“How can I reason with an unread man?” – John Adams, second president of the United States of America.
On April 23, 1910, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt gave a speech at the Sorbonne. It is a long speech but such a linguistically masterfully-crafted comment on the American culture that in my opinion qualifies as an icon of political thought right up there with the Gettysburg Address. It is chock full of insight into the pros and cons of America (including a scathing indictment of the media) that is still relevant today. Probably the most cited portion of his speech is The Man in the Arena. I learned of this at Marine boot camp Parris Island, S.C. I have tried to live it all my life. In the ’70s four FBI agents were killed in a five minute suburban Miami shootout with two serial armed robbers/murderers. During the in-house examination, the partner of one of the dead agents reflected that his buddy had The Man in the Arena tacked on the wall above his desk. It’s good advice for all men.
The Man In the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I often get asked by well meaning associates (in variously disguised ways) why I haven’t been sued, killed, threatened or arrested for things I write and say. I wonder at their timidity – or fear – in asking such things. I’ve never lived my life fearing the consequences of telling the truth. And I have the officer efficiency reports to prove it. Strange, I could express my opinion freely without professional repercussions as an NCO in 5th Special Forces Group (ABN). There it was considered part of the job. Not so in Big Army. In Big Army I was criticized for having an “NCO attitude” and called a “Loose cannon.” But I managed to retire with my integrity intact despite strenuous efforts to the contrary by a morally bankrupt officer corps. Sometimes I think I would have made a better sergeant major (and am often thought to be) than a captain. But I’ve always believed one should maximize potential and opportunities. Despite the Bullshit, I raised the quality of life for my family, helped a few good soldiers, slammed some shitbirds who needed it, and survived to get a better than decent pension. I told one of my sons recently “I’ve been punched in the teeth, knocked in the gut, kicked in the groin and pounded to the ground throughout my life. But I kept “bouncing back” (as the Hanoi Hilton POWs used to say) and I still am here.
They could have said “No” when I applied to OCS. Maybe it was my refusal to be awed and pre-orgasmic by high rank that “rankled” (haha) them. They waited until the Majors’ board and sent my RIF notice to me in Mogadishu. That’s fine. I wouldn’t have submitted myself to the obligatory Field Grade Frontal Lobotomy anyway.
So, to answer those “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” and as a retiree from the military and the border, I’m still a U.S. citizen who loves my country. I will continue to exercise my God-given right to express my opinion and concerns regarding the direction of my beloved country until the jack-booted thugs ring my doorbell.