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Links to the spoiler-laden Chapter Recaps: Chapters 1 (parts 1, 2, 3) , 2 (parts 1, 2), 3 (parts 1, 2, 3), 4 (parts 1, 2, 3), 5 (parts 1, 2, 3), 6 (part 1, 2).

You'll remember that I singled out a sentence in the last chapter of The Rough Riders for telling more of the truth than anybody could've known at the time (my emphasis): “Sometimes General Wheeler joined us and told us about the great war, compared with which ours was such a small war—far-reaching in their importance though its effects were destined to be.” The Spanish-American War, as short as it was, cast a long shadow in its implications, and not just because armed intervention would be something we made a habit of throughout the 20th century. It was a very telling move that none of the Cubans were invited to take part in the surrender ceremonies. The official explanation was fear of armed reprisals, but it seems the Americans weren't entirely trusting of the Cubans, even if they supported independence in the abstract. When the treaty came down, Spain signed its colonies over to America, and thanks to a sneaky piece of work called the Platt Amendment, Cuba was occupied by a US Military Government for the next several years under the pretext of shaping it into a “self-governing colony.” Even at the time, it felt like one imperial power was being replaced by another.

The United States gave Cuba back to its own people in 1902—under Teddy Roosevelt's presidency, to be fair—but there were still all kinds of gotchas written into the handover that made sure we had at least one hand on their steering wheel for a long time after. One of those gotchas was the perpetual lease on Guantanamo Bay, which was still left in place even after that other Roosevelt dropped the Platt Amendment in 1934. If you were able to look forward into the future from San Juan Hill, 1898, you might find Fidel Castro scowling back at you.

There was also the matter of the Philippine campaign, which ended with a Filipino declaration of independence that the Americans refused to recognize and the Filipino rebels not being allowed to even enter Manila during the surrender ceremony under threat of gunfire. By the time The Rough Riders was being prepped for the bookstores, the Filipinos' deep sense of betrayal by the Americans led into the Philippine-American War, an intensely divisive war which officially was declared over in 1901, but unofficially dragged on for another ten years.

The Spanish-American War, as short and “splendid” as it supposedly was, left behind consequences we're still dealing with a century later, which fills me with a sharp dread about what we'll be facing in the years to come from where we are now. This is exactly why history is so important. From the bird's-eye view, the same mistakes keep cropping up in a distressingly predictable fashion. This has happened before, and this will happen again...if we're not careful. And yes, that means I'm the fifth Cylon.

As for the text—you had to know I was coming back to that eventually—Roosevelt tells the story of his corner of the war very well. In selling us on the men he led and the war into which he led them, he sketches a number of distinct personalities and their personal yarns. Sometimes this approach devolves into a simple (and simply endless) list of names, but those sections pass quickly. He does make it all sound like a bundle of frustrations broken up by pockets of armed adventure, but from the official report he includes as an appendix, that's pretty much how he saw it.

MVP Of The Book: Frankly, I'm insulted that you have to ask. While Roosevelt's far from alone in his own story, there's a reason Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley called the book Alone In Cuba. Since we spent so much time with Leonard Wood early on, it's worth your time to find out what happened to him after the war. Some parts are impressive, others distinctly unpleasant.

Would you recommend it to a friend? Yes, but only if they're predisposed to war stories or Roosevelt stories. If that's is the type of story you like, you'll like this story.

Is this (still) a summer book? I'm not so convinced on that point, going by the Times' concept of “summer reading” as something that carries you along without insisting on staying around if you can imagine something better. While it's not difficult reading, it's still the history of a particular unit in a particular war, and Roosevelt's approach to his own story assumes that you and he have some common knowledge about the Spanish-American War. Obviously that's no longer a given by any stretch of the imagination; most Americans know this war as the one Roosevelt was in if they know anything at all. To get everything this text has to offer 110 years later, you need to be a bit more actively engaged than you would with a standard lounging-around read. Have a few Wikipedia pages open, at least.

And before we move on, an acknowledgment in the spirit of humility that it's been well over a year since I started my trip report on this book. Hopefully this proves to you that I was not defeated, only delayed. Daleks and Cylons in one post...there's a fanfic waiting to happen.

Next: Finally moving on, and it could be another well-deserved penalty round. Let's find out together.


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