If the last year has taught us anything, it is that we are not living in a utopia where history is at an end. The COVID-19 outbreak, was, if nothing else, a biological and psychological attack that the Chinese Communist Party inflicted on the entire world. Great power competition is back. The genocidal Chinese regime threatens all of humanity. Yet, it aspires to be the ruling superpower. Now, more than at any time in recent history, we must heed the lessons from the heroes of our past. To get these lessons, let us consult Theodore Roosevelt on preparedness.
Buildup to Preparedness
Theodore Roosevelt was out in the wilderness following his loss in 1912. He had torn the Republican Party asunder in his failed comeback. Many old friends understandably shunned him. To pass the time, he reconnected with his roots as a naturalist. He ventured to the southwest to live among Native Americans, then to Brazil in early 1914, where he came closer to death than he ever had while exploring the now-famed “River of Doubt.” Yet, those two years were a hard time for him, personally. He started feeling lost.
Then the world burst into flame in the summer of 1914 and he found a new purpose. Having had to deal with Germany’s ambitions first-hand during his presidency, he believed that war would look for the United States, even if it didn’t look for war. As such, Theodore Roosevelt became the leader of the Preparedness Movement.
The Preparedness Movement held that the United states must invest more into its military readiness – not only with money, but through strengthening its men, and making them capable of fighting a war against Germany. As far as Theodore Roosevelt was concerned, Germany had already proven its ruthless disregard for human life and decency with its campaign in Belgium, and its unrestricted submarine warfare. Effeminate dorks, as he would have called them today, had no chance against an aggressor like this. America and the free world needed men – tough, smart, and disciplined.
Theodore Roosevelt sought a command in the event of war and put himself and his four sons at the service of the state should the United States get involved. In the meantime, he harped on the need for “preparedness.”
Preparedness in Action
Theodore Roosevelt reunited with an old friend, General Leonard Wood, who he served under in Cuba. General Wood opened a boot camp in Plattsburgh, New York, that offered military training to civilians. There, they would become reserve officers. Theodore Roosevelt and all of his sons attended. He made sure that they were strong in body and mind should war come. The training had an effect, because all four would serve in the Great War with great distinction. Their training at Plattsburgh meant that they all became commissioned officers.
Theodore Jr., the oldest of the Roosevelt boys, commanded a battalion in France, with the rank of major. During the 1918 German Spring Offensive, “Ted” held the line as best he could under overwhelming fire. Reports of his incredible bravery circled far and wide. He would later be gassed and temporarily blinded. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and won the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts. He would later serve with distinction on D-Day in World War II and win the Medal of Honor.
Kermit, his second son, joined the British army so that he could get into the action faster. He served as an artillery officer in Mesopotamia before being transferred to the American Expeditionary Force in France. He was the luckiest of the Roosevelt brood, coming out of the war unscathed.
Archie, his third son, was wounded in action in 1918. Shrapnel splintered his arm and leg, cutting off a nerve that temporarily paralyzed the former and smashing a knee in the latter. The wounds were severe enough for Archie to get sent home, with decorations, but he only wanted to get back in the fight. He did in the Pacific Theater of World War II, when he was wounded in the same leg.
Quentin, his youngest son, went into a new field – the army’s air forces. Despite his bad back, he served honorably as a flying man, with no complaints. Unfortunately, the job was even more dangerous than fighting in the trenches. He was killed shortly after seeing combat for the first time. The Germans buried him with full honors.
No amount of preparedness could save Quentin, but it could save the country. Theodore Roosevelt used the time from the Lusitania’s sinking to America’s entry into the war to get the word out.
Theodore Roosevelt on Preparedness
He spoke on the subject at Harvard in December, 1915. In a passage perfectly tailored for our own time, he warned:
Recently there have actually been political buttons circulated in this country with “safety first” as the motto upon them in the fancied interest of one of the party candidates for the Presidency next year. This is the motto which in practice is acted upon by the men on a sinking ship who jump into the lifeboats ahead of the women and children. Even these men, however, do not, when they get ashore, wear buttons to commemorate their feat.
Are there better words to describe the last year? He continued:
This country needs to prepare itself materially against war. Even more it needs to prepare itself spiritually and morally, so that, if war must be accepted as the alternative to dishonor or unrighteousness, it shall be accepted with stern readiness to do any duty and incur any hazard that the times demand.
Theodore Roosevelt’s words have never been more important in our lifetimes. Once again, the free world’s vacation from history is over. It is on the move. If it wants to, it will find us, whether we want it to or not. In 1915, he warned that those who put their heads in the sand and sought “peace at any price” were trying to “Chinafy” America, and it is to China we now turn. In 1915, China was a weak and divided nation, completely at the mercy of foreign powers. The once mighty “Middle Kingdom” had been reduced, over decades of humiliation, to impotence.
But now the tables have turned. China is strong and seeking hegemony. Its modern emperor, Xi Jinping, is a history-minded autocrat, determined to pay the West back for the “Century of Humiliation.” Given what the Communist regime does to its own citizens, the way it bullies its neighbors, and the biological attack it unleashed on the world, this is a threat we must take seriously, and the threat is growing. China continues its military buildup apace. In particular, its naval buildup is of immediate concern. It calls to mind Germany’s pre-World War I Weltpolitik.
And what is the free world doing? This:
The military is getting to be just as bad as the “intelligence community.” It increasingly resembles a woke college campus bureaucracy, with Special Operations Command hiring a “diversity and inclusion” chief, among other infractions against the laws of Ma’at.
This is not preparedness. We can return to the quote from Roosevelt in the top video for a rebuke:
Preparedness means discipline; and in a democracy it is of the highest importance for us to discipline ourselves; and in so doing we prepare ourselves, not merely to defend our own rights against alien foes, but to encourage the habits of orderly liberty and disciplined efficiency, which will enable us to solve our own difficult industrial and social problems.
Are there any better words to describe our situation today?
Weakness – a lack of preparedness – invites war. Maybe our ruling class should think about that before making the institutions on which our power rests go woke. But we should not wait for our ruling class, as Theodore Roosevelt didn’t wait for the Wilson Administration. We should be instruments of preparedness in ourselves.
Theodore Roosevelt, and his balance of power approach to affairs, is covered in Lives of the Luminaries.
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