The Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #24: Becoming Teddy Roosevelt with Andrew Vietze

by Brett on June 7, 2010 · 15 comments

in Podcast

Welcome back to another episode of The Art of Manliness podcast! In this week’s edition we talk to Andrew Vietze, author of the book Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President. Andrew’s book focuses on a New Englander named Bill Sewell who served as TR’s wilderness guide when Roosevelt was a young man. The relationship Sewell and Roosevelt formed had a profound impact on TR and may have even helped direct him to a career in politics. Through the biography of Bill Sewell, we get an intimate look at the formation of TR’s larger than life character.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben R June 8, 2010 at 12:25 am

I always thought Teddy’s need to kill everything was his most juvenile and chauvinistic quality. I wish he was a little more like John Muir in his interaction with wild life. Despite that I still consider TR “The Great One.” Look forward to listening to this podcast.

2 pete B June 8, 2010 at 1:54 am

Killing was/is as natural as living. In today’s alienated society, most don’t understand that something has to die, in order to privide that Big Mac that the previous simpleton prob eats to excess. John Muir was a flake, compared to TR.john Muir was the “Al Gore” of his age.F*ck John Muir, resectfully.

3 Matt M. June 8, 2010 at 6:54 am

That’s a fine interview with an author who is the real deal: Registered Maine Guide, park ranger, and professional, award-winning writer. I’ve had the pleasure of reading his book, “Becoming Teddy Roosevelt.” It’s very well written, meticulously researched, and it’s one heck of a read, too. Not a dull moment in it–this fellow can write. Anyone interested in TR should add this book to his/her stack in order to gain a fuller understanding of the dynamic TR.

4 Ray Crego June 8, 2010 at 7:20 am

Wow, the timing on this is awesome since I am currently reading Edmund Morris’s “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt”.

5 David Morrison June 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

I listened to the podcast and found the whole throated enthusiasm for TR a little bit out of balance. While I admire Roosevelt and feel grateful for his work in conservation and his belief in working and being outside, I think it’s also important to remember that he may have been one of most racist and prejudiced presidents we have ever had (which in itself something of an achievement).

While I understand the notion of appreciating past figures in the context of their times, there is a good deal of evidence that Roosevelt’s prejudices blinded his policy actions and led to some disastrous decisions. James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys has researched and written a book called The Imperial Cruise which documented a 1905 expedition Roosevelt sent into Asia through which, among other things, he made secret agreements and promises to Japan that, according to Bradley’s thesis, directly lead to the War in the Pacific less than forty years later.

“Theodore Roosevelt had been enthusiastic about American expansion in Asia, declaring, ‘Our future history will be more determined by our position on the Pacific facing China than by our position on the Atlantic facing Europe.’ Teddy was confident that American power would spread across Asia just as it had on the North American continent. In his childhood, Americans had conquered the West by eradicating those who had stood in the way and linking forts together, which then grew into towns and cities. Now America was establishing its naval links in the Pacific with an eye toward civilizing Asia. Hawaii, annexed by the United States in 1898, had been the first step in that plan, and the Philippines was considered to be the launching pad to China.

Teddy had never been to Asia and knew little about Asians, but he was bully confident about his plans there. ‘I wish to see the United States the dominant power on the shores of the Pacific Ocean,’ he announced.

Theodore Roosevelt stands as one of America’s most important presidents and an unusually intelligent and brave man. His favorite maxim was “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” This book reveals that behind his Asian whispers that critical summer of 1905 was a very big stick — the bruises from which would catalyze World War II in the Pacific, the Chinese Communist Revolution, the Korean War, and an array of tensions that inform our lives today. The twentieth-century American experience in Asia would follow in the diplomatic wake first churned by Theodore Roosevelt.”

Among the things the thick book documents, with references to original sources and letters and press reports, were the handing over of Korea to the Japanese without the consent of the Koreans, the annexation of Hawaii without any input from native born Hawaiians, the water boarding and other other tortures of Filipinos who dared to contest the “benevolent” rule of the Americans, and a complete failure to recognize nationalism in any of these Asian nations with the exception of Japan which TR and others considered “honorary Aryans” since that company had advanced so far in technology.

In addition, importantly for the Art of Manliness, Bradley documents extensively how TR manufactured his “wild west” and manly images and remained so sensitive to his public image to the point where he kept a rough riders uniform in his closet, maintained by tailors, so he could trot it out for cameras when necessary and refused to let himself be photographed in tennis gear (though he loved to play tennis) out of concern the image would not be “manly” enough.

So while in some ways a great man, Teddy Roosevelt is hardly an example of manliness that I feel particularly called to emulate and I believe more people need to have a more complete picture of the man.

6 History Professor June 8, 2010 at 12:21 pm

David Morrison’s comment is breathtakingly ignorant. It is always amusing when someone reads a book like The Imperial Cruise and then thinks they now know the real story about history. It’s like the students I see in my classes who have read Howard Zinn and think they know exactly how things went down. However, history is a lot more complicated and nuanced than such biased authors make it out to be.

The Imperial Cruise is a bunch of heavily biased twaddle, driven by the author’s opinions, and tenuously supported with cherry-picked quotes and anecdotes. The sources used are flimsy and the research is shoddy; the book is not taken seriously by real historians. To those thinking of picking up the book, I would recommend reading the one star reviews (of which there is more of than any other of the star categories) on Amazon.

I hope David takes the time to read 5 or 6 more biographies of TR and several books about the time period before continuing to spread his ill-informed opinions around.

7 Ben R June 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Theodore Roosevelt had some pretty mixed views on race. I know his Asian relations weren’t the best, but domestically I thought he was alright. At least having the first African American over for dinner in the White House was a big symbolic step forward.

I also admire his progressive values when it came to social welfare programs and trust busting. He wielded the executive office with a lot of power and usually for good cause, especially when it came to the environment.

Plus he has the most badass stories. A man tried to kill him while campaigning. He was shot in the chest, but the bullet went through his thickly folded written speech and glasses case. He knew that if he wasn’t coughing blood he was okay. TR then plugged the wound with his handkerchief and then delivered a short speech before going to the hospital.

He knew how to deal with adversity and trying times. Having your wife and mother die on the same day in the same house would be quite a trying time in a life.

Plus how many presidents do you know of that have both a Nobel Peace Prize and Medal of Honor?

I think Teddy’s politics were mostly good and his presidency, in my view, represented the pinnacle of the GOP in the modern era and his creation of the Bull Moose party is what pushed the GOP into conservatism.

And despite his politics I think the fact of the matter is that Teddy is a larger than life character and represents one of the most interesting chapters in American History.

8 David Morrison June 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I find it interesting that “history professor” found it acceptable to attack my comment and Mr. Bradley’s work from anonymity.

Actually, I got The Imperial Cruise out of the library in these recessionary days and far from being a few “cherry picked” quotes, Bradley provides references to complete works and letters. Also, the information cited is not limited to just letters or just speeches or just other books. Bradley includes pictures, cartoons, lyrics from songs from the military and popular cultures of the time (a military song about water boarding, for example), all that amply support his points about how TR and broader American society saw Asia, Asians, Asian nations and the U.S. agenda in that part of the world.

When asked in an interview about his recounting of TR’s racial views The Imperial Cruise, (hnn.us/articles/121083.html) Bradley replied in part:

“From our point of view it’s as if these are distant theories, and maybe you could hold them. In our parlance we would say a person is choosing to be a racist or not. The word racist didn’t come into use until the 1930s. Theodore Roosevelt was not a racist, he subscribed to the racial theory that the editor of the New York Times did, that his entire cabinet did, that almost every educated person in the United States did. These were not some weird ideas off to the side. This was how the world worked. This is why Theodore Roosevelt explained the Philippines and Asia to America in terms of these racial theories. He was a politician trying to talk in the vernacular of the people.”

Bradley also documents TR’s efforts to hide the deals he was making overseas knowing full well that do do them openly would have brought him political objections and he thought both he and his policy were above objections.

Ben, it is certainly true that TR won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese war in 2006, but Bradley pointed out that is is highly doubtful that the prize committee knew that he was secretly fully on board with the Japanese side in those negations or that he was was privately letting Japanese leaders know that the Americans fully supported Japan’s take over of another nation (Korea). If the Pulitzer Prize committee ever gets around to revoking Walter Duranty”s prize for his cover up reporting of the Ukrainian Famine in the 1930′s the Nobel Peace Prize Committee will put an asterisk next to TR Nobel Prize.

As I noted before, I am open to the notion that there was more to TR than just rank bigotry, but I believe the truth about the man’s attitudes and what those attitudes led this country to do need to be known, particularly if people are considering TR as someone to uniformly admire.

9 David Morrison June 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I find it interesting that “history professor” chose to attack my comments and Mr. Bradley’s work behind a shield of anonymity. I would have thought forthrightness and a willingness to own ones opinions would have been a characteristic of a website devoted to manliness.

It is true that I didn’t buy The Imperial Cruise based on reviews. Because money and shelf space are both tight these days, I got my copy from the library and I would urge anyone here to do the same and make up their own minds.

Far from being a few “cherry picked” quotes, Bradley provides pictures, cartoons, the lyrics to songs, the texts of letters and other sources of information, all of which he footnotes so the reader can go look them up for him or herself if they like to substantiate his writing. When asked in an interview with George Mason University’s History News Network about his recounting of TR’s racial views, Bradley replied in part:

“From our point of view it’s as if these are distant theories, and maybe you could hold them. In our parlance we would say a person is choosing to be a racist or not. The word racist didn’t come into use until the 1930s. Theodore Roosevelt was not a racist, he subscribed to the racial theory that the editor of the New York Times did, that his entire cabinet did, that almost every educated person in the United States did. These were not some weird ideas off to the side. This was how the world worked. This is why Theodore Roosevelt explained the Philippines and Asia to America in terms of these racial theories. He was a politician trying to talk in the vernacular of the people.” (http://hnn.us/articles/121083.html).

Ben, it is true that TR won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the Russo-Japanese war in 1906, but Bradley writes that it was highly doubtful that the Nobel Prize committee knew how thoroughly Roosevelt took the Japanese side while being an “honest broker” or that he had privately communicated to the Japanese that the Americans would have no trouble with Japan taking over another sovereign nation (Korea). Maybe if the Pulitzer Prize Committee ever gets around to putting an asterisk beside Walter Duranty’s 1932 Pulitzer for his cover up reporting of the Ukrainian Famine, the Nobel Committee might put an asterisk beside TR’s name for his Nobel Peace Prize.

As I noted previously, I am open to the notion that there is more to TR than rank bigotry. But I don’t think noting that he was a product of his times absolves us of responsibility for having a full picture of him, the parts we might like and those we might not.

10 Kate McKay June 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I am a history professor myself (although not “the” history professor above). I have not read The Imperial Cruise so I can’t comment directly on it. It got a thumbs down from a couple of historian friends of mine and I had previously read the reviews and found them fairly off-putting. The author may have a legitimate thesis, but I don’t respect those who clearly go into their project with an axe to grind. It’s impossible to write history with zero bias, but it is possible to at least attempt even-handedness.

David, it does not make sense to on one hand say that TR was one of the most racist and prejudiced presidents we ever had and then to quote Bradley as saying his views were the same as everyone else. And it can hardly be said that TR was more racist than the presidents that owned slaves, and I would argue that Woodrow Wilson, a man who went gaga over the Birth of a Nation, and re-segregated the civil service was far more virulent in his racial views and is truly deserving of the “most racist” title. In some ways TR was more progressive than others of the time-inviting BTW to the White House and the defending the appointment of Minnie Cox. This is a good rundown of actions towards African-Americans, both bad and good:

http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/civil%20rights.htm#AfricanAmer

And of course, his views on Asians is a different arena. But he believed that all races could, through their hard work, attain an equal level with whites.

As far as being insecure about his manhood-as the podcast points out, this was typical of the men of the age. But he was no phony and his exploits out West as a cowboy were far from manufactured. It’s true that when he arrived in the Badlands he was cultured Easterner who had no idea what he was doing and was made fun of by other cowboys. But he dived right in-spending 12 hours a day in the saddle, working through sub zero temperatures, shoveling manure and tracking down horse thieves, and by the end he earned the locals respect. Anyone who has read extensively about his life cannot possibly come away with the idea that his manliness was manufactured-one cannot fake their way to that list of accomplishments.

11 David Morrison June 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Kay, thanks for the note. Bradley reported that TR actually spent much of the time when he was supposedly building up his ranches back East, but I don’t have the book here with me so I can’t cite the report or include the footnote and citation that went with it.

I don’t know that TR held the most objectionable views on race of any of Presidents, but his are certainly among the worst – and its a history which is largely unremembered and unreported.

It may very well have been that TR “believed that all races could, through their hard work, attain an equal level with whites” but that very attitude, that whites were naturally superior and that other races could learn and strive to be as good helps make Bradley’s point, in my opinion. Take that attitude and transplant it to foreign policy and its not surprise that TR looked so favorably on Japan, leaving the Japanese with the notion that they had a “Japanese Monroe Doctrine” that legitimized their imperial expansion in Asia. Bradley believed this attitude led indirectly to the war on the Pacific.

I acknowledge that Bradley’s book had a strong impact on me because it is a history that I was never taught and I went to some pretty good high schools and universities. Further much of what he recounts is dramatically sad. The Secretary of War William Howard Taft, the leader of the 1905 cruise, touring the allegedly pacified Philippines kept encountering brave civilian Filipinos who petitioned him for their country’s independence to which Taft essentially replied maybe, but not for at least 150 years when Filipinos could govern themselves. Imagine being on the receiving end of a comment like that, from an occupying power no less.

So I am really conflicted on TR. I find the general impression of him among Americans to be significantly sanitized and I find it difficult to reconcile how the US behaved in, for example, The Philippines with a president whose image we want or deserves to be on Mount Rushmore.

12 Shawn June 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm

“So while in some ways a great man, Teddy Roosevelt is hardly an example of manliness that I feel particularly called to emulate and I believe more people need to have a more complete picture of the man.”

I agree 100%. You put that very well.

TR was also rather ignorant and unfair towards the Native Americans in many respects; like many presidents before him, and some since. He surely had some qualities of leadership and personal resolve that I admire but I would never call him my role model.

13 David Morrthat the ison June 8, 2010 at 6:52 pm

From the conclusion of The Imperial Cruise. I think Bradley summed up some of the historical problems evaluating Roosevelt.

“As I began writing The Imperial Cruise, I realized that the Theodore Roosevelt most of us know is a character that Teddy had created and historians have accepted and passed on. As a best selling author from his early years, he had long experience in projecting imagery for public consumption. With his Ranchman and Rough Rider poses in photo studios, he created his own legend. In his diplomatic white vest. the warmonger masqueraded as a man of peace. Even his private correspondence to his children – called posterity letters – were self consciously written to enhance the historical legacy. After studying his life for twenty-seven years, the author Kathleen Dalton wrote in Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, “[t]thrown off the trail by their hero’s careful presentation of himself, too many writers have accepted at face value his explanation of his own behavior.

“Many books on Theodore Roosevelt mention his biases but often employ obscure coded phrases and euphemisms. Probably the best-known biography of is the Pulitzer Prize-honored The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. In his acknowledgments, Morris praises one author and one book:

‘To Carleton Putnam, a man I have never met I express gratitude and admiration for his Theodore Roosevelt: The Formative Years (Scribners, 1958), an essential source for students of Theodore Roosevelt’s youth. It is a tragedy of American biography that this grave, neglected masterpiece was never followed by other volumes.’

Carleton Putnam wrote another book, entitled Race and Reason: A Yankee View. The book’s genesis was Putnam’s letter to President Dwight Eisenhower protesting the recent integration of America’s public schools. Putnam lectured Eisenhower that the Black man was three thousand years behind the White man and that it was dangerous to allow the races to mix. Putnam told Eisenhower to heed the wisdom of a past president.

‘As Theodore Roosevelt wrote…..Teutonic and English blood is the source of American greatness: Our American Republic, with all its faults is, together with England, the fine flower of centuries of self-discipline and experience in free government by the English speaking branch of the white race.’”

14 Fixed Rate ISA June 12, 2010 at 2:05 am

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15 BuckeyeMark June 13, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I regret that the comment section on this podcast has turned into a forum to debate TR. is there a minority view that TR wasn’t as great as so many believe he was (is)? yes, and that debate belongs elsewhere.

this podcast is about one of the formative men in TR’s life, long before trips to Asia or the Presidency. it was extremely well done and is well worth your listen.

I for one hope they’ll be more TR coverage here, not less.

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