Teddy Roosevelt ; Power politics, Teddy Roosevelt ; Power politics, etc. What the heck do these two have in common? It turns out quite a lot. According to Edmund Morris’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt’, America’s 26th president was an ambitious man who strongly believed the United States should claim its rightful place as a power among nations and helped makes this come to fruition around the turn of the 20th century. ‘Rise’, which is the first of what is expected to be a 3 volume set, does not even cover a day of Roosevelt’s presidency (covered in ‘Theodore Rex’), but much can be learned about the US as a rising power by following the triumphant rise of Theodore the student, rancher, state legislator, colonel, Governor, and Teddy the Vice President. In fact, Morris portrays Roosevelt’s rise to power and greatness as inevitable and it is not too far fetched to believe that the reader should see Ol’ Teddy as a metaphor for the United States as a whole.
“No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumphs of war”
Growing up in New York City, Theodore Roosevelt came from a privileged background and was also able to travel to Britain, all over Europe, North Africa, and the Levant in his youth. He had an affinity for naval history throughout his life and fostered a close friendship with none other than Alfred Thayer Mahan, probably the most influential naval strategist in modern times. Mahan promoted a strong navy, which would be used as a projection of power tool in global affairs and Roosevelt couldn’t agree more. Roosevelt would serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President McKinley and helped put this policy into practice.
However, Roosevelt’s stay in Department of the Navy was short lived as much to his delight the United States was to enter a war with Spain over the Spanish-controlled colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. This was to be the Spanish-American war of 1898 and after a clear American victory, the United States not only found itself with imperial colonies of its own, but also as a great power player that would not leave the world stage ever again (while at least up until 2010). Roosevelt, besides being a major hawk pushing for the war, helped train and lead the eccentric military regiment, the so-called Rough Riders, into the successful defeat of the Spanish in Cuba. The pathetic details of the lack of training and professionalism of the whole American military at this time, especially the Rough Riders, is hard to believe. At the time, the US was anything but a well-polished military machine. Without a professional army, groups like the Rough Riders, a mix of western cowboys and Harvard intellectuals, had to created, drilled, and organized along with other fighting units in a very short period. Nevertheless, despite some setbacks, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders (march on San Juan Hill) and the American Navy (clearly outclassed the Spaniards in the Pacific) showed itself more than a match for a fading Spanish power. That’s great powers for ya, either you’re up or you’re down.
“It is through strife, or the readiness for strife, that a nation must win greatness”
To cover the ‘Speak softly, Carry a big stick’ presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, I’ll have to get through ‘Theodore Rex’, which is on my bookshelf right now (right next to The Onion’s ‘Our Dumb World’). Ironically, the bombastic, always looking for a challenge Teddy Roosevelt had a rather peaceful two-terms as president. Morris’s ‘Rise’ was an intriguing, in-depth look (almost 800 pages) at one America’s greatest men and one can’t help but come away with a more clear picture of a nation coming into it’s own on the world stage.