” The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

General Norman Schwarzkopf

General Schwarzkopf, one of the most distinguished military commanders in history, was right on target.  God’s calling, our intuition, and instinct tell us what we should be doing. 

But, we are human and oftentimes do not want to follow through.  This is primarily based on fear.  The other major reason is that some of us would rather sit back, relax, and criticize the people who are stepping into the arena.

One American president stepped into the arena many times in order to do what he thought was right.  

The interesting and courageous Theodore Roosevelt was a warrior.  He was also a man of many passions, political views, and contradictions.

Besides serving as President, he was the vice-president, governor of New York, an author, naturalist, soldier, boxer, explorer, hunter, and historian. He is best known for his large personality and his cowboy image.

Historians point out that after a series of weak and somewhat corrupt presidents, Roosevelt changed the nation’s political system by permanently placing the presidency at center stage and making character as important as the issues.
His most notable crusades were trust busting and conservationism. Interestingly, the Republican, and later leader of the “Bull Moose Party”, was beloved by leftists for his proposals in 1907–12 that set the stage for the modern welfare state of the New Deal Era. They also admired the importance that Roosevelt placed on the idea of a more powerful federal government.

Yet, conservatives admired his “big stick” diplomacy and commitment to military values. Roosevelt moved America toward the imperial approach of national security. He should be credited as the first President to begin preparing the American military to have a global role in the violent years to come.  Perhaps because of his sickly childhood, Roosevelt held the strong belief that “physical bravery was the highest virtue and war the ultimate test of bravery.”

The most admiring aspect of Roosevelt’s persona was his real life example of American masculinity. As president, he repeatedly warned American men that they were becoming too office-bound, too complacent, too comfortable with physical ease, and were failing in their duties to exhibit masculine vigor.

He put his words into action by heavily promoting competitive sports and the Boy Scouts of America as the way forward. Heroic displays of bravery were essential to Roosevelt’s image and mission to get involved in the arena of life with tremendous vigor. This is best illustrated when he led the “Roughriders” into battle against Spain in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

While Roosevelt made countless speeches and wrote many essays about the virtues of a vigorous and courageous life, the most famous example comes from Citizenship in a Republic.  This is the title of a speech given by Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910.  The following excerpt from the speech summarizes the stark differences between the warrior in the arena and the man on the sidelines:

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.”

Roosevelt made a huge impact on American history by bravely meeting challenges, implementing creative solutions, and sculpting what would become the modern role for U.S.presidents by stepping into the arena.

Perhaps that is the reason why hundreds of brave and creative workers, sculptors, and artists carved his face, along with three other presidents, out of a huge rock in the Dakotas; a place he loved so much.

The Black Hills of South Dakota forever remind us that it is not the timid, cowardly critic on the sidelines who matters. The man battling in the arena for what he feels is right defines that unique American courage that always leads the way.

Jason W. Swindle Sr.

West Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney