Copyright 2005 Mark Cole
Any man would be justly proud to claim even a portion of what Teddy Roosevelt accomplished in just one of his fields, whether politics, hunting, writing, military, or family. He was an extraordinarily accomplished man with an enormous appetite for life. But he is more than that. For us today, he remains a hero, a patriot, an authentic, masculine role model of success, self-improvement, perseverance and courage.
In my opinion, he was greatest man ever to become President of United States – and I write that knowing full well that men such as Washington, Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Lincoln cannot be easily cast aside into second tier status. I doubt if any President of United States in future will ever be able to threaten TR’s status in that regard. I don’t think there will ever be another man like him.
One of things that makes Roosevelt so remarkable is that he pushed himself incredibly hard to overcome obstacles. And lest we think somehow that he had it easy, we should not forget that he encountered more obstacles than most people. Yes, he was born into a family with enough money to do things like take yearlong European trips. And he had an incredible father who was a great role model for his son.
But Roosevelt’s father died when he was only a sophomore at Harvard – that is, just about time when Roosevelt was becoming an adult, a man in his own right. The magnitude of that loss can hardly be appreciated from our point of view. Roosevelt’s near silence about loss is best indicator, seeing as he was otherwise never at a loss for words.
Furthermore, shortly after entering legislature, Roosevelt started his family only to lose his beloved young wife Alice after birth of their daughter. This tragedy was followed by death of his mother within a few hours. Later in life, one of Roosevelt’s sons would tragically die in World War I. Throughout his life, Roosevelt had more than his fair share of tragedy. Yet, he pressed on, every time.
In addition, Roosevelt’s famously poor health as a young boy can hardly be overlooked. Anyone who has ever struggled with a serious childhood illness can attest to difficulty and suffering it brings, not just physically but also mentally. Can we really appreciate fortitude and determination it took for him to defy doctors and to basically exercise his asthma out of his system? Extraordinary, indeed. The perseverance and iron-willed determination which Roosevelt would show in building his physical strength would be replicated throughout his life, in his voluminous writing, in his rigorous hunting trips, in his all-night sessions with police on streets of New York, in his maniacal campaigning, in his play with his children, in giving a campaign speech after he had been shot in chest, in his charge up San Juan Hill.
As a friend once remarked to me, American boys (and men for that matter) do not need to read about pretend superheroes with imaginary powers. All they need to do is read about true life of Theodore Roosevelt.
Batman? Superman? Give me a break. These guys would lose a fight every time to TR, a real – life hero.
Many schoolchildren in America no doubt learn today that Roosevelt was a great conservationist and that as President he set aside countless acres for national parks and forests. That is absolutely true.
But an important element of TR’s conservationist philosophy is largely ignored in contemporary education. Specifically, his reasons for his advocacy of conservation were profoundly different from many in environmentalist cause today. Many greens today seem to put “nature” into a moral category superior to human civilization. For them, conservation is a moral cause which is premised on idea that man should simply keep his grubby hands off of pristine nature. The more extreme environmentalist even speak in terms which suggest that earth has “rights.”
Roosevelt would have nothing to do with this bizarre philosophy. For TR, men are clearly called to conserve environment, but not because it has “rights”. Rather, we conserve nature because that is where men go to test themselves, to do battle as it were against elements. And above all, men must go outdoors into nature to hunt and to kill. The importance of hunting as both a means of conservation and one of chief ends of conservation can hardly be overstated. Though this legacy is ignored in textbooks today, it is alive and well among those who do much of heavy lifting of conservation. Today, true environmental legacy of TR is carried on by Boone and Crockett Club (which TR founded and which today is definitive arbiter of uncompromising ethics in hunting), International Safari Club and National Rifle Association.
For Theodore Roosevelt, conservation, battle, patriotism, masculinity and strenuous life are inextricably bound. Nature is where boys become men. They learn to survive. They learn to conquer and exercise dominion. In short, TR’s conservation philosophy would drive many a squeamish environmentalist today to abandon cause.
One of greatest tributes to Roosevelt is to let him speak for himself on virtue of perseverance:
Perhaps there is no more important component of character than steadfast resolution. The boy who is going to make a great man, or is going to count in any way in after life, must make up his mind not merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses or defeats. He may be able to wrest success along lines on which he originally started. He may have to try something entirely new. On one hand, he must not be volatile and irresolute, and, on other hand, he must not fear to try a new line because he has failed in another. Grant did well as a boy and well as a young man; then came a period of trouble and failure, and then Civil War and his opportunity; and he grasped it, and rose until his name is among greatest in our history. Young Lincoln, struggling against incalculable odds, worked his way up, trying one thing and another until he, too, struck out boldly into turbulent torrent of our national life, at a time when only boldest and wisest could so carry themselves as to win success and honor; and from struggle he won both death and honor, and stands forevermore among greatest of mankind.