War Games

Richard Harding Davis and the New Imperialism
An analysis of the beginnings of American imperial rhetoric


This is a study of the early writings of Richard Harding Davis, the premier American journalist of the 1890s, best remembered for his coverage of the Spanish-American War. The emphasis of the book is on Davis's reporting-including several volumes of travel writing, covering trips to the Near East and South and Central America. Some account is also made of his fiction, most especially Soldiers of Fortune (1897), which critics have seen as a romantic treatment of the imperialist élan. As such, the novel serves as a prolegomenon to the war in Cuba, which Davis covered during its insurrectionist stage. He later accompanied Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders when U.S. forces invaded the island in 1898, an action he had urged and may have in part inspired.

John Seelye argues that Davis, rather than supporting the notion of an American empire on the Roman or British plan, advocated what would become U.S. strategy over the next century: a limited engagement in support of embryonic democratic movements in the Caribbean, followed by withdrawal of armed forces once a stable government had been established. While approving British methods when they seemed in accord with his ideas of fairness, Davis was critical of the English presence in Egypt and was scathing in his treatment of the Boer War, championing the Dutch settlers over the invading army.

Like many others associated with the Spanish-American War, Davis was an ardent fan of football: fair play and good sportsmanship were integral to his notions of democratic expansionism, hence the title of this book. Seelye not only brings Davis into the mainstream of recent historical treatments of American imperialism, but makes a case that Davis was, as his contemporaries regarded him, a master of journalistic style.

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