Sunday, August 28, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt - a book report

By Edmund Morris

There have been many books written about the life of this remarkable man and his achievements. Not all sing his praise. I have found that most of our greatest leaders have those who find fault with them for one reason or another. It is always annoying to me. No matter what great accomplishments they did, someone always feels the need to bring them down a peg. This book was not like that. It was unique in that it concentrated on a finite period of his life from 1910 until his death in 1919 at the age of 61.
The Republican Party leaders were hoping he would run again for President in 1920 but the accumulation of trauma he had endured during his life finally took him down including being shot in the chest, malaria and leg wounds during his odyssey in the wilderness of Brazil charting an unknown river.
The book begins in the spring of 1909. He had finished his seven years as President turning the reins over to William Howard Taft. He has gone to Africa on a game hunting safari. It describes the many times his life was at risk. Afterwards he embarked on a visit to the countries in North Africa and Europe. He was greeted with the greatest respect wherever he went. While in Paris he uttered the following words which to me personified the type of man he was. He was bitter that some in academia “sneered” at anyone trying to make the real world better. He said;
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”.
In my mind that is the perfect epitaph of this great man.
He became disillusioned with President Taft and when he could not win the Republican Primary he started his own party called “Bull Moose”. He won more votes than Taft but with the party split Woodrow Wilson the Democrat candidate became President in 1912. Roosevelt was a progressive and I believe was more Democrat than Republican as he railed against the excessive influence on Congress by the huge Corporations. He was also the strongest and most productive of all Presidents in the preservation of wilderness areas he felt should be preserved for future generations. He believed in graduated income and inheritance taxes on big fortunes, a judiciary accountable to changing social and economic conditions, comprehensive workman’s compensation acts, national laws to regulate the labor of children and women, higher safety and sanitary standards in the workplace, and public scrutiny of all political campaign spending, both before and after elections. He supported women’s right to vote. He tried to establish an understanding that science and religion could co-exist without harming each other. During his years as President he appointed men of color to key positions, most of who were quickly removed under Taft. Wilson’s Administration was also lily white.
At the end of another great speech he said “We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the coming years, and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men”.
As the war in Europe struggled on with losses on all sides in the millions and German U-Boats sinking scores of American vessels, he became angry with his perception of Wilson as weak and indecisive. He spoke out for increased preparedness. The country gradually shifted from isolation to participation. It is clear that without the introduction of Americans the war would have stalemated for many years longer.
Roosevelt was a prolific author of books and articles. He had great knowledge of a number of subjects which to me was extraordinary.
I can recommend reading this book by anyone interested in American history.

Jack B. Walters
August 28, 2011

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