I have had a lot of discussions with people after the mini-series on PBS and I am amazed at the different perceptions / comments on how they felt Burn’s portrayed TR. A few comments have centered around the idea that Roosevelt was a “war monger” or “quick to decision”. Here is my rebuttal to both:
Dig deeper than the PBS series could.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick” was a preventative approach to war, not the reason for one. Roosevelt knew that having a strong military and showing the world that the United States was prepared to take action if attacked, meant that the potential enemies would think twice before doing so. They did – The United States was not involved in any major conflicts during Roosevelt’s Presidency. (We did support Panama in their quest for independence, but the U.S. was not directly named in the conflict) Additionally, Roosevelt was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with brokering peace in the Russo- Japanese War. That’s not very “war mongering” – it actually is the exact opposite.
As a leader in the battle of San Juan Heights, TR lost friends and many of his men, so he knew the direct cost of war. His position was peace, with an understanding that he would defend his countrymen if we were placed in a position to do so.
The idea that he was too quick in making a decision I would frame with an understanding of the man. Roosevelt was an extremely well read historian with a photographic memory. When he looked at a problem, he did so with a computer-like mind, sifting through history to assess other societies faced with similar circumstances. He then compared that to his current time, along with inputs from those around him. His decisions were quick in the sense that he didn’t dawdle, but to imply that being quick meant they were not well reasoned would frankly place the odds against him. Most of his decisions of the time are still embraced as laws and common sense we follow today. The Pure Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the National Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuges, National Monuments. Roosevelt made decisions as a leader looking to the future, based on the current needs and experiences and history of the past. His decisions continue today to be embraced, meaning he beat the odds -few of his ideas have been replaced with better ones. That’s why today’s politician’s want to be measured as “good as TR”