Anglo-American Culture, Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight, Teddy Roosevelt and Manliness

 

Pre-reading vocabulary and phrases:

Win Office:

Lead a Charge:

In His Own Right:

Without Flinching:

Commercial Interests:

Run From a Fight:

 

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th US President. While he was a very effective president – breaking economic monopolies, making education a right for all children, fighting corruption, making the first environmental protections and turning the United States into a powerful naval nation – he is better known for his manliness.

 

While he was born rich, Roosevelt was also a very sick and weak child. This filled him with an intense shame. When he was sick, he would read about the great warriors and leaders of the past and yearn to join their ranks. To do this, he spent his youth pursuing what he called “the strenuous life.” He became a boxer, a hunter of dangerous animals and a cowboy. By the time he graduated from Harvard University (the other students thought Roosevelt “eccentric and odd”), he had become a physically strong, courageous man.

 

He won office as the police commissioner in New York and became famous for destroying corrupt police and political organizations. However, when the US went to war with Spain in 1898, Roosevelt wanted to fight so bad that he resigned his job as police commissioner and joined the military. The US offered him a position as admiral (the navy equivalent of general), but he refused. Roosevelt did not want power that he had not earned. Instead, he became a minor officer.

 

The group he led came to be known as the “Rough Riders.” These were 560 men chosen by Roosevelt personally. They were the best western cowboys and shooters, the best eastern athletes and brightest scholars who wanted to earn glory in battle. During the war, this group earned fame for their extreme bravery and Roosevelt became famous for his toughness.

 

He would not ride a horse while his men had to walk. Neither would he ask any soldier to do something he would not also do – he would encourage his men to attack by standing up in the open air while the enemy shot at him. Once, when he led a charge, only five of the other soldiers heard him. Roosevelt ran several hundred meters almost by himself while attacking the enemy before he realized only two soldiers were with him. He turned around, gathered more men, and attacked again, this time successfully. As a result, Roosevelt won the Medal of Honor.

 

After his presidency, Roosevelt joined with Brazillian explorer Candido Rondon (an extremely tough and brave man in his own right) on a scientific expedition to the unmapped “River of Doubt” in the Amazon rainforest. Roosevelt caught malaria, crushed a bone in his leg and survived attacks from Indian tribes, but still didn’t want to be treated any different from the common men and servants traveling with him. The expedition resulted in the first mapping of an important river in the Amazon basin, the discovery of several new species of animal and the death of three explorers.

 

By the time he died five years later, Roosevelt, with his bravery, toughness and reluctance to put himself above others, had become a model for manliness in the United States and the West in general.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roosevelt, “Strenuous Life, 1899,” Speech Text

In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who pre-eminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.

To all the people of Illinois, where the great president Abraham Lincoln and the great general Ulysses S. Grant came from, I want to promote not a life of luxury but the strenuous life. I want you to embrace hard work, difficult challenges and the willingness to fight. To fight, work hard and try for amazing goals is far better than living in quiet, lazy safety.

A life of ignoble ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self-respecting American demands from himself and from his sons shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole. Who among you would teach your boys that ease, that peace, is to be the first consideration in their eyes-to be the ultimate goal after which they strive? You men of Chicago have made this city great, you men of Illinois have done your share, and more than your share, in making America great, because you neither preach nor practice such a doctrine. You work yourselves, and you bring up your sons to work. If you are rich and are worth your salt, you will teach your sons that though they may have leisure, it is not to be spent in idleness; for wisely used leisure merely means that those who possess it, being free from the necessity of working for their livelihood, are all the more bound to carry on some kind of non-remunerative work in science, in letters, in art, in exploration, in historical research-work of the type we most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which reflects most honor upon the nation.

An ignoble, easy life of peace can come from a lack of ambition. This is a shameful thing for both individuals and nations. What good father would teach his son that the highest goal should be ease? The men of Chicago have made this city great because they reject such lessons. If you are rich, you should raise your sons so that they use their free time in science, literature, art, exploration or historical work. This is the sort of thing that brings a nation honor, not idleness.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. If in 1861 (the American Civil War) the men who loved the Union had believed that peace was the end of all things, and war and strife the worst of all things, and had acted up to their belief, we would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, we would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, besides saving all the blood and treasure we then lavished, we would have prevented the heartbreak of many women, the dissolution of many homes, and we would have spared the country those months of gloom and shame when it seemed as if our armies marched only to defeat. We could have avoided all this suffering simply by shrinking from strife. And if we had thus avoided it, we would have shown that we were weaklings, and that we were unfit to stand among the great nations of the earth. Thank God that the ignoble counsels of peace were rejected; that the suffering and loss, the blackness of sorrow and despair, were unflinchingly faced, and the years of strife endured; for in the end the slave was freed, the Union restored, and the mighty American republic placed once more as a helmeted queen among nations.

It is much better to try great things, to have amazing triumphs and great failures than to be like the grey people who feel neither joy nor suffering. They know neither victory nor defeat. If during the Civil War the men who loved the Union (the Northern States) had believed peace was the greatest priority, that war and fighting were always bad, they could have saved thousands of lives. They could have saved millions of dollars and saved immeasurable suffering by families. They could have done this simply by giving up. But if we had done so, we would have shown the rest of the world how weak we were, and that we are unworthy to stand with the great countries. Thank God that we did not accept these ignoble pleas for peace. We faced sadness and despair, endured strife and did not flinch. In the end, we freed the slaves, reunited the nation and raised the American Republic to greater heights.

We cannot, if we would, play the part of China, and be content to rot by inches in ignoble ease within our borders, taking no interest in what goes on beyond them, sunk in a scrambling commercialism; heedless of the higher life, the life of aspiration, of toil and risk, busying ourselves only with the wants of our bodies for the day, until suddenly we should find, beyond a shadow of question, what China has already found, that in this world the nation that has trained itself to a career of unwarlike and isolated ease is bound, in the end, to go down before other nations which have not lost the manly and adventurous qualities. If we are to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world.

We can’t be isolationists like China, which is content to rot away little by little, happy with its easy life and looking only to make money. We have to take interest in foreign countries. We have to embrace risk and hard work because, if we don’t, we’ll end up like China – a weak country beaten by more manly nations. If we want to be great, we need to try and be benevolently involved in the affairs of many nations.

The timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country, the over-civilized man, who has lost the great fighting, masterful virtues, the ignorant man, and the man of dull mind, whose soul is incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills “stern men with empires in their brains”-all these, of course, shrink from seeing the nation undertake its new duties. These are the men who fear the strenuous life, who fear the only national life which is really worth leading. They believe in that cloistered life which saps the hardy virtues in a nation, as it saps them in the individual; or else they are wedded to that base spirit of gain and greed which recognizes in commercialism the be-all and end-all of national life, instead of realizing that, though an indispensable element, it is, after all, but one of the many elements that go to make up true national greatness.

Timid men, lazy men, men who are unpatriotic, over-civilized or have lost the will to fight, stupid men and men without ambition – these men fear the strenuous life. They believe in quiet safety, even as that quiet safety sucks the strength from their countries and persons. They care only about greed, only commercial interests. Commercial interests are important, but they are just one part of what makes a nation great. 

So, at the present hour, no small share of the responsibility for the blood shed in the Philippines, the blood of our brothers, and the blood of their wild and ignorant foes, lies at the thresholds of those who so long delayed the adoption of the treaty of peace, and of those who by their worse than foolish words deliberately invited a savage people to plunge into a war fraught with sure disaster for them – a war, too, in which our own brave men who follow the flag must pay with their blood for the silly, mock humanitarianism of the prattlers who sit at home in peace.

The cowards afraid to fight are responsible for a lot of bloodshed in the Philippines. These fake humanitarians asked primitive people to fight in a war they could never win and, as such, got a lot of natives and Americans killed when the situation turned bad.

I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.

We are just beginning the 20th century and I hope that, instead of ignoble ease, we adopt the strenuous life. If we are idle, then the men of other countries will surpass us and win the world. We must face life without fear, do our duties in the rest of the world and use pragmatism. We must never run from a fight or let cowardice control our actions. The only way to have a great nation is through hard work and danger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Study Questions:

Compare Teddy Roosevelt’s manly ideal with Queen Elizabeth’s womanly ideal. How are they similar to and different from Korean manly and womanly ideals?

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Roosevelt was certainly an imperialist. Do you think he was the same kind of imperialist as Cecil Rhodes?

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Who are the Korean ideals of manliness? What are they like?

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Do you think the Roosevelt manliness ideal is a good ideal? Why or why not?

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Imagine that manly ideal Roosevelt met with womanly ideal Queen Elizabeth. Do you think they would be friends?

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