In 2014, the events surrounding ISIS, an abbreviation for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, dominated the news. Unraveling and fully explaining the events in Iraq and Syria would take in-depth analysis and study that is definitely beyond the scope of this blog. However, when we hear of huge world shaping stories like this, we can’t help but think of TR. Googling “Theodore Roosevelt and ISIS” is by no means a comprehensive way to answer the hypothetical question of how TR would have responded in this situation, but Google results do show how others have looked at the issues. The results also provide a glimpse into how TR is represented currently in the discussion of current events.
The first hit that comes up is an October 7, 2014, entry from the Campfire Blog with the headline “Teddy Roosevelt’s 1917 exhortation on how to treat prisoners contrasts to ISIS approach.” A link to Bill Federer’s American Minute takes visitors to a page that includes the 1917 forward written by President Wilson in pocket Bibles given to American soldiers, as well as a message TR wrote for the New York Bible Society that was inscribed in a New Testament and Book of Psalms given to WWI soldiers. TR’s message concludes with “May the God of justice and mercy have you in His keeping.” In this post, TR doesn’t emerge as the valiant Rough Rider or the figure who vehemently agreed with the importance of fighting during WWI. Instead TR is reconnected to the themes of faith, belief, and humanity in the midst of conflict.
“What would Theodore Roosevelt do in Syria?” A September 8, 2013, article from the Washington Examiner poses this question and starts with the following paragraph, “Advocates of war against Syria have taken Theodore Roosevelt’s advice and turned it upside down. They believe that in confronting Bashar Assad, the United States should speak loudly and carry a tiny stick.” TR is used as a figure to set up the tone of the article. A small picture to the left side of the text shows TR in full hand gesture mode, as if he is stridently voicing his opinions to an audience. The caption reads: “Theodore Roosevelt famously said, ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’” In discussing ISIS, the popular WWI image of TR passionately communicating his thoughts on world politics is easily used.
"Whether we will or not, we as a nation front a great destiny"--
President Roosevelt, South Lawrence, Mass. October 1902.
From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.
The next relevant result takes me to a piece of writing called “Americans Beheaded, and We do … What?” This blog post was written on August 25, 2014. Perhaps the greatest appeal of blogs is how easily they provide a forum for longer form communication, in contrast to Twitter and Facebook. The writer of “Americans Beheaded” uses the blog genre to sit up a clear contrast between TR and Barack Obama. TR’s time as a cattle rancher and deputy sheriff in the Dakota Territory is mentioned as a key part of this biography. Space is also given to discussing the forms of war technology (stealth aircraft, drones) that TR could not have predicted. This post further reaffirms the importance of TR’s image in discussing ISIS.
Theodore Roosevelt’s history and life remain relevant in the discussion of current events. The story of TR can be shaped and constructed to support a variety of opinions. He was a complex man who lived with great enthusiasm and connection to the world around him.