because they ended in 1898. But we were quite a weak country as late as 1891, when we decided we weren`t going to take on the Chilean navy. We were in a dispute with Chile, and we decided not to take on the Chilean navy. So we -- so we were not a great power then. By 1898, we were, and by 1909, which is when that picture is from, the president, then-President Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, had sent 16 first-class battleships around the world in a show of strength to impress the other great navies -- the Japanese, the German and the British -- that we deserved to be seen as strong as they were. It was enormously successful, and the picture shows the fleet coming back after 45,000 miles, the longest cruise by any fleet ever taken either before or since, coming back to Hampton Rhodes (ph), Virginia, to be greeted by Roosevelt.
LAMB:How many years were you in the foreign service?
ZIMMERMAN: I was in 33 years. I started in 1961 under President Kennedy, and I retired in 1994.
LAMB:How did you get to the service in the first place? Where were you when it all started?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I was in college. I was an English major, but I always thought it would be a fascinating life to do something having to do with international affairs. So I started with teaching, but that wasn`t getting me very far. Then I was a journalist briefly in Washington, but that wasn`t getting me overseas. So I decided I`d go into the foreign service. And actually, I failed the foreign service exam the first time around because the examiners said, You`re a nice young man, but you don`t know anything about American history. One of the questions they had asked me was, What were the colonies that the United States took as a result of the Spanish-American war, and I didn`t know that it was Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. So here I am, writing a book about it, perhaps as a kind of a penance. I`m not sure.

Anyway, I did pass the foreign service exam second time round, and started off in South America and ended up mostly in Europe. Most of my career was in Europe, and most of that in Eastern Europe.
LAMB:Where had you gone to school?
ZIMMERMAN: I had gone to Yale, and then I was a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University, where I did study history -- but not American history. It was European history.
LAMB:Go back to this whole idea that you didn`t know the colonies in the Spanish-American war.
ZIMMERMAN: I didn`t.
LAMB:What did you do about it right then, when you were in your early 20s?
ZIMMERMAN: I went back to my house in Washington, and I told my wife that I had failed the foreign service exam. And I told her why, and she said, You better go out and buy yourself some books on American history. And so I did, and of course, the obvious thing happened. I fell in love with the subject, and I`ve been an American history buff ever since.
LAMB:You were an ambassador to where?
ZIMMERMAN: I was an ambassador a couple of times at conferences, one particularly important human rights conference in Vienna in the late `80s, but I was also ambassador -- and this was the last time I was an ambassador -- to Yugoslavia, that tragic Balkan country that was falling apart while I was there. And I wrote a book about that, too. It was a kind of a memoir of Yugoslavia`s destruction.
LAMB:And what are you doing now besides writing books?
ZIMMERMAN: Nothing. Nothing at all.
LAMB:How long did this book take?
ZIMMERMAN: It took -- it took five years from beginning to end.
LAMB:All right, you know, when you read these books, one of the fun things to do is you discover things that you didn`t know before. And I`m going to go right to something that will help us get a better idea what`s in this book. I was surprised to learn that there were 130,000 American soldiers in the Philippines back there at the turn of the century, and that we committed a lot of atrocities.
ZIMMERMAN: We did. It`s -- the Philippines is a fascinating case because when we went into the war with Spain in 1898, we were focusing entirely on Cuba. The Spanish were oppressing the Cubans. The Cubans were in a revolution against Spain. There was a lot of press interest in that, a lot of press interest in the human rights violations that the Spanish were perpetrating on the Cubans. It was not just the Hearst press. Hearst had two papers in New York and San Francisco. It was all of the American papers. All over the country, they were talking about how badly off the Cubans were. And there was view that the United States should go to help them.

Nobody paid any attention to the Philippines except a few naval strategists who decided that the Philippines would be a very useful piece of real estate for a Pacific strategy and for an Asian strategy. So when we declared war on Spain in April of 1898, Commodore Dewey, who was in Hong Kong, was ordered to take his small fleet to the Philippines and to defeat the Spanish navy there, which he did in about four hours. It was a very quick and massive victory for the United States.

So then we had the Philippines, and we had to decide what to do with it, whether to give it to the Philippine people, many of whom were also revolting against Spain and wanted to be independent, or whether to keep all or part of it ourselves. And McKinley, who I think had a real problem deciding on this, decided we ought to keep it. And that`s where the trouble started.
LAMB:Why 130,000 troops?
ZIMMERMAN: Because -- well, the Philippines is over 7,000 islands, so it was an enormously difficult country to pacify. And once we had gotten the Spanish out, we then had to deal with the Philippine revolutionaries, who had been revolting against Spain. They wanted to be independent, and they thought they had guarantees from the United States that they could be independent. They were probably wrong. I don`t think they got any guarantees, but maybe some of the American military officers and diplomats around Asia were giving Aguinaldo, the Filipino leader, some intimations and some implications that, you know, If you help us, we`ll help you get independence. There may have been some promises made.

In any case, he felt very disappointed when we cut him out of the surrender ceremony, when the Spanish surrendered to us. They didn`t surrender to the Filipino revolutionaries. And war broke out very soon after that, in February, 1899, a war between Aguinaldo and his revolutionaries and the United States Army. And the army had to be very quickly reinforced to deal with this war, which quickly devolved into a guerrilla war, with all the atrocities that go with guerrilla wars. We committed a lot, and the Filipinos committed a lot, as well. It was a very dirty war, and it lasted three years before we won it.
LAMB:How many casualties did we have?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, nobody knows entirely. It was a lot more than we lost in Cuba, which was a very short war -- a couple of thousand. The Filipinos lost more. And probably the most people who died in that war died of disease. And the estimates for that go as high as 200,000 Filipinos dead of disease during the war.
LAMB:Another name -- MacArthur.
ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
LAMB:The father of.
ZIMMERMAN: Father of. Arthur MacArthur was one of the military governors of the Philippines during that war, father of Douglas and very much like him -- brilliant, imperious, opinionated, bigoted, arrogant. And McKinley did not like the idea of having MacArthur run the civil side of the Philippines, so he sent a brilliant lawyer and judge, William Howard Taft, out to the Philippines to take over from MacArthur, who had been the -- who had been the supreme ruler. And of course, MacArthur didn`t like that at all. He left Taft cooling his heels for several hours before he would even receive him. But in this test of wills between MacArthur and Taft, Taft won because he had better lines back to Washington. He could go right to the president and to Elihu Root, who was the secretary of war and the head of the colonial administration. So Taft won. MacArthur was reassigned. And the Philippines came under civilian rule by the United States.

And Taft did a brilliant job of helping to pacify a population which had been fighting us for a couple of years. And he left with a lot of good will on the side of the Philippines. Philippines remained a colony of the United States until 1946, but we`ve never had great hostility since that war between 1899 and 1902. We`ve never had really great hostility between Filipinos and Americans.
LAMB:The other thing you write about, and I asked earlier about atrocities, is there`s a story in there about the bamboo tube that was stuck down the guerrillas` throats and then water was, what...
ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
LAMB:... poured down and...
ZIMMERMAN: Water was forced -- forced into their throat and stomach. The idea was to make them talk, of course. It was called the "water cure." It was a nefarious form of torture. Roosevelt, to his discredit -- by then, he was president, when all of these atrocities were beginning to come out -- tried to argue that it was a very humane way of dealing with prisoners. Of course, it wasn`t. I don`t think there have been any substantiated case of people dying from the water cure, but it was certainly a very extreme form of torture, and we used it quite -- in a widespread way.
LAMB:What would happen today if that same thing happened in our relationships with other countries?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, it would certainly be against -- against the Geneva protocol on torture.
LAMB:Well, was it made a big deal then?
ZIMMERMAN: It was. There was a huge opposition in the United States to what we were doing in the Philippines. It was led by people as famous as Mark Twain. It included Andrew Carnegie. It included Finley Peter Dunne, who wrote the Mr. Dooley essays, a famous journalist. And a number of people in the Congress, including the senior senator from Massachusetts, George Frisbie Hoar, who was a very strong opponent of what we were doing in the Philippines. So there was a debate, very much like the Vietnam debate that happened several decades later, over whether we should be there at all and over whether we should not be giving the Philippines independence instead of keeping them as a colony, as we did.
LAMB:Let me go around the world and ask you about different places that come up in your book and how we interacted with them or how we got them. I`ll just -- I`ll start naming them. Wake Island.
ZIMMERMAN: Wake Island was taken in the early part of -- just after the Civil War. It was a -- it was taken by Secretary Seward, was one of the two things he took. The other was Alaska, a much more famous one. But it gave us a pinpoint in the Pacific, which we added to when we took the Philippines and when we took Hawaii in 1898.
LAMB:Do we still have it?
ZIMMERMAN: Wake Island? We do.
LAMB:Hawaii.
ZIMMERMAN: Hawaii -- Hawaii was -- became effectively under the control of American sugar planters in the early 1890s, when -- when the queen, Liliuokalani, was overthrown by them, with the assistance of the American consul at the time and an American naval ship that was in the harbor at the time. And ever since that time, during the early `90s, this group, this junta, you could call them, were lobbying for annexation by the United States. They wanted Hawaii to become an American colony. And Grover Cleveland, who was not keen on imperialism, rejected this idea.

So when McKinley came in, Hawaii came right back on the front burner, and Roosevelt and Lodge, the strong imperialists around McKinley, were arguing that Hawaii should be annexed. When we defeated the Spanish in the Philippines and Cuba, then McKinley annexed Hawaii. He took advantage of the elation that came from these two major American victories -- they were both naval victories, by the way -- in the Philippines and Cuba in order to annex Hawaii. So Hawaii was annexed in the same summer that we defeated the Spanish in the Philippines and Cuba. But it hadn`t been a Spanish island at all -- or set of islands at all. But it was connected to the Spanish-American war because of the fact it was easy to annex once we had won these victories against Spain.
LAMB:Became a state what year?
ZIMMERMAN: Became a state in the `50s, I think it was.
LAMB:In `59?
ZIMMERMAN: Don`t remember the exact date. Sounds right. Alaska and Hawaii were -- when they were taken as colonies, they weren`t -- they weren`t intended to be states. They were to have a kind of a special status but not to be states. And it was really, I think, the effect of World War II and the contribution that Alaska and particularly Hawaii made in World War II that tipped the balance and got them to statehood.
LAMB:Midway Island.
ZIMMERMAN: Midway Island taken at the same time, in the same summer as the -- as the Spanish were defeated, another kind of flyspeck with a good naval base possibility in the Pacific. So we ended up at the end of 1898 with a chain of islands, starting with Hawaii and going west, including Wake, Midway, Guam, which we also took from Spain...
LAMB:Just took it away from them?
ZIMMERMAN: Took it away from them. It was actually quite -- quite a comical Gilbert and Sullivan sort of thing when we took Guam. A naval vessel that was on its way to the Philippines to reinforce Dewey was told to stop off at Guam and seize it from the Spanish. So it sailed into the harbor, and it lobbed a few shells at the moldering fort that was there. The fort wasn`t really defended by anybody.

There were a few aging Spaniards who were there. They rowed out in a boat to tell the Americans that they were very sorry that they could not return the salute that we had just -- that we had just offered to the -- to Guam. And they were informed that that wasn`t a salute, that was an attack, and that they were under arrest and Guam was American. Of course, we ran up the flag, and it stayed up.
LAMB:Why didn`t Guam become a state? I mean, what -- what do you call it today?
ZIMMERMAN: I don`t know what the term of art is. I guess it`s a trust territory or something of that sort. It didn`t become a state because it was -- it was too small. Hawaii and Alaska were large, of course. They were big geographically. They had significant populations. Guam really wasn`t going to measure up by that -- by that criterion.

Of course, Puerto Rico never became a state, and that is, to some extent, because the Puerto Ricans have chosen not to. They could become a state, if they wanted to, but they would lose some tax benefits if they did that.

One of the interesting questions is why didn`t Cuba become a state? We turned Cuba back to independence after we were there for four years. We ran it as a military dictatorship for four years, from 1898 to 1902. Then we gave it its independence. We had promised to do that, as a kind of condition of our going in in the war against the Spanish, but I think there`s a kind of revisionist feeling, which I share, to a degree, that if we had held onto Cuba a little bit longer and prepared it either for independence or for statehood, we wouldn`t be having the problems that we`re having now with Castro and company.
LAMB:Let me come back to the Caribbean in just a moment, but one more out there in the Pacific, Samoa.
ZIMMERMAN: Samoa was again of interest to the U.S. Navy because it had a very good deep-water harbor and was -- we divided Samoa, finally, with the Germans in 1899, the year after the Spanish-American war. So that gave us yet another piece of real estate in the Pacific. So from 1898, we became not only a Caribbean power -- the Caribbean really had become an American lake -- but we became a Pacific power with all of these islands in the Pacific. And the Philippines are only a few hundred miles from the Asian mainland.
LAMB:The president of the United States in 1898 was a man named William McKinley from Ohio, and you keep calling him throughout your book a "nice man."
ZIMMERMAN: McKinley was a nice man. He was one of the nicest men that have ever held the presidency. He was limited a bit in his vision. He was the president of big business. But he was also a man with a real heart. He had fought in the Civil War. He was a decorated hero in the Civil War, in fact. And he didn`t like war. He once said, I have seen war. I have seen the bodies pile up. And I don`t want to get us into a war.

He said to Cleveland, who turned the presidency over to him in 1893 -- he said to Cleveland -- sorry, in 1897. He said to Cleveland, I don`t want to be a president that takes us into war with Spain. And yet he was.
LAMB:Let`s go to the page of the wives and ask you to tell us a little bit about each one of them. Clara Hay up at the top.
ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
LAMB:Who F was she?
ZIMMERMAN: Clara Hay made John Hay what he ended up being, in a sense. John Hay was a brilliant young writer. He was a published poet. He was a published novelist. He actually had the best-seller of the year in 1883. He was an editorial writer for "The New York Tribune." He was a young diplomat. He had excelled in all kinds of careers, including working for Lincoln, which was his first real job. But when he married Clara Hay -- Clara Stone, as she then was -- he became almost automatically a rich man because her father was a major entrepreneur in Cleveland. And Hay moved to Cleveland. His father bought him a house there, brought him into his business, which Hay did very well at, made himself very wealthy doing that. And it allowed him not only to prosper in all of these extraordinarily varied careers that he had, but also to get involved with what I would call the Ohio mafia.

Most politics in the United States in the late 19th century was run by people from Ohio -- several presidents from Ohio, including McKinley. Hay was close to McKinley. He was close to Garfield. He was close to some of the other Ohioans who were president. So when McKinley became president, he decided that Hay would be his ambassador to Great Britain, and Hay did a distinguished job there. Then when we defeated Spain in the Spanish-American war, McKinley decided he wanted a secretary of state who would more closely reflect his views, so he brought Hay back to be secretary of state.

Clara Stone, Hay`s wife, was very influential in that because of who she was and because of who her father was.
LAMB:What was John Hay`s relationship to Henry Cabot Lodge`s wife?
ZIMMERMAN: Nannie Lodge. Well, there is some evidence which I believe to be persuasive that John Hay had an affair with Henry Cabot Lodge`s wife. Her nickname -- her name was Anna. Her nickname was Nanny. Hay was a man of extraordinary charm. People who knew him said he was one of the best talkers, one of the best conversationalists in the United States. He was very funny. He was extremely witty. And Nanny Lodge was like that. Her husband, Henry Cabot Lodge, was a stick. He was very stuffy, quite arrogant, pompous, not a good fit at all. And Hay and Nanny Lodge would go off together. How far they went nobody knows, but they were kind of soulmates. And their friends on both sides would protect this relationship. It didn`t go on for very long, just a couple of years, and Hay suffered a deal of remorse about it, I think. He wrote Clara, at one point, that he hadn`t been -- he never said he`d been unfaithful to her, but he said he hadn`t been fair to her and he hadn`t appreciated how wonderful she was to him. It was a kind of a sad letter, which I`ve put into the book.
LAMB:How do you find these things about, about affairs, back in those days?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, out of letters. Hay`s closest friend was Henry Adams, the brilliant and somewhat difficult grandson of John Quincy Adams, great-grandson of John Adams, a man who never had political office on his own, never wanted it, but was an important writer, a great historian, lived in Washington and had a kind of a salon in Washington. If you got invited to Henry Adams`s house, you had made it in Washington.

Hay was his best friend, and they -- they enjoyed each other`s company. Hay was -- when Hay started off with -- with Nanny Lodge, Henry Adams, who had -- whose wife had died -- she`d committed suicide -- who was seeing Lizzie Cameron, who was the wife of a senator from Pennsylvania -- Henry Adams and Lizzie Cameron had a long correspondence in which they talked, among other things, of Hay`s affair with Nanny Lodge. So that`s how historians have discovered that something was going on, because Adams and Lizzie Cameron were discussing it and were actually trying to protect the two lovebirds.
LAMB:You write some about the ``five of hearts`` -- have I got that right -- the...
ZIMMERMAN: Yes, you do.
LAMB:The-- Hay, Adams and his wife, Clover Adams?
ZIMMERMAN: Yes. Yes.
LAMB:Now, what happened to her?
ZIMMERMAN: Clover was the daughter of a Massachusetts physician named Hooper. Henry Adams married her, brought her to Washington. She was a delightful person. Her letters to her father are hilariously funny about Washington life, particularly the foibles of president`s wives, whom she uniformly despised. She was a photographer, a very good photographer. Remember, photography was in a very early stage in those days, in the 1870s, 1880s. Clover was a very good photographer. Some of her pictures are in my book.

When her father died she went into a depression and I don`t think Henry was particularly sympathetic to her. He wrote to Hay at one point. He said Clover is off her feed. Well, that was only a few weeks before the poor thing committed suicide. She drank developing fluid from her dark room, which was poison, killed her almost instantly.
LAMB:And that`s the famous statue out in Rock Creek Park Cemetery?
ZIMMERMAN: That`s the famous statue in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Henry Adams got his friend Saint-Gaudens to commission a statue devoted to Clover. The statue is really quite remarkable. It`s a hooded figure who seems to be mourning. You can`t tell if it`s a man or a woman and I think you`re not supposed to know what it is and it was really quite an extraordinary tribute to this really remarkable woman.
LAMB:This is a picture of Clara Root and who is she?
ZIMMERMAN: Clara Root, Clara Wales from New York. Root was a lawyer in New York City. He had been to Hamilton College in New York State. Then he was a lawyer in New York City, enormously successful corporate lawyer, one of the most lucrative law practices in the whole United States. He was the big business lawyer, steel trap mind, very smart, also but like Hay very witty, great sense of humor.

He married Clara whose father was a prominent Republican in New York City. They had a very close relationship. They were not social people. Root worked all the time. He was one of the early workaholics in our history and he would come home late and they would sit and have dinner and drink a bottle of champagne between them and he`d smoke a cigar and that would be it. They didn`t go out very much.

When he got asked by McKinley to go down to Washington, she really didn`t want to go but she did go but she didn`t really like it. She didn`t like the social situation in Washington. She didn`t feel at home. So, one has to assume she was the good soldier but was probably very relieved when he resigned the job finally and went back to New York.

But then he did go back to Washington as secretary of state and as a U.S. Senator, so Clara didn`t get the peace of mind in New York City that she had had for the first 20 or 25 years of her marriage.
LAMB:Pronounce his first name correctly, I mean I can`t - I`m not sure I know it correctly.
ZIMMERMAN: Elihu.
LAMB:Elihu, where did he get that name?
ZIMMERMAN: It`s a biblical name. I think a lot of people in the 18th and 19th Century in the United States were named Elihu. The founder of Yale University was named Elihu. That`s about my limit of knowledge of Elihus, but I don`t think it was that unusual a name for 100 or 150 years ago.
LAMB:Another of the wives, Ellie Mahan?
ZIMMERMAN: Ellie Mahan, very quiet and it`s very hard. I don`t really know much about her. She was a naval wife. Mahan was at sea a lot of the time. They exchanged letters. He loved her a lot. His letters are really very tender. He was an austere person, Mahan. He was a kind of person that would make everybody uncomfortable in a room. He had fits of temper when he wasn`t simply being silent or pontificating, a difficult person, difficult personality. She obviously loved him very much. He loved her. It was not a particularly interesting relationship as far as I could see.
LAMB:Edith Roosevelt.
ZIMMERMAN: Edith Roosevelt was Theodore Roosevelt`s second wife. I think most people will remember that his first wife died in enormously tragic circumstances in her early 20s during childbirth to the woman who became Alice Longworth. The first wife was very pretty but a little bit empty headed.

Edith Roosevelt was not as pretty but was smart as she could be. She had had her eye on Theodore for a long time. They were old friends. They were children together and she was a very close friend of his sisters.

So when Alice, the first wife, died Edith was in the picture pretty soon after that, within a couple of years after that and he married her quite soon after the death of his first wife. She was just what he needed I think. She had very good political sense. She had a very good sense of how his career ought to move.

He had tremendous doubts about his career. One thinks of Roosevelt as enormously self confident. Talking to his wife and his sisters and to his friend Lodge, he was constantly showing lack of self confidence about what he should do next. Should he be a writer? Should he be a politician? Should he be a bureaucrat? What should he do?

And they were always giving him advice, and usually the advice was better than what he would have decided for himself. Edith was enormously important that way. She was a very strong foundation in the political career of a man who tended to flights of fancy and to not being very practical about things.
LAMB:Coming back to the beginning, 1898, the Spanish-American War, as I read your book and you talk about the Maine blowing up and 268 Americans dying.
ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
LAMB:It just came to mind that it was Fort Sumter and the Civil War. It was the Tonkin Gulf of Vietnam. It was Pearl Harbor of World War II.
ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
LAMB:It was the Lucitania that got people thinking about it in World War I. The sea seems to have a lot to do with us going to war.
ZIMMERMAN: That`s a very interesting observation. I hadn`t thought of it that way but the destruction of the Maine was enormously important. We were moving toward war with Cuba already for human rights reasons because the American press and therefore the American people and Congress were exercised about the degree to which the Spanish were beating up on the Cuban population.

So there was a tendency for human rights reasons to take on the Spanish. The strategists like Mahan and Roosevelt and Lodge wanted to go to war with Cuba because they wanted to control the access to the Caribbean. They wanted to build a canal across Panama, and they knew if we couldn`t control Cuba we couldn`t do that because there was Cuba 600 miles long, a right controlling access to the Caribbean.

So, we were heading in the direction of war but I don`t think it was inevitable. The Maine was a battleship that was sent down at American initiative to protect the American population in Havana, which was coming under a lot of hostility and pressure from the Spanish population, from pro-Spanish elements in Havana because we had been very critical of what the Spanish were doing there.

So, the American consul in Havana said, send a battleship down as a show of strength to protect our population. So, the Maine was sent down there on a courtesy visit it was called and the Cubans, because of naval protocol, couldn`t exactly refuse it so they covered up by sending a Cuban ship up to New York Harbor as a return courtesy visit.

So, the Maine sat in Havana Harbor in very shallow water and on February 15, 1898 it blew up, a huge explosion about nine o`clock at night and sank to the bottom. The bottom wasn`t very far down because the super structure of the ship was visible after the sinking of the Maine.

But it did kill 268 American sailors and, of course, the Spanish were immediately blamed by war hawks like Roosevelt and William Randolph Hurst whose "New York Journal" flashed the headline saying the Spanish are responsible for this.

In fact, nobody today thinks the Spanish were responsible for sinking the Maine, and why would they have been so stupid to do that since it was almost certain to provoke a war with the United States which the Spanish were pretty clearly destined to lose? So there would have been no reason for them to do that.

The general view now, and there have been investigations as late as the 1970s on this, is that the ship blew up because of spontaneous combustion in the soft coal in the bows of the ship. This happened quite a lot in the U.S. Navy that there were small explosions.

This was a large explosion, so probably nobody - it wasn`t an act of hostility at all. It was an accident. Nevertheless, I think most people in the United States tended to blame the Spanish for it. This was all fanned in the press, so it made the road to war pretty inevitable by then.
LAMB:Correct me if I`m wrong, and we`re recording this before January so who knows what`s happening by the time this gets on the air, I kept feeling I was reading a somewhat similar scenario to the Iraqi situation.

There was in the Spanish-American War, and maybe all wars start that way, the whole idea of people in the White House, people in the Senate, who had made up their mind that this was something they wanted to happen for whatever reason, right or wrong, anything to that?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, there may be something to that. There was certainly a small group of people but they were influential who were looking for pretext to go to war. There`s the parallel with the Iraqi situation.
LAMB:What I want to find out is though what was the - why did they want to go to war? What was their justification for doing it and did it work out the way they anticipated it 100 years later?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think there were two reasons why we went to war with Spain. The first was the more general human rights reasons. We went there because we believed we should defend the Cuban population against the abuses that the Spanish were perpetrating on them.
LAMB:But stop just for a second. The Iraqi situation, we hear that from the administration to liberate these folks over there.
ZIMMERMAN: Yes. That`s right. That`s right. That argument is used although I will say that it was used far more strongly in the context of the Spanish-American War, the human rights argument that is than it is used in the Iraqi situation.

The main argument in the Iraqi situation, if I understand it, is the weapons of mass destruction. We have to get rid of those. The human rights situation is certainly present. Saddam Hussein is a terrible dictator but my guess is that it`s a secondary consideration and in a way a pretext as well because he`s been a terrible dictator for a long time and we haven`t done anything.
LAMB:What about the Spanish being in our neighborhood? I mean it`s not weapons of mass destruction but they`re right in our backyard. Was that one of the pretexts?
ZIMMERMAN: Sure. Sure. And, this gets to the other reason. The first reason is human rights. This was the first war that we went into in which Schuman writes per se was a very major component.

But the second reason we went in was what you said. The strategists, and Mahan foremost of them, because he`d written about this, believed that if we were going to be a great power we had to have a great navy.

And if we were going to have a great navy we had to control our borders and the seas around our borders and the most important of these was the Caribbean because there it was right on our doorstep. And, the most important piece of real estate in the Caribbean was Cuba.

If you took Cuba, if you cut it out and you placed one end of it in Washington, D.C., the other end of it would go to the Mississippi. It`s a huge island. It`s one and a half times the size of Ireland.
LAMB:What did you say 700 and some miles about?
ZIMMERMAN: About 600 to 700 miles long. It would go right to the Mississippi. So, Mahan and Roosevelt and Lodge believed that somehow we had to take Cuba. We had to control Cuba. So they used the human rights argument in a way that some of the Bush administration people are using the Saddam Hussein as the tyrant argument to argue that we had to take Cuba.

So there were two things. There was human rights and there was grand strategy, protecting our borders, becoming a great power through a navy, providing ourselves spaces. One of the things that was left when we left Cuba in 1902 was the commitment on the part of the newly independent Cuban government that we would have a naval base in Cuba and that was Guantanamo and we still have it.
LAMB:And you say in the book that we don`t have a lease that ends at any point.
ZIMMERMAN: No, no.
LAMB:It`s ours forever.
ZIMMERMAN: Permanent.
LAMB:Do we pay them anything now, do you know?
ZIMMERMAN: I don`t think so.
LAMB:What`s a jingo and what`s a goo-goo?
ZIMMERMAN: OK, I have a chapter in the book that`s called jingos and goo-goos, so I`m compelled to explain. A jingo is a war hawk, somebody who is very strong for war or for imperial control.
LAMB:Where does it come from, the name?
ZIMMERMAN: It comes from Britain in the 1870s when the Crimean War - sorry, it was after the Crimean War. It was when the Turks were beating up on Bulgarian Christians. This was a huge issue in England at the time and a strong debate between Gladstone and Disraeli, the two great leaders of the British political parties.

And somebody wrote a song that said we don`t want to fight but by jingo if we do, we`ve got the men, we`ve got the arms we`ve got the money too. So, the people that wanted to go to war with Turkey in that particular scenario were called jingos so a jingo has become somebody whose bellicose, who wants to go to war. We have jingos who want to go to war with Iraq.
LAMB:So it`s just out of that phrase, by jingo?
ZIMMERMAN: That`s right. That`s right.
LAMB:What about goo-goo?
ZIMMERMAN: Goo-goo, Theodore Roosevelt coined this phrase. He had a lot of impatience with liberals who wanted good government and tended to be pacifistic or to shrink from the manlier virtues and he shortened the word "good government" to goo-goo and he called these people goo-goos.

And the people who opposed the war against Spain and particularly opposed the seizure of the Philippines, they included eminent Americans, as I`ve said, Mark Twain, a lot of the Harvard faculty, people who had a lot of standing in the United States. Roosevelt just dismissed them as goo-goos. He called them goo-goos to their face and in public as well.
LAMB:One of the people you feature just briefly in here is a fellow by the name of Alfred Beveridge who was the Senator from Indiana, and also a writer, and wrote a book on Abraham Lincoln or a series on Abraham Lincoln.
ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
LAMB:Any connection between that Lincoln chronicler and John Hay who worked for Lincoln as his secretary or one of his assistants?
ZIMMERMAN: No, I don`t think Hay and Beveridge had much to say to each other. Hay wouldn`t have liked Beveridge. Beveridge was a very strong imperialist. Hay was secretary of state under McKinley and Roosevelt, so he had to be an imperialist but he never felt very comfortable doing it.

The comparison I think that`s closest is between Beveridge and Roosevelt. They were both very strong imperialists in foreign policy and they were both very strong progressives in domestic policy. I just treat the imperialist part of Beveridge`s career because the progressive part came later. But he was both the most eloquent and the most strident of the imperialists in the Senate. I mean he argued that we had a God given mission to control most of the world.
LAMB:Then on the other side he was a jingo and the other side a goo-goo was another Lincoln connection, Carl Schurz.
ZIMMERMAN: Yes, Carl Schurz was a liberal revolutionary in Germany. He was active in the 1848 revolution against the Prussian monarchy, fled to the United States as a refugee, and started a whole new career in this country, a remarkable character.

He became a Senator from Missouri. He became a cabinet member under a Republican president. He fought in the Civil War. He was a Civil War general on the Union side. He was very close to Lincoln. He had a lot of power in the United States because he had a lot of control over the German speaking population.

He owned newspapers, German language newspapers. He could deliver German speakers to the Republican Party, so Schurz was treated with a good deal of consideration by the Republicans but he was a man of very strong principle and he strongly opposed what we were doing in the Philippines.
LAMB:A question for you, would you have been a jingo or a goo-goo?
ZIMMERMAN: I would have been - I think I might have been a goo-goo.
LAMB:Or you think, I mean you`re not sure?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I`ll tell you why I say this because goo-goos, while they were against the annexation of the Philippines would have preferred to see the Philippines be independent which I agree with.

I would question the motives of some of them. For some of them, the reason they wanted the Philippines to be independent was they didn`t want non-White peoples in the United States. There was a strong racist tinge to what a number of the goo-goos were saying.

This was not true of the best of them. William James, the famous Harvard professor was I think the best of them. Schurz was also one of the best of them. They did not play the race card very much but many of the other goo-goos, many of the others who wanted to keep the Philippines independent, make the Philippines independent, did it for racial reasons.

They thought that the quality of the political system in the United States would be debased by bringing in these millions of non-Whites, these Hispanics, the Polynesians, whatever, into the United States. So, the goo-goos while they were liberal were sometimes liberal in my estimation at any rate for the wrong reasons.
LAMB:When you talk about the five people and others, you talk about that most, I wrote it down here, believed in the superiority of Anglo-Saxons and then I wrote down next to Theodore Roosevelt, great masterful racist?
ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
LAMB:Was he a racist?
ZIMMERMAN: He`s complicated. I have to give you a fairly complicated answer on this. If you went to university in the United States anytime between 1870 and 1900 and you studied a non-scientific subject or even if you studied a scientific subject, you would have been exposed at every great university in the United States without any exception to a theory that said that the Anglo-Saxon race is the superior race, superior to any other races and it has a God given right to rule over other races, lesser races.
LAMB:Where did they get this?
ZIMMERMAN: They got it from Charles Darwin, who would have been horrified I think to have found that his Darwinism was applied in this way. They got it from proponents of eugenics who believe that there was an innate racial superiority that resided in certain races, particularly the Anglo-Saxon or the Teutonic race, and not in the others.

I mean we laugh at these things now but these were serious academic disciplines and universities like Harvard and Johns Hopkins and Yale and Stanford and Cornell and Columbia were teaching them.

Roosevelt had a professor at Harvard, Frances Parkman a famous historian, who wrote a book to say that the reason the British defeated the French in North America in the 18th Century was because of their racial superiority.

Then Roosevelt went to law school in Columbia and studied under a professor named Burgess, who believed that we should stop immigration because we`re bringing in too many people from southern Europe who were debasing our culture.

This was pretty crude stuff, so when you get to these, the people who were actually running our foreign policy, they all had been subjected to these really bizarre racist theories. Lodge bought them hook, line, and sinker.
LAMB:You mean Henry Cabot Lodge?
ZIMMERMAN: Henry Cabot Lodge was a racist.
LAMB:Relationship by the way to the former ambassador to Vietnam from the United States Henry Cabot Lodge?
ZIMMERMAN: Yes, and vice presidential candidate with Nixon, grandfather.
LAMB:Grandfather.
ZIMMERMAN: Grandfather. Lodge bought the whole racial theory. Roosevelt didn`t quite. Roosevelt liked the idea of a melting pot. He liked the idea of bringing together people from different races. When he was police commissioner in New York, he loved the idea of mixing Anglo-Saxons with Jews and Blacks and people from other ethnic groups. He enjoyed that.

And then, of course, when he helped to form the Rough Riders, this volunteer regiment that fought in Cuba of which he was first of all the deputy commander and then the commander, these people, there was the captain of the Columbia crew. There was the Harvard quarterback. There were people who were in the Knickerbocker Club with Roosevelt.

At the same time, there were cowboys. There were Indians. There were criminals. There were bartenders. It was a totally mixed group, people from the southwest and people from New England and Roosevelt loved that. He just thought that was terrific.

So, when you ask is he a racist, he wasn`t a racist, certainly wasn`t a racist by the standards of the 19th Century and I`m not sure he would be a racist even today. Now, he did write a four volume history called "The Winning of the West" which describes the battles between the emerging American settlers and the American army and the Indians in which he propounds the thesis that the Indians were an inferior race, were in the way of progress. They had to give way to civilization and they had to just be eradicated or pushed away. It was a very ruthless kind of theory.
LAMB:We talked about the Pacific Islands. Let`s go to the Atlantic for a moment and you talked about Cuba. Let`s go to Puerto Rico. How did we get to Puerto Rico?
ZIMMERMAN: Puerto Rico, like the Philippines, was a kind of an afterthought. The whole thing was about Cuba, so we win a victory in Cuba. We take Cuba. The Spanish surrender and them Mahan and the other naval strategists look around and they say, hey wait a minute. The Spanish fleet, what`s left of it, can just go to Puerto Rico and we can`t really control the Caribbean unless we control Puerto Rico too.

Puerto Rico was the only other Spanish island in the Caribbean, so an expedition was fitted out to take Puerto Rico. The Puerto Ricans actually didn`t have a grievance against Spain. The Cubans were revolting against Spain so there was a real reason there, but the Puerto Ricans weren`t.

They had made a deal with Spain which was quite strongly in their interest, giving them a fairly independent political system, independent parliament, elected parliament and so forth. That didn`t mean anything to us. We crashed in for strategic reasons. We had to take Puerto Rico because we had to expel the Spanish.
LAMB:Do you remember the year?
ZIMMERMAN: It was 1898, same year.
LAMB:Same year.
ZIMMERMAN: Same year, yes.
LAMB:And today not a state but votes in primaries and...
ZIMMERMAN: No, we`ve had a very complex relationship with Puerto Rico. It`s never fit into any of the categories that we had for other territories that we`ve controlled.

We had territories in the American West which were territories but which were going to become states. We had Alaska and Hawaii which were territories which were not going to become states, at least that was the 19th Century idea. Then we had these new islands but we thought Cuba was going to be independent, the Philippines was going to be an American colony, so was Guam.

Puerto Rico was in a strange status. One Puerto Rican politician complained that we weren`t paying any attention to it at all. He said we are Mr. Nobody from nowhere and that`s a probably pretty fair description of how the United States dealt with Puerto Rico.
LAMB:How did we get the Virgin Islands?
ZIMMERMAN: We had been trying for decades, starting right after the Civil War with Secretary of State Seward who was one of the biggest would-be imperialists we`ve ever had. He only succeeded big time with Alaska, but he wanted to buy Greenland from Denmark, and he wanted to buy the Virgin Islands from Denmark.

But the Senate was not very imperial until late in the century and they always had to give their agreement, two-thirds agreement in most cases because these were treaties to these acquisitions and they uniformly turned them down. So, we never did get the Virgin Island until 1917 when we got them in connection with World War I.
LAMB:The Panama Canal, relationship with Colombia and Panama, how did that happen?
ZIMMERMAN: Hugely important. At the heart of all of the imperial strategies by Roosevelt, by Lodge, by Mahan, by the U.S. Navy, was the idea that we should build a canal across the narrow waste of Panama that would let our ships through so we would have not only an Atlantic navy, we would have a Pacific navy.

This was the heart of everything. It was the heart of the reasons we got into the Spanish-American War. Panama was a part of Colombia. It was a rebellious province of Colombia and actually during the 19th Century, American marines had landed, I forget the number, dozens of times to protect Colombia against Panamanian revolutions or Panamanian uprisings.

So, we had essentially been the guarantor of Colombia`s sovereignty over Panama but things shifted very quickly after we became a Caribbean power in 1898. Theodore Roosevelt becomes president when McKinley is shot in 1901 and he immediately sets out to do something about Panama. There is a revolutionary fervor in Panama against Colombia that had been building all during the last century and we had been putting it down.

So, we got ourselves in touch with these revolutionaries. We established contacts with some shady entrepreneurs, one a Frenchman, one an American lawyer who had their own irons in the fire, all looking for the profit motive but were in touch with what was going on in Colombia and what was going on in Panama.

And, to make a long story short, the Panamanians did revolt against Colombia. The American Navy had ships down there because we had had early notice that this was going to happen, which helped to prevent the Colombians from putting down the revolution. So, Panama becomes independent, asks the United States to recognize it. We do it instantly within hours and we sign a treaty with the Panamanians to build the canal across Panama.
LAMB:And the year we built it?
ZIMMERMAN: We started in 1903 under Roosevelt and Roosevelt - actually the first foreign visit by an American president, the first visit by an American president abroad ever was Roosevelt going down to inspect the Panama Canal.
LAMB:Before we`re out of time I`ve got to ask you, what do you think of Theodore Roosevelt?
ZIMMERMAN: I think he was a great president. He`s not a hero to me because I think he was much too fixed on going to war as a young man particularly. I think he was very good as a president.

I think his greatest contribution was, foreign contribution was his negotiation of the end of the Russo-Japanese War, which was one of the most brilliant pieces of diplomacy in our whole history and required a great deal of restraint. He didn`t have a big stick to carry in this one. I think that was Roosevelt at his best.
LAMB:Did he get the Nobel Peace Prize for that?
ZIMMERMAN: He did. He got the Nobel and deserved it I think.
LAMB:What is your next book going to be about?
ZIMMERMAN: I don`t know. I don`t know. I would like to do something that combines foreign policy with a narrative and with characters who are important in our history. I think the 1898 period was a period in which people were very important, the five people that I identified as the fathers of American imperialism enormously important. This was when people counted. I`d like to find another period in our history when there was a similar mixture of people and events.
LAMB:Quickly, we`ll go over the five people, John Hay, Elihu Root, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Alfred Mahan.
ZIMMERMAN: Correct.
LAMB:Got them all?
ZIMMERMAN: Correct.
LAMB:Let`s look at that. They`re on the cover of this book and the name of this book is "First Great Triumph" and our guest has been Warren Zimmerman. Thank you very much.
ZIMMERMAN: It`s been a pleasure.
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