09 April 2011

Colonel Roosevelt and Secretary Bryan

"Colonel Roosevelt" is the title of a new book by Edmund Morris, the final installment in his series on the life of Theodore Roosevelt, focusing on TR's post-Presidential years. I admit up-front I haven't read the book. I have only read the paraphrases and quotations from it provided by some reviewers, including Henry S. Cohn, who reviewed it for the latest issue of The Federal Lawyer.

Cohn paraphrases Morris thus: "Roosevelt could abide neither Wilson nor his secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, who viewed the war as an exclusively European affair. Roosevelt spoke out against the 'pacifist' Bryan until he was removed from the cabinet in June 1915 and, in April 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war." The scare quotes around the adjective "pacifist" there are appropriate.

Yes, unfortunately for clarity the term sometimes means anyone who is arguing against any particular military intervention, and Bryan was certainly doing that as a member of Wilson's cabinet. But the term is more appropriately used for a broader, principled, commitment to a laying down of arms among nations. In that sense, neither Bryan nor Wilson was ever a pacifist. Indeed, it is well to remember that Bryan seemed to be threatening the UK with war in the course of his famous "cross of gold" speech.

It was the Bank of England that, in the imagery of that speech, was threatening mankind with crucifixion to preserve the one-metal backing for money. It was imperialism, as Bryan saw it, and "the issue of 1776 over again". At least some of Bryan's 'pacifism' in the context of 1913-15 arose from his suspicion that Anglophiles like Roosevelt were on the wrong side, the side of the still regnant world-straddling Empire. His own sympathies were with the rising challengers to that empire -- in this instance, the Germans.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.