Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders Corps and the Great War

Saturday, April 1, AD 2017

I make no pretense to accuracy. I shall be quite content if the sensibilities of no one are wounded by anything I may reduce to type.

Recollections of Thomas R. Marshall:  A Hoosier Salad (1925)

 

 

Something for the weekend:  Onward Christian Soldiers by Mahalia Jackson.  This stirring hymn was the campaign song of the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and was the unofficial anthem of the Rough Riders Corps that Major General Theodore Roosevelt led in the Great War.  We are almost a century away from the day when the US intervened in that War, and it is a good time to look at the controversial role that our 26th President played in that conflict.

In March of 1917 Congress passed a bill allowing Roosevelt to raise four divisions of volunteers, similar in nature to the Rough Rider regiment he raised and led in the Spanish American War.  It is said that President Wilson opposed this move.  There was certainly no love lost between Wilson and Roosevelt, Roosevelt having been the harshest critic of Wilson.  However, the stroke that killed President Wilson on April 1, 1917 rendered any such opposition moot, except to historians or writers of alternate history.  Vice President Thomas R. Marshall who now became President had no personal animosity towards Roosevelt, rather the reverse, and after his call for a declaration of war on Germany appeared at the White House with Roosevelt and former President Taft, the three men urging that now there were no Republicans and no Democrats, but only Americans united for victory.  After this there was no way that Marshall could probably have kept Roosevelt out of the War if he had wanted to, and he did not attempt to do so.

One other man could have stopped Roosevelt, however, if he had wished to, the commander appointed by President Marshall to lead the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  General John J.Pershing was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt who he had served with at the battle of San Juan Hill when Pershing was a thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant, and whose career Roosevelt had jump started when he was President by promoting him from Captain to Brigadier General, over the heads of 835 officers more senior to Pershing.  Pershing had every reason to be grateful to Roosevelt, and he was, but he was also concerned with a military amateur commanding a corps in the American Expeditionary Forces that he was to lead onto the deadly battlefields of France.  Going to visit Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, he was quickly relieved by their talk, which he discussed in his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, My Experiences in the World War:  

“President  Roosevelt demonstrated that he had been keeping up with military developments in the Great War and was intrigued with the coordination of artillery and infantry with the newfangled air power and tanks.  He told me that he was willing to serve as a private in the force he was raising, and that as far as he was concerned no man would have a commission for any officer rank in the Rough Riders without my permission.  Touched by his self-less patriotism, I suggested that he serve as second in command of the Rough Riders with General Adelbert Cronkhite, currently in command of artillery in the Canal Zone, appointed as commander.  A worried frown passed over his face:  “The Rough Riders are not going to spend the War guarding the Canal Zone are they?”  I laughed.  “No Mr. President, I will need the best troops available with me on the Western Front, and, as was the case in Cuba, I suspect the Rough Riders in this War will be second to none.”  We shook hands and parted, still friends.”

Roosevelt made it known that he was seeking men for the Rough Riders with this advertisement he placed in all major newspapers.

Rough Riders are being recruited by Theodore Roosevelt for service in France.  Roosevelt expects that he and his Rough Riders will be constantly in the forefront of the fighting and their casualties will likely be extreme.  Only fighters with courage need apply.   Regional recruiting offices are being established at the following locations:

Roosevelt’s recruiters were quickly besieged by endless lines of volunteers.  Estimates are that some three million men filled out applications for the 100,000 slots in the four divisions of the Rough Rdiers.  Roosevelt, as with his original Rough Riders, favored men from dangerous out door occupations, men with prior military experience, athletes, and those from unusual backgrounds, like the troupe of circus clowns he allowed to enlist as a group.  Cowboys with nothing in this world except the shirts on their backs, as in the original Rough Riders, rubbed shoulders with the scions of families of great wealth.  Roosevelt made it clear that no man without prior military experience would be commissioned in the Rough Riders, and all other commissions would be earned in battle in France.  Regular Army officers looked askance at all this and referred to the Rough Riders as Teddy’s Wild West Show and by less printable terms.  Pershing assigned a number of junior officers to the Rough Riders to help bring order out of chaos, giving them the temporary rank of full Colonel.  Among them were Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.

As in the original Rough Riders, Latinos and Indians from the West served.  A group of black regular officers, headed by Colonel Charles Young, wrote a letter to Roosevelt requesting to serve in the Rough Riders.  Although not wholly free from the racial prejudice of his day, Roosevelt got the approval of Pershing for these officers to serve on detached status with the Rough Riders, and enlisted two black regiments to serve in one of his divisions.  When a group of white Rough Rider officers protested this decision, Roosevelt had the complaining officers immediately cashiered from the Rough Riders.

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4 Responses to Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders Corps and the Great War

Theodore Roosevelt and His Four Divisions

Monday, March 27, AD 2017

 

 

In 1917 a century ago Theodore Roosevelt was 58 years old.  He was not in the best of health and he had put on a fair amount of weight since his “crowded hour” leading the charge up Kettle Hill in the Spanish American War.  Nonetheless, he was eager once again to fight for the Stars and Stripes.  An advocate of preparedness, he had assembled a staff and plans to recreate his Rough Riders on a corps level to fight in France, and over a 100,000 men had indicated their willingness to join this force.  Congress in March of 1917 authorized him to raise such a force of volunteers of up to four divisions.  In May of 1917 President Wilson indicated that no such force of volunteers would be accepted by the Army, Wilson not wanting to be held responsible if the beloved ex-President died fighting.  Roosevelt was crushed and never forgave Wilson, who he despised in any case.  He kept busy making speeches in support of the War and selling war bonds, but it was not the same as fighting himself.  On April 1 we will explore the “what if” had Wilson allowed Roosevelt to take his new Rough Riders into battle.

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Trump and Teddy?

Tuesday, March 21, AD 2017

Matter! Matter! Why, everybody’s gone crazy! What is the matter with all of you? Here’s this convention going headlong for Roosevelt for Vice President. Don’t any of you realize that there’s only one life between that madman and the Presidency? Platt and Quay are no better than idiots! What harm can he do as Governor of New York compared to the damage he will do as President if McKinley should die?

Ohio Senator Mark Hanna at the Republican Convention of 1900

I have been rolling around in my brain the thought that as President Donald Trump reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt.  At first glance the two New Yorkers seem entirely dissimilar with Roosevelt the scholar turned politician who led the charge up San Juan Hill having little in common with the blue collar billionaire.  However, in their shared endless energy, their desire to attack intractable problems, their appeal to restoring America greatness, their willingness to make enemies of the powers that be, etc. they do strike me as quite similar and unlike most other Presidents. Stephen Beale at The American Conservative makes the case for Trump being in the same mold as The Colonel:

Roosevelt—a career politician who sought military service, an avid outdoorsman who hunted elephants and explored the Amazon, and an intellectually curious historian who dabbled in anthropology and zoology—might seem an unlikely model for Trump.

But in terms of policy, the parallels are legion.  

On trade, Roosevelt was—like most Republicans then and Trump now—a proud protectionist. “Thank God I am not a free-trader. In this country pernicious indulgence in the doctrine of free trade seems inevitably to produce a fatty degeneration of the moral fibre,” Roosevelt wrote in an 1895 letter to his friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.

Roosevelt was also a committed immigration restrictionist. In 1903, after radical socialists had bombed Haymarket Square in Chicago and assassinated his predecessor, Roosevelt signed into law a ban on anarchists—including those who professed radical political views, even if they didn’t have any actual terrorist affiliation. Four years later, another law excluded “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons,” prostitutes, those with certain medical conditions, such as epileptics, and polygamists, or even those who believed in polygamy. Notably this last provision was wielded against Muslim immigrants.  

Roosevelt famously railed against “hyphenated Americanism” and declared that America was not a “mosaic of nationalities.” In language that rings as distinctly Trumpian today, Roosevelt demanded total allegiance and nothing else from American citizens, native and naturalized alike: “A square deal for all Americans means relentless attack on all men in this country who are not straight-out Americans and nothing else.”

Roosevelt built up the military, specifically the Navy, which he showed off to the world as the “Great White Fleet.” Both presidents have a defining public works project. For Trump, it’s the border wall. For Roosevelt, it was the Panama Canal. As with Trump, Roosevelt ruffled international feathers with his proposal, even sparking the secession of Panama from Columbia.

As an undergraduate student at Harvard, Roosevelt had fallen under the influence of Hegelian philosophy, which holds to an evolutionary view of history. He came to believe that the old view of a limited government entrusted with the protection of natural rights was outmoded. Instead, Roosevelt championed an exalted view of executive power that was limited only by what the Constitution explicitly said it could not do. As he put it in his autobiography:

I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the Nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it. My belief was that it was not only his right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the Nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws. Under this interpretation of executive power I did and caused to be done many things not previously done by the President and the heads of departments.

More than anyone since Lincoln, Roosevelt expanded executive power, laying the foundations for the modern presidency. He sought to govern by executive order as much as possible, issuing a whopping 1,081 orders—nearly six times as many as his predecessor and still the fourth highest overall in the history of the U.S. presidency. (His cousin FDR holds the record at 3,721. Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge rank second and third at 1,803, and 1,203, respectively.)

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One Response to Trump and Teddy?

  • TR was until 1905 restrained by his need to get elected in hi shown right, and even afterwards by the power of the Republican party. Not until 1912 did he let ‘er rip.The victor in that election enlarged the role of the Presidency far beyond what TR had. Trump is 70 years old and all he needs to win re-election is to hold on to his base.

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Philander Knox

Tuesday, March 14, AD 2017

“I think, it would be better to keep your action free from any taint of legality.”

Attorney General Philander Knox’ response when President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to craft a legal defense for American actions which led to the independence of Panama and the treaty between Panama and the United States for the construction of the Panama Canal.  Hurrah for Theodore Roosevelt, the father of Panamanian independence and the Panama Canal!

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Henry Adams

Friday, February 17, AD 2017

 

 

 

Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts, and all Roosevelt’s friends know that his restless and combative energy was more than abnormal. Roosevelt, more than any other man living within the range of notoriety, showed the singular primitive quality that belongs to ultimate matter,—the quality that mediæval theology assigned to God,—he was pure act.

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1918)

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Theodore Roosevelt and The Curse of Meroz

Monday, January 23, AD 2017

 

 

Theodore Roosevelt had long been a harsh critic of the neutrality policy of the Wilson administration.  On January 29, 1917 he gave a memorable response to the January 22, 1917 speech to the Senate of President Wilson in which Wilson called for Peace Without Victory:

“President Wilson has announced himself in favor of peace without victory, and now he has declared himself against universal service-that is against all efficient preparedness by the United States.

Peace without victory is the natural ideal of the man too proud to fight.

When fear of the German submarine next moves President Wilson to declare for “peace without victory” between the tortured Belgians and their cruel oppressors and task masters;  when such fear next moves him to utter the shameful untruth that each side is fighting for the same things, and to declare for neutrality between wrong and right;  let him think of the prophetess Deborah who, when Sisera mightily oppressed the children of Israel with his chariots of iron, and when the people of Meroz stood neutral between the oppressed and their oppressors, sang of them:

“Curse ye Meroz, sang the angel of the  Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord against the wrongdoings of the mighty.”” 

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7 Responses to Theodore Roosevelt and The Curse of Meroz

  • Were not the alleged atrocities the Germans perpetuated on the Belgians in WWI part of a propaganda campaign. Were they ficticious, or at least exaggerated? And what was the object of WW I, anyway? WW II I can understand; Hitler wanted to take over the world. But WW I, I can see what happened, but not why. It seems everyone involved used it as an excuse for some strategic advantage of their own.

  • “Were they ficticious, or at least exaggerated?”

    They were real enough, as the corpses of some six thousand Belgian civilians, men, women and children, slaughtered in reprisals by the German Army at the beginning of the War could attest.

    http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/memoryofwar/the-rape-of-belgium-revisited/

  • Thanks for the clarification. What about the purpose of the war, or goal? never could figure it out.

  • Much ink and cyberspace has been spent on WWI.
    Granted that the Germans did not assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, I still blame Germany. The German nation was ruled by Lutheran Prussians and wanted an empire. Kulturkampf and their treatment of Poles were both rotten.

  • The purposes of the War varied among the belligerents:

    Great Britain-Free Belgium. Prevent Germany from dominating Europe.

    France-Get back Alsace-Lorraine. Prevent Germany from dominating Europe.

    Italy-Prevent Germany from dominating Europe. Get Tyrolia from Austria-Hungary.

    Serbia-Survival.

    Russia-Protect Serbia. Stop Germany and Austria Hungary from dominating Europe.

    Austria Hungary-Destroy Serbia. Dominate the Balkans.

    Germany-Hold onto territorial conquests. Become dominant power in Europe.

    USA-Defeat Germany. Build new international order to make another World War impossible.

  • To mr. McClary. The best way for Serbia to survive was NOT to provoke Austria-Hungary to go to war. But Serbia was a very aggressive state, with a large and active irredentist faction that wanted just that and who expected Russia too come to their aid. Their war aim was the establishment of a south slave state dominated by Serbia. In other words, they wanted to become in the Balkans what Prussia had become in the German-speaking lands.

  • “The best way for Serbia to survive was NOT to provoke Austria-Hungary to go to war. But Serbia was a very aggressive state, with a large and active irredentist faction that wanted just that and who expected Russia too come to their aid.”

    Correct, and elements in Austria had long pined for the destruction of Serbia and the domination of the Balkans by Austria. The Chief of Staff of the Austrian Army had recommended a pre-emptive war against Serbia some 13 times prior to 1914. The first lesson of history in the Balkans is that no one has clean hands.

One Response to Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt

Johnny Cash: Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 23, AD 2016

A reminder from the late, great Johnny Cash that we all have so much to thank God for when we sit down with our families this Thursday.  Perhaps we should also recall these words from Theodore Roosevelt in his final Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1908:

 

For the very reason that in material well-being we have thus abounded, we owe it to the Almighty to show equal progress in moral and spiritual things. With a nation, as with the individuals who make up a nation, material well-being is an indispensable foundation. But the foundation avails nothing by itself. That life is wasted, and worse than wasted, which is spent in piling, heap upon heap, those things which minister merely to the pleasure of the body and to the power that rests only on wealth. Upon material well-being as a foundation must be raised the structure of the lofty life of the spirit, if this Nation is properly to fulfil its great mission and to accomplish all that we so ardently hope and desire. The things of the body are good; the things of the intellect better; the best of all are the things of the soul; for, in the nation as in the individual, in the long run it is character that counts. Let us, therefore, as a people set our faces resolutely against evil, and with broad charity, with kindliness and good-will toward all men, but with unflinching determination to smite down wrong, strive with all the strength that is given us for righteousness in public and in private life.

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One Response to Johnny Cash: Thanksgiving

  • I’m thankful for a load: Number Two son to be wed 3 December; Number Three son to be wed 29 July 2017; Number One son has another child coming April 2017; we have our health; most importantly we have our Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for the God-given grace to be not afflicted by whomever occupies the White House. “Put not your trust in princes.”
    .
    “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!”
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    When (now rarely) I hear a Johnny Cash sing what comes to mind is Sunday mornings strolling in pain through a hot southern town after a long drinking bout. Ouch.

Theodore Roosevelt Official Portrait

Thursday, October 27, AD 2016

The official portrait in the White House by John Singer Sargent is actually the second official portrait.  The first portrait was done by French painter Theobald Chartran.  Roosevelt despised it and hid it in a dark recess of the White House.  When his kids began to call the portrait “Mewing Cat” because their father appeared so harmless in it, he had the portrait destroyed.  John Singer Sargent had difficulty in getting Roosevelt to stay still long enough to pose.  Sargent discussed the portrait when Roosevelt was going up a staircase.  Irritated Roosevelt immediately struck a pose.  Sargent saw the potential immediately, and was able to get the peripatetic president to stand still for half an hour a day in the same pose, although the half hour was often interrupted by aides and secretaries.

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, October 20, AD 2016

 

Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood—the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

Theodore Roosevelt, January 10, 1917

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3 Responses to Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt

  • Hillary

    Courage………………..nope
    Honor…………………… fail
    Sincerity……………….. below average
    Justice and Truth…… missing
    Hardihood………………YES.
    Any two faced liar who has mislead the public and “boldly” stand in front of that same public to paint a self portrait of integrity has crawled to a level of hardihood.

    What is sickening is that Trump scores slightly higher… slightly.

    In trying to do my due diligence as a citizen of these United States I tremble at the thought of voting for Trump. Hillary never of course, but to vote for Donald is a version of the Hail Mary pass in football.

    If he follows up on his Supreme Court appointments and de-funding PP, then the pass was received in the end zone.

    For that possibility I will cast my vote.
    I still feel that not casting a vote is a vote for madame baby slayer.

    God help us.

  • Philip: You mean Madame Ben Ghazi , betrayer of the American people, sovereign citizen of a godless world government and Judas herself.

  • Yes Mary De Voe…. that’s the one.

    Her nervous faux smile can only mask the underbelly of a woman which is corruption itself. Her hubris is as offensive as her statement that she was left horrified by the image of the toddler on the sidewalk, blood running down into his face. Yet she is baffled by the Deplorables who stand in defense of the unborn who are ripped apart in the wombs of frightened mother’s. That blood is just as red. That blood is just as real….but no sympathy for the “not protected by the Constitution” unborn.

    Hell will rejoice when Hillary makes it home.
    She is an ambassador, par excellence, for the inhabitants of the Lake of Fire.

    Pray for her conversion?
    Yes……I will.

2 Responses to Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt

  • Racist!
    .
    Misogynistic!
    .
    Xenophobic!
    .
    Homophobic!
    .
    Irredeemable!
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    Deplorable!
    .
    Keep deplorable my friends.

  • Milius mentions a second person “the Bear”….
    If you want to know who this guy is rent “Big Wednesday”. This is the only acceptable Hollywood Surfing movie, from a surfers perspective.
    Yes, Milius directed that movie, and now you know why Charlie don’t surf in “Apocalypse Now”.

2 Responses to Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Shakespeare

  • I am re-reading the new, Mark Lee Gardner, Rough Rides book because (I am a retired, useless drain on society) I wanted info to “judge” whether TR did his heroics (and he was very heroic in Cuba – he led from the front and was on horseback, “Little Texas,” or moving along the lines upright at all times in heavy small arms/arty fire while ordering his troops to not take unnecessary risks) because of political ambition or his drive to be a “man” as he saw it.
    .
    He and a great soldier, Leonard Wood (an MD who was awarded the MoH for actions in the Geronimo Campaign) recruited, organized, trained and equipped the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. His “volunteers” (cowboys, miners, lumberjacks, Ivy League football players, lawyers, et al) were at the forefront of the victorious fights around Santiago with the Army regulars.
    .
    I am convinced TR did it out of his life-long drive to be a “man.” I think his political ambition was a derivative of his drive to be a “man” as he defined the term.
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    IMO TR earned an MoH for Cuba, but was denied – political and Army jealousy(?). He finally, posthumously received it late in the 20th century.
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    TR chapter heading quote: “I put myself in the way of things happening, and they happened.”
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    “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again. … ” Hamlet, I, ii. Not to worry. America is in process of banning manhood from the public sphere.

  • You are now what I hope to be some day T.Shaw! My motto will them be: “I’m retired. Don’t ask me to do anything! And get off my lawn!”

Weasel Words and Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, August 24, AD 2016

quote-one-of-our-defects-as-a-nation-is-a-tendency-to-use-what-have-been-called-weasel-words-when-a-theodore-roosevelt-309883

 

 

 

The more I study Theodore Roosevelt, the more I appreciate the impact he had on this nation, both in large and small ways.  He brought several phrases, for example, into common usage in this country.  One of these is “weasel words”.  Roosevelt did not invent the phrase, he noted that he first heard it used in conversation in 1879, but when he used it the phrase quickly entered American popular usage.  Roosevelt’s most famous use of the phrase was on May 31, 1916 in a speech entitled Mr. Wilson’s Weasel Words in which he attacked Wilson’s call for “voluntary universal military training”, Roosevelt viewing such a plan as inadequate and calling for a draft.

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4 Responses to Weasel Words and Theodore Roosevelt

  • I like weasel words. Not euphemisms like “voluntary universal military training”, but words that temper the impact of a statement. On the internet we’re supposed to say “you’re wrong”. I’d rather say “I think you’re wrong”, or “you could be right, but I think you’re overlooking something…”. It’s about not being a jerk.

    I just had a chat with my brother-in-law about “The Democrat Party”. I was saying to him that there’s no point in antagonizing the listener before you even get to your point. Anyway, the virtue is in the middle, somewhere between cowardice and obnoxiousness.

  • Fair point, Pinky. The Internet could use more weasel words in your sense of the term.

    Don, have you read Morris’s trilogy? While I would take issue with a fair number of TR’s policies, there is no denying that he was an admirable “man in full.”

  • I have listened to the first two volumes as audio books Mike and I have the third volume in my library although I haven’t gotten around to it yet. The trilogy is a fine effort, but as we near the centennial of TR’s death he still lacks the magisterial bio his career demands.

    The various positions Roosevelt adopted during his life give something to inspire, or outrage, every part of the American political spectrum of today. One must keep in mind that his positions were often far more nuanced than the truncated versions floating around the internet.

    Roosevelt led life at the charge and I will always be an admirer of his. This quote by Democrat Thomas Marshall at the time of his death is a good summing up of the bold spirit and force of nature that was Roosevelt.

    “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
    —Vice President Thomas Marshall

  • Teddy Roosevelt is inspiration personified a manly man and a presidential paradigm. It will be noted that he was considered a “progressive” but I think only in an incipient manner that never developed into the distorted view of reality that currently goes by that appellation. If asked for my favorite quote of his, I will offer his rather humble assertion that “It is not having been in the dark house that matters but having come out”.

Theodore Roosevelt and Civilization VI

Monday, August 22, AD 2016

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

As faithful readers of this blog know, I like to play computer strategy games, almost always historical simulations.  I have written before, here and here, about the game Civilization VI which is being release on October 21 and  which I eagerly anticipate.    As in past incarnations of Civilization, each of the nations will have a leader.  Past leaders of the US in Civilization games have been George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  This time it is Theodore Roosevelt.  As a fan of Colonel Roosevelt I like the choice, but what have they done to Teddy! His girth is more reminiscent of his successor Taft instead of Roosevelt! 

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TR and Spelling Reform

Saturday, February 6, AD 2016

TRSpelling

I suppose that few people would disagree that the spelling of words in the English language is a mess.  Trying to impose rules, with myriads of exceptions, on a language that grew with no consensus as to spelling, has bedeviled generations of school children and foreigners attempting to learn the language alike.

Whenever a problem existed, Teddy Roosevelt optimistically assumed that a solution could be found.  Thus in 1906 as President he became a champion of what he called spelling reform, backing the efforts of the organization called The Simplified Spelling Board, founded early in 1906, which was funded by Andrew Carnegie.

On August 27, 1906 Roosevelt wrote to the head of the US Printing Office:

Oyster Bay, August 27, 1906

To Charles Arthur Stillings

My dear Mr. Stillings:

I enclose herewith copies of certain circulars of the Simplified Spelling Board, which can be obtained free from the Board at No. 1 Madison Avenue, New York City. Please hereafter direct that in all Government publications of the executive departments the three hundred words enumerated in Circular No. 5 shall be spelled as therein set forth. If anyone asks the reason for the action, refer him to Circulars 3, 4 and 6 as issued by the Spelling Board. Most of the critcism of the proposed step is evidently made in entire ignorance of what the step is, no less than in entire ignorance of the very moderate and common-sense views as to the purposes to be cahieved, which views as so excellently set forth in the circulars to which I have referred. There is not the slightest intention to do anything revolutionary or initiate any far-reaching policy. The purpose simply is for the Government, instead of lagging behind popular sentiment, to advance abreast of it and at the same time abreast of the views of the ablest and most practical educators of our time as well as the most profound scholars—men of the stamp of Professor Lounsbury. If the slighest changes in the spelling of the three hundred words proposed wholly or partially meet popular approval, then the changes will become permanent without any reference to what officials or individual private citizens may feel; if they do not ultimately meet with popular approval they will be dropt, and that is all there is about it. They represent nothing in the world but a very slight extension of the unconscious movement which has made agricultural implement makers write “plow” instead of “plough”; which has made most Americans write “honor” without the somewhat absurd, superfluous “u”; and which is even now making people write “program” without the “me”—just as all people who speak English now write “bat,” “set,” “dim,” “sum,” and “fish” instead of the Elizabethan “batte,” “sette,” “dimme,” “summe,” and “fysshe”; which makes us write “public,” “almanac,” “era,” “fantasy,” and “wagon,” instead of the “publick,” “almanack,” “aera,” “phantasy,” and “waggon” of our great-grandfathers. It is not an attack of the language of Shakespeare and Milton, because it is in some instances a going back to the forms they used, and in others merely the extension of changes which, as regards other words, have taken place since their time. It is not an attempt to do anything far-reaching or sudden or violent; or indeed anything very great at all. It is merely an attempt to cast what sleight weight can properly be cast on the side of the popular forces which are endeavoring to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

Go here for a list of words whose spelling he wished to simplify.

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5 Responses to TR and Spelling Reform

  • Well, TR didn’t get his wish on ever word he wanted changed, but I am grateful that the useless “u” hs been dropped from “labor” and “honor”, as they are spelled in American English as they are spelled in Latin.

    English is the most bizarre of Western languages. Granted, I am speaking as an amateur here, but….a language that began as an offshoot of German (as did Swedish and Dutch), then having countless thousands of Latin words grafted on due to the Norman invasion of England in 1066 (how else does “machine” have a long “e” sound for the “i” and a silent “e” at the end?) along with efforts by Noah Webster and Andrew Carnegie to simplify spelling of English words (these attempts annoy Mother England, but who cares)….how can it be anything else but crazy? Then throw in slang, which differs from region to region just in the USA….

    English has no official governing body that dictates what is and what is not proper English. There exists a Royal Spanish Academy, which acts as a standard setter for proper “castellano” (the Spanish spoken in Latin America, the US and Castille in Spain, a nation with four main languages). French and Portugese also have such governing bodies. Not English, though. Because there is no “governing authoriity”, English has a built in flexibility to change and to easily absorb words from other langages that do not fit at all with any rule of English pronunciation.

    Teenagers, government, the legal profession and the business world mangle English. Teens invent their own slang, which goes “passe” quickly. Government and law…..ask a lawyer. I have to write Notes to the Financial Statements for our Annual Statement and I get totally off the wall garbage that would cause my Catholic school teachers to bring in a yardstick and smack the daylights out of the people who insist I write what they tell me.
    The business world turns “transition” into a verb…..”We will tansition responsibilities….” “speak to it”….blah, blah, blah…and there is no end in sight.

  • If people were taught proper Orton Gillingham phonics and the applicable spelling rules (and had some familiarity with the history of the language), there would not be a proplem or fuss about how words are spelled.

  • Interesting that some of these took root, like dropping the English “u,” but others did not. Shame he wanted to get rid of Latin traces such as the “oe” from ecumenism and “ae’ from ether, etc.

    But he was a statist, so the whole top-down thing I suppose appealed to his progressivist instinct. He’d probably have loved the whole metric push that happened when I was a kid in the 70s, that fortunately sputtered out.

  • There has been a notable tendency over the last half-century for the spelling of words to influence the pronunciation, rather than vice versa; a sort of spelling reform, if you will.

    For example, when I was growing up, “falcon” was pronounced “fawcon” (with a long “a” as in “saw”) and “golf” was pronounced “gawf” (again, long a) Now, the “l” is usually sounded. Again, “conduit” was pronounced “kundit” (which I find rather more euphonious, as are most of the older pronunciations)

    Even on the BBC, one hears” parl-i-a-ment”; 50 years ago, it was “parlement. “ (parliamentum was a law Latin form of French parelement)

    “Mahem” is another, although English lawyers still use the old pronunciation, “maim.” Scots lawyers use the more sonorous term, “demembration.”

    The English phonetic pronunciation of Scottish surnames and place names is a great source of innocent amusement to the inhabitants of the northern part of the island: “Milngavie” (pronounced “Mul-guy”), “Dalziel” (pronounced “Day-ell”), “Menzies” (“Ming-es”),“Strathaven” (“Straven”) – Even “Edinburgh” (“Edin-borough,” as in “the burgh council”)

  • Of course, there is another problem: the disparity between American and British spelling. If we fix the first we should fix the other as well.
    And how about those Dvorak keyboards?

Santa Roosevelt

Thursday, December 24, AD 2015

Santa Roosevelt

Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.

Thomas R. Marshall, Vice President of the United States, on hearing of the death of Theodore Roosevelt

One of his worst enemies once said about Theodore Roosevelt that a man would have to hate him a lot not to like him a little.  It was hard not to admire Roosevelt for his courage, his enthusiasm and his obvious good will.  That last aspect of his character is illustrated by the fact that for many years he would go to Cove School at Oyster Bay dressed as Santa Claus, talk to the kids, and give them presents he had purchased out of his own pocket.  When he did it in 1898, after achieving renown leading his Rough Riders in Cuba, the little boys at the school mobbed their Santa hero! 

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4 Responses to Santa Roosevelt

  • Theodore Roosevelt was a real man and a real President. We have not had that for 7 years now.

  • In Cuba, the brigaded regular army officers advised TR to leave his horse and lead his dismounted Rough Riders on foot up San Juan Hill. He rode.
    .
    He overcame asthma and a sickly childhood who, through will-power, made of himself a heroic figure of a man.
    .
    As my Jewish friends would say, “He was a mensch.”

    I said the following when my father passed and it applies to TR. From Hamlet, “He was a man. Take him for all and all. I shall not look upon his like again.

    .
    “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

  • Can you imagine our current president doing something so big-hearted?
    Maybe once, just for the PR, but I cannot imagine Obama keeping up a
    charitable, generous tradition like this for decades, as TR did.
    .
    The unlikeliness of Obama doing anything so genuine and warm only
    underscores the smallness, the shabbiness of the little man we have for
    president these days.

  • The current White House occupant is doing what he does each December end…playing golf in Hawaii. He is as much an elitist as there has ever been in the White House.