16 October 2007

Roosevelt's Hero Tales

Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite president, hands down. I often describe myself as a "Roosevelt Republican," which is QUITE different from today's variety. Roosevelt was an environmentalist, for starters. He was also a proponent of a strong military (the big stick, ya know), but despite the fact that critics called him militaristic and belligerent, when he was president the US military didn't fire a shot. In fact, TR was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize (and he won it for doing something directly peace-related: negotiating for peace in the Russo-Japanese War).

TR was also a prolific writer - and a wonderful writer at that. I'm currently reading "Hero Tales: How Common Lives Reveal The Heroic Spirit of America," which he co-wrote with his friend Henry Cabot Lodge. It's a great series of short historical snapshots and mini bio's of Americans, famous and obscure. Here's a short excerpt I read last night and which I found particularly interesting, from the introduction to a chapter titled "The Death of Stonewall Jackson":

The Civil War has left, as all wars of brother against brother must leave, terrible and heartrending memories; but there remains as an offset the glory that has accrued to the nation by the countless deeds of heroism performed by both sides in the struggle. The captains and the armies that, after long years of dreary campaigning and bloody, stubborn fighting, brought the war to a close, have left us more than a reunited realm. North and South, all Americans, now have a common fund of glorious memories.

We are the richer for valor displayed alike by those who fought so valiantly for the right, and by those who, no less valiantly, fought for what they deemed the right. We have in us nobler capacities for what is great and good because of the infinite woe and suffering, and because of the splendid ultimate triumph.

We hold that it was vital to the welfare, not only of our people on this continent, but of the whole human race, that the Union should be preserved and slavery abolished; that one flag should fly from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande; that we should all be free in fact as well as in name, and that the United States should stand as one nation-the greatest nation on the earth. But we recognize gladly that, South as well as North, when the fight was once on, the leaders of the armies, and the soldiers whom they led, displayed the same qualities of daring and steadfast courage, of disinterested loyalty and enthusiasm, and of high devotion to an ideal.

I think his treatment of the South is both respectful and appropriate - recognizing the South was wrong, but in their error, still valiant, skilled and devoted. Similarly, I think his treatment of war is spot-on. It's full of horrors and heartache, but also courage and nobility. It's too easy to simply say war is bad or doesn't solve anything. There's more to it than that.

I'd love to hear what you think.


Mark said...

Tangent to your main point... I'd like to hear your thoughts on this year's choice for Nobel Peace Prize - something not "directly peace related" as far as I can tell. Maybe a future post?

Kim said...

I've also been expecting a post about that too...

Dan said...

Thanks you guys - I'll post something soon (maybe tomorrow)