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Teddy Roosevelt Criticizes British and American Preparedness for World War I
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the English are most sensitive about my having stated that they had failed to do what they ought to have done, thanks to their lack of preparedness in advance; and this although I stated at the same time that we would have done infinitely worse.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT. Typed Letter Signed, to R. M. Johnston, Oyster Bay, November 24, 1915. 1 p., 6½ x 7¾ in.

Inventory #24493.01       Price: $1,900

Transcript

“I feel as gloomy as you do; and I am glad you are starting that magazine. I enclose three dollars for it. I look forward eagerly to seeing your articles in the Tribune. You may be amused to know that the English are most sensitive about my having stated that they had failed to do what they ought to have done, thanks to their lack of preparedness in advance; and this although I stated at the same time that we would have done infinitely worse.

                                                                        Sincerely yours, / Theodore Roosevelt”

Historical Background

In the November 1915 issue of the Metropolitan Magazine, Theodore Roosevelt published “The Duty of the United States to Its Own People,” in which he severely criticized British preparedness. “England at this moment,” Roosevelt wrote, “affords a lamentable example of the punishment that will surely in the end befall any nation which fails to take its duties seriously.... Relatively to her population, she has put an army of utterly inadequate size into the field…. More lamentable still, she has utterly failed, even with a year during which to work, in the effort to produce the artillery and munitions of war which will make her able to be as effective as her German opponents or her French allies.”[1]

The former president strongly supported the Allies in World War I and was a sharp critic of the Wilson administration who he accused of failing to fulfill treaty obligations and failing to prepare for the war. He also criticized “hyphenated Americans” from Ireland and Germany whom he felt put their homeland’s interests above America’s.

Harvard Professor and military historian R. M. Johnston published eight articles on defense in the New-York Tribune between November 21, 1915 and January 9, 1916. He considered the “problem of national defence as a military, not as a political proposition. And this distinction is vital.” The ocean no longer provided an effective defense, and America’s slow navy was incapable of protecting the nation. He emphasized the importance of creating and maintaining a strong army. The titles of some of Johnston’s articles reveal both his subject and his perspective: “Shall Politics Keep Our Army Ineffective?”; “War Creates Grave Perils for U.S. to Meet”; “Small, Highly Trained Army Is Our Best Defence”; “Great Waste Threatens in Preparedness Plan”; and “Immediate Scientific Defence Action Necessary.”

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was born in New York City. He graduated from Harvard University and attended Columbia Law School. He served in the New York State Assembly from 1882 to 1884, and as president of the New York City Police Commissioners in 1895 and 1896, then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1897 to 1898. After service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, he won election as Governor of New York and served from 1899 to 1900. He ran as Vice President to William McKinley in 1900 and became President in September 1901, when McKinley was assassinated. He was reelected in 1904. A prolific author and naturalist, Roosevelt was instrumental in the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century, helped preserve the nation’s natural resources, and extended American power throughout the world.

Robert Matteson Johnston (1867-1920) was born in Paris, the son of an American physician. Educated in England, he returned to America to teach as assistant professor at Harvard University in 1908. He organized a Military History Session for The American Historical Association’s 1911 annual meeting, and he convinced Theodore Roosevelt and several army officers to participate. At the 1912 meeting, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, read an address. In 1915, Johnston established a new quarterly magazine, Military Historian & Economist. In 1918, Matteson discontinued it “until after the peace,” as he became United States Army Chief of the Historical Section of the General Staff.


[1] “Roosevelt Gives His Defense Ideas,” New York Times, October 23, 1915.


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