Did Teddy Roosevelt co-found the Empire of Japan

By Perry Willis

The Zero Aggression Principle requires that all systems of governance be voluntarily funded. But how much funding would be needed for national defense?

I’m reviewing past U.S. wars in an attempt to answer that question. I contend that little funding will be needed because most U.S. wars have been bad. Politicians routinely misuse the military to create unnecessary enemies and cause widespread harm. I believe we would be far safer if citizens controlled the military purse strings. Voluntary funding would give us consumer-controlled national defense. Citizens could increase funding for wars they support, and decrease funding for wars they oppose. This would limit the power politicians have to cause mischief. It would also give the military a huge incentive to use resources more wisely.

My previous article in this series examined the conflicts of the 19th Century…

  • The War of 1812
  • The Mexican War
  • The Spanish-American War
  • The Philippines War

I want to persuade readers of 4 points…

  1. Most U.S. wars have made the world a worse place, and Americans less free and secure.
  2. Our “patriotic holidays” should honor soldiers without mischaracterizing U.S. wars.
  3. The claim that U.S. soldiers “defended freedom” is sweet-sounding but false.
  4. We must deny politicians the ability to wage aggressive war. I think we can best achieve this by making military funding voluntary.

I ask 3 questions about each war I review…

  1. Did it defend America?
  2. Did it protect or harm freedom?
  3. Did it make the world better or worse?

The answer was the same for all 19th Century U.S. foreign wars…

  • None defended America
  • All of them harmed freedom
  • All of them were wars of conquest
  • All of them made the world worse, not better.

This installment will move us into the 20th Century. I will describe how President Teddy Roosevelt helped start the chain of events that led to Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War, and the rise of both Red China and North Korea.

As you read what follows, please understand — I am not blaming America for anything, but I am blaming U.S. politicians (and foreign politicians too) for a great many things.

The events I will describe in this article justify asking the following question…

Did Teddy Roosevelt co-found the Empire of Japan?

Related to this question is another — Did Teddy Roosevelt (TR) plant the seeds that eventually led to Pearl Harbor, North Korea, and Mao’s China? I think the evidence says yes! The story is told by several historians. Jim Powell gives a good overview of Teddy’s career as a military gangster in Chapter 2 of his book “Bully Boy.” Powell shows that TR…

  • Loved war (until his own son died in one)
  • Conspired to spark the Spanish-American War in order to build a U.S. empire
  • Waged a war of conquest in the Philippines where torture, rape, and murder were used as “military tactics” to subdue the populace

The same ground is covered in more detail in “Honor in the Dust” by Gregg Jones, and in “The War Lovers” by Evan Thomas. But James Bradley takes the case against Teddy even further in his book “The Imperial Cruise.” Bradley uses primary sources to show that TR…

  • Subscribed to the same racist Aryan theory that would later animate the Nazis.
  • Believed that it was the right and duty of Aryans to conquer darker people.
  • Foreshadowed Hitler by adopting the Japanese as honorary Aryans (Bradley, chapter 6).
  • Proposed a Japanese “Monroe Doctrine” for the Western Pacific and encouraged Japan to conquer an empire in that area (Bradley chapter 8).

But Teddy went one crucial step further. He offered up Korea as Japan’s first imperial victim (Bradley, chapter 12).

The specific step Teddy Roosevelt took to inaugurate the Empire of Japan

On November 28, 1905, TR closed the U.S. embassy in Korea and turned it over to Japan (Bradley, page 313). Japan then invaded and conquered Korea.

You should remember November 28, 1905 the same way you remember December 7th, 1941 — both are days of infamy, and one leads to the other. Let’s make the connections and count the costs…

  • TR’s murderous conquest of the Philippines gave the Japanese an imperial model to emulate. His actions also robbed the U.S. of the moral high ground. We could no longer consistently oppose empire building.
  • TR’s proposal of a Japanese “Monroe Doctrine” for the Western Pacific morphed into what the Japanese later called their Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. That was Japan’s euphemistic name for their blood-drenched conquests.
  • TR’s betrayal of Korea essentially co-founded the Japanese empire. It also created a mainland base to support Japan’s later invasion of China. Japan’s aggression against China then led to FDR’s eventual retaliation against Japan which then led to Pearl Harbor and a greatly expanded World War 2.
  • The way U.S. politicians then fought World War 2 caused the creation of North Korea and Red China, leading to millions of deaths.

Does TR deserve the primary blame for all these calamities, and the creation of the Empire of Japan?

No, Japanese politicians bear far greater responsibility. But TR made a huge negative contribution.

Sadly, many people will try to excuse TR on the grounds that most people back then were racist and militarist. But in fact, 250,000 Americans*, including luminaries like Mark Twain and former President Grover Cleveland, joined together in the Anti-imperialist League to fight against TR’s crimes. This shows that many people from that era could tell the difference between right and wrong. If they could, then Teddy could too. He simply chose to do evil instead.

Bottom line: Teddy Roosevelt’s wars and interventions did not defend America or freedom. They did not make the world a better place. They made the world profoundly worse, setting in motion events that would later slaughter millions of people.

Now imagine a world where…

  • U.S. politicians set a good example for the Japanese by not conquering an empire
  • Teddy Roosevelt did not encourage Japan to create its own empire
  • Teddy Roosevelt did encourage Japan to be peaceful
  • Teddy Roosevelt did not betray Korea
  • The Japanese did not conquer Korea or invade China
  • There was no Pearl Harbor attack, and no North Korea or Red China

Would you rather live in that world, or the world Teddy Roosevelt helped create?

My next article will continue with the wars of the 20th Century. I will ask the profound question, “Did U.S. politicians support the more evil side in WW1?”

If you find these articles valuable…

  • Please share them with others.
  • Use these articles to start a discussion about the Zero Aggression Principle and consumer-controlled governance
  • Discuss the correct way to honor veterans and the war dead given the sad reality of past U.S. wars. We believe it should be possible to honor their courage and mourn their loss, without telling lies about how the political class misused them.

If you’re new to our work and you like what you see, please subscribe. It’s free!

Perry Willis
Co-creator, Zero Aggression Project

P.S. Here is the list of books we’ve consulted so far in this series.

*NOTE: The figure of 250,000 members of the Anti-imperialist League comes from Johnson, Robert David. “Anti-Imperialism.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. 2015-10-05. Oxford University Press.


Show Comments 3


  1. I remember reading a revisionist historian who claimed the US Empire cut off Japan’s oil, forcing the invasion of Manchuria to get their oil. Is that accurate?

    1. Post

      Not exactly. Japan invaded Manchuria to conquer it as a colony. To protest that FDR embargoed oil to Japan. Japan then sought to invade other areas, such as Indonesia, to find a new source of oil. But for some insane reason the Japanese felt they needed to first destroy the U.S. fleet by attacking Pearl Harbor.

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