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- Theodore Roosevelt and His Times, - 30/31 -
upon the spiritual preparedness of the American people for the efforts, the trials, and the sacrifices of that struggle. No voice was raised more persistently or more consistently than his. No personality was thrown with more power and more effect into the task of arousing the people of the United States to their duty to take part in the struggle against Prussianism. No man, in public or private life, urged so vigorously and effectively the call to arms against evil and for the right. His was the "voice crying in the wilderness," and to him the American spirit hearkened and awoke.
At last the moment came. Roosevelt had but one desire and one thought. He wanted to get to the firing-line. This was no impulse, no newly formed project. For two months he had been in correspondence with the Secretary of War on the subject. A year or more before that he had offered, in case America went into the war, to raise a volunteer force, train it, and take it across to the front. The idea was not new to him, even then. As far back as 1912 he had said on several different occasions, "If the United States should get into another war, I should raise a brigade of cavalry and lead it as I did my regiment in Cuba." It never occurred to him in those days that a former Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army, with actual experience in the field, would be refused permission to command troops in an American war. The idea would hardly have occurred to any one else. But that is precisely what happened.
On February 2, 1917, Roosevelt wrote to the Secretary of War reminding him that his application for permission to raise a division of infantry was already on file in the Department, saying that he was about to sail for Jamaica, and asking the Secretary to inform him if he believed there would be war and a call for volunteers, for in that case he did not intend to sail. Secretary Baker replied, "No situation has arisen which would justify my suggesting a postponement of the trip you propose." Before this reply was received Roosevelt had written a second letter saying that, as the President had meanwhile broken off diplomatic relations with Germany, he should of course not sail. He renewed his request for permission to raise a division, and asked if a certain regular officer whom he would like to have for his divisional Chief of Staff, if the division were authorized, might be permitted to come to see him with a view to "making all preparations that are possible in advance." To this the Secretary replied, "No action in the direction suggested by you can be taken without the express sanction of Congress. Should the contingency Occur which you have in mind, it is to be expected that Congress will complete its legislation relating to volunteer forces and provide, under its own conditions, for the appointment of officers for the higher commands."
Roosevelt waited five weeks and then earnestly renewed his request. He declared his purpose to take his division, after some six weeks of preliminary training, direct to France for intensive training so that it could be sent to the front in the shortest possible time. Secretary Baker replied that no additional armies could be raised without the consent of Congress, that a plan for a much larger army was ready for the action of Congress when ever required, and that the general officers for all volunteer forces were to be drawn from the regular army. To this Roosevelt replied with the respectful suggestion that, as a retired Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army, he was eligible to any position of command over American troops. He recounted also his record of actual military experience and referred the Secretary to his immediate superiors in the field in Cuba as to his fitness for command of troops.
When war had been finally declared, Secretary Baker and Roosevelt conferred together at length about the matter. Thereafter Mr. Baker wrote definitely, declaring that he would be obliged to withhold his approval from an expedition of the sort proposed. The grounds which he gave for the decision were that the soldiers sent across must not be "deprived . . . of the most experienced leadership available, in deference to any mere sentimental consideration," and that it should appear from every aspect of the expeditionary force, if one should be sent over (a point not yet determined upon) that "military considerations alone had determined its composition."
To this definite refusal on the part of the Secretary of War Roosevelt replied at length. In his letter was a characteristic passage commenting upon Secretary Baker's reference to "sentimental considerations":
"I have not asked you to consider any "sentimental value" in this matter. I am speaking of moral effect, not of sentimental value. Sentimentality is as different from morality as Rousseau's life from Abraham Lincoln's. I have just received a letter from James Bryce urging "the dispatch of an American force to the theater of war," and saying, "The moral effect of the appearance in the war line of an American force would be immense." From representatives of the French and British Governments and of the French, British, and Canadian military authorities, I have received statements to the same effect, in even more emphatic form, and earnest hopes that I myself should be in the force. Apparently your military advisers in this matter seek to persuade you that a "military policy" has nothing to do with "moral effect." If so, their militarism is like that of the Aulic Council of Vienna in the Napoleonic Wars, and not like that of Napoleon, who stated that in war the moral was to the material as two to one. These advisers will do well to follow the teachings of Napoleon and not those of the pedantic militarists of the Aulic Council, who were the helpless victims of Napoleon."
Secretary Baker replied with a reiteration of his refusal. Roosevelt made one further attempt. When the Draft Law passed Congress, carrying with it the authorization to use volunteer forces, he telegraphed the President asking permission to raise two divisions, and four if so directed. The President replied with a definite negative, declaring that his conclusions were "based entirely upon imperative considerations of public policy and not upon personal or private choice." Meanwhile applications had been received from over three hundred thousand men desirous of joining Roosevelt's volunteer force, of whom it was estimated that at least two hundred thousand were physically fit, double the number needed for four divisions. That a single private citizen, by "one blast upon his bugle horn" should have been able to call forth three hundred thousand volunteers, all over draft age, was a tremendous testimony to his power. If his offer had been accepted when it was first made, there would have been an American force on the field in France long before one actually arrived there. It was widely believed, among men of intelligence and insight, not only in America but in Great Britain and France, that the arrival of such a force, under the command of a man known, admired, and loved the world over, would have been a splendid reinforcement to the Allied morale and a sudden blow to the German confidence. But the Administration would not have it so.
I shall never forget one evening with Theodore Roosevelt on a speaking tour which he was making through the South in 1912. There came to our private car for dinner Senator Clarke of Arkansas and Jack Greenway, young giant of football fame and experience with the Rough Riders in Cuba. After dinner, Jack, who like many giants, is one of the most diffident men alive, said hesitatingly:
"Colonel, I've long wanted to ask you something."
"Go right ahead," said T. R., "what is it?"
"Well, Colonel," said Jack, "I've always believed that it was your ambition to die on the field of battle."
T. R. brought his hand down on the table with a crash that must have hurt the wood.
"By Jove," said he, "how did you know that?"
"Well, Colonel," said Jack, "do you remember that day in Cuba, when you and I were going along a trail and came upon ____ [one of the regiment] propped against a tree, shot through the abdomen? It was evident that he was done for. But instead of commiserating him, you grabbed his hand and said something like this, 'Well, old man, isn't this splendid!' Ever since then I've been sure you would be glad to die in battle yourself."
T. R.'s face sobered a little.
"You're right, Jack," he said. "I would."
The end of Theodore Roosevelt's life seemed to come to him not in action but in quietness. But the truth was other than that. For it, let us turn again to Browning's lines:
I was ever a fighter, so--one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,
And bade me creep past.
On the fifth of January in 1919, after sixty years of life, full of unwearied fighting against evil and injustice and falseness, he "fell on sleep." The end came peacefully in the night hours at Sagamore Hill. But until he laid him down that night, the fight he waged had known no relaxation. Nine months before he had expected death, when a serious mastoid operation had drained his vital forces. Then his one thought had been, not for himself, but for his sons to whom had been given the precious privilege, denied to him, of taking part in their country's and the world's great fight for righteousness. His sister, Mrs. Corinne Douglas Robinson, tells how in those shadowy hours he beckoned her to him and in the frailest of whispers said, "I'm glad it's I that lie here and that my boys are in the fight over there."
His last, best fight was worthy of all the rest. With voice and pen he roused the minds and the hearts of his countrymen to their high mission in defense of human rights. It was not given to him to fall on the field of battle. But he went down with his face to the forces of evil with which he had never sought a truce.
The reader who is primarily interested in the career and personality of Roosevelt would do well to begin with his own volume, "Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography". But it was written in 1912, before the great campaign which produced the Progressive party.
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