Where Do We Sign Up?

Colonel Teddy Roosevelt, later to become the twenty-sixth president of the United States, was certified as an American icon during the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Spanish presence in North America, especially in Cuba, was one of iron-fist suppression and brutal efficiency. An officer commonly known as “Butcher” Weyler because of his ruthless tactics commanded the Spanish garrison.

America’s conflict with the Spanish was its first major step into the international arena. Roosevelt, a vigorous patriot and champion of American values, entered the war in the lead column of his Rough Riders—men who were destined to ride into the lore of American history on their bloody but victorious charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill.

For his part, the colonel chose to lead from the front. It exposed him to great personal danger, but he insisted that leadership meant just that—leading men, not bringing up the rear.

Along with portraits of his great courage and penchant for the daring-do, the colorful Rough Rider left a catalog of quotations worthy of applying to the current situation facing America and those individuals who believe in solid principles to live by. For example,

Far better it is to dare things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who . . . live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

It seems that we are sliding into a national and cultural vortex drawing us into what Roosevelt aptly described as “the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Here in the affluent, self-absorbed West, there exists a near obsession with maintaining the status quo, an unwillingness to confront tyranny, injustice, and evil beyond a certain point. When ultimate triumphs are marred by checkered, temporary failures, we hear the cry to settle for the existing state of affairs. But the cold fact is that there is not, nor will there ever be, a “good enough.” The status quo, although deceptively attractive, is the Never Never Land of people trying to preserve a fantasy.

It is a real-time issue that we have a great deal of difficulty comprehending. Yet the answers to the problems at hand are not hard to come by. At the core is the fact that, for our enemies, there is no status quo. They are not satisfied with the way things are, nor will they be until they are in possession of what we have, altered to fit their concepts of what constitutes the “good life.”

We may have no desire to confront the bloody realities of terror, war, and mayhem. But we need not be deceived into thinking that we have the ability to talk our adversaries into sharing our perceptions of peace and tranquility. It will not happen. To take this route is intemperate and self-delusional. Our propensity to talk much and dispense random acts of kindness may have the ring of pop-culture political correctness, but it will not placate the people whose chief goal in life is to snuff out our lives.

A perpetual failing of free, democratic societies is their pursuit of the idea that the entire world essentially thinks and reasons as they do. We made this mistake with the Nazis, then went to the edge of a catastrophic nuclear confrontation with the Communists, and are currently repeating the same potentially fatal error with Islamists bent on global domination.

A serious deficiency in American thinking lies in the idea that people are basically good and that a quiet sitdown over a cup of coffee and a season of reasonable negotiation done in good faith will enable us to work out even the most difficult issues to everyone’s satisfaction. It doesn’t work that way. Men are not good by nature. Some very bad people operate in this arena, and they have no intention of negotiating solutions that will create peace in our time.

Unfortunately, many of those suffering from the give-them-what-theywant dementia need a refresher course in historical reality. Empires and nations afflicted by the status-quo syndrome have consistently passed into the mists of history.

The old Rough Rider understood the issues. Somewhere along the line there is a choice to be made. Do we camp with those poor spirits who “live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat”? Or do we have the courage and tenacity to take the high road and ride to the front of the column and lead rather than follow?

If the latter option is our choice, where do we sign up?


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