The Bloodlust of Teddy Roosevelt

The New York Sunday Times on November 28, 2010 published noted historian Geoffrey C. Ward’s review of a biography of President Theodore Roosevelt [TR]. His review reveals something distressing about the way some of our scholars gloss over our iconic figures and write history as the U.S. fights multiple wars. A popular war hero, President for seven years, a prominent international figure [awarded the Nobel Peace Prize], arguably the man who built the U.S. overseas empire, TR’s brash aggressiveness has long made him Mount Rushmore in size and a favorite of school texts. He is always listed among our best and most important leaders.

At one point Ward refers to Roosevelt having “a bloodlust impossible to excuse.” First a fact: In and out of the White House TR wielded enormous power at home and across the globe, and at the moment the U.S. rushed onto the world scene. Question: does not a bloodlust from this high a global perch have huge consequences? Ward simply mentions TR’s bloodlust and then hurries on.

TR was an energetic, impetuous, rarely contained figure. What about his bloodlust? Did he open his heart to war and violence? In 1897 TR wrote a friend “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one” — and carried around a list of six target nations on three continents. The next year the U.S. declared war on Spain, and TR at forty rushed to serve — and did serve heroically as a Rough Rider. Years later he regretted he had not been “seriously wounded in Cuba in some striking and disfiguring way.”

In what ways did TR’s bloodlust impact the world stage? Reviewer Ward does not say, but TR does. “All the great masterful races have been fighting races,” he claimed. To fellow Anglo-Saxons he said, “It is wholly impossible to avoid conflicts with the weaker races,” and added, “The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages.” He urged Anglo Saxon men to embrace war as a form of “spiritual renewal” that would prevent “race suicide” and stimulate “a clear instinct for racial selfishness.” TR as a statesman embraced war as inevitable, justifiable, and politically useful. As an historian TR called “heroic” shocking U.S. Army massacres of innocent Indian villagers. He believed “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” and promoted the genocide of Native Americans.

President during a time when a hundred African Americans were killed by brutal lynch mobs each year, TR said he opposed lynching. He also spoke to Black audiences about lynching and announced the “rapists and criminals” among them “did more harm to their race than any white man can possibly do them.”

During his White House years, TR boasted, “not a shot was fired at any soldier of a hostile nation by any American soldier or sailor.” But when Filipinos demanded the right of self-determination, he ordered a U.S. Army occupation of the Philippines that continued throughout his presidency and beyond . . . and took hundreds of thousands of civilian lives.

During World War I TR’s bloodlust was still kicking. At 60 he rushed to join the Army so he could die gloriously for his country, but was turned down. But when his son Archie was wounded overseas TR and his family raised a toast. TR died two years later peacefully in his bed.

Roosevelt’s bloodlust carried a strong racial bias, a flawed memory, and lived deep in his soul. Like him it became a part of American policy. Confining it to four words is not the whole truth. Nor is it useful as the U.S. fights three Middle Eastern wars and contemplates another invasion.

Americans need to understand our leaders, our history and how to avoid bloodlust-driven policies.

William Loren Katz, author of forty books on American history, is a visiting scholar at New York University. His website is: williamlkatzl.com

Limited Time Special Offer!
Get CounterPunch Print Edition By Email for Only $25 a Year!

More articles by:

William Loren Katz is the author of 40 books on African American history, and has been associated with New York University as an instructor and Scholar in Residence since 1973. His website is www.williamlkatz.com. Read an interview with Katz about his life teaching and writing history.

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South