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Theodore Roosevelt and World War One

When World War I began in 1914, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt strongly supported the Allies. Unlike President Woodrow Wilson, who wanted to keep the nation out of the war, Roosevelt advocated for a harsher policy against Germany. He especially hated Germany's campaign of submarine warfare. Roosevelt was a fierce critic of the foreign policy of President Wilson. He called it a failure, highlingting the atrocities committed by the Germans in Belgium and the violations of American rights.

In the election of 1916, Roosevelt campaigned energetically for Charles Evans Hughes. In his rhetoric, he repeatedly criticized Irish-Americans and German-Americans. Roosevelt said that these immigrants were unpatriotic because they put the interest of Ireland and Germany ahead of America's by supporting neutrality. He insisted one had to be 100% American, not a "hyphenated American" who juggled multiple loyalties. When the U.S. finally entered the war in 1917, the fifty-eight year old Roosevelt wanted to raise a volunteer infantry division, but Wilson refused to permit this.

Roosevelt's attacks on Wilson helped the Republicans win control of Congress in the off-year elections of 1918. Roosevelt was popular enough to seriously contest the 1920 Republican nomination, but his health was broken by 1918, because of the lingering malaria he had contracted while on an adventure in South America (the "River of Doubt" excursion). He supported his old military companion General Leonard Wood for the 1920 Republican Presidential Nomination, but Wood was ultimately defeated by Warren G. Harding.

On May 7, 1918, Roosevelt wrote an editorial he wrote for the Kansas City Star during World War I. In that editorial, he wrote this quote about whether Americans should support their President or not, and whether or not it was patriotic to be critical of the President. He said:

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

One wonders how Roosevelt's stomach for the fight may have changed in the summer of 1918, when Roosevelt learned that his youngest son Quentin, a daring pilot with the American forces in France, was shot down behind German lines in 1918. Many historians believe that Quentin was Roosevelt's favorite son. It is said the death of his son distressed him so much that Roosevelt never recovered from his loss.


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