Many observers maintain that military force was Theodore Roosevelt's foreign-policy tool of first resort. However, in the Caribbean he pursued a moderate policy designed to head off confrontations with powerful European navies.
Neither Theodore Roosevelt's critics nor his admirers have known quite what to make of his views on diplomacy and warfare, despite Roosevelt's voluminous writings on these subjects. "TR's" more bombastic statements-he once told an audience at the Naval War College "No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumphs of war"-lend themselves to the view that he lusted for martial glory. 1
Mark Twain professed affection for "Theodore the man" but proclaimed that "Theodore, as statesman and politician, is insane and irresponsible." 2 To Carl Schurz, the firebrand vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League, TR's "master nature" was well fitted to the era of the Crusades, "but this Republic does not want in the Presidency a master¾least of all one who cannot master himself." 3 And historian Thomas Bailey branded Roosevelt "an apostle of Mars" whose bellicose tendencies were held in check¾barely¾by public opinion. 4
Similarly hostile views were commonplace among foreign-policy thinkers for decades. Roosevelt has been largely rehabilitated in recent years. 5 But even many scholars who are favorably disposed toward TR seemingly assume he held a bleak world view in which armed force was the final arbiter of international affairs. Henry Kissinger, to name one, declared that Roosevelt had practiced an amoral brand of realpolitik-high praise from perhaps recent history's foremost practitioner of power politics. 6 TR's admirers, then, have tended to agree with his critics on one fundamental point: The use of military force, largely bereft of moral or legal considerations, was the keystone of his diplomacy.
H. W. Brands sounded a similar theme in a recent article in Naval History , arguing that Roosevelt was a kindred spirit of the Norse god Thor, as portrayed in TR's favorite poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Saga of King Olaf . Thor insists, rather plaintively, that "Force Rules the World Still," despite the advance of more enlightened times. 7 Professor Brands' choice of passage was telling, implying as it did that TR felt a kinship not for the hero, King Olaf, but for the Nordic deities and their worshippers who had lived by the sword. But Longfellow's message was quite different. In the saga, the youthful king and his champions vanquish barbarism and spread civilization, albeit at the point of a sword. Exults Olaf: