Commencement Address at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland
Governor Warfield, Capt. Brownson, members of the graduating class, midshipmen and your friends and kinsmen here gathered together:
I fail to see how any good American can be other than a better American when he comes here to Annapolis and sees the academy as it is, and as it soon will be, thanks to the wise munificence of Congress; and I am not surprised that you who graduate from this institution should make the kind of men that as a rule you do make afterward; should show the qualities of courage, of lofty fidelity to duty, of devotion to the flag, and of farsighted preparedness to meet possible future emergencies; should show the traits which I think, Capt. Brownson, I can only say without flattery, characterize the service to which you belong. I am not surprised that you should show those traits, for I should be heartily ashamed of you if you did not. More than any other people in this country, with the sole exception of those in the sister service who have had your advantages, you owe a peculiar fealty to the nation which has trained you, which has given you a career in after life, a career in which, if you do your duty, you are sure to lead honorable lives, and to deserve well of the republic; and a career in which there is always the chance that you may spring into one of those few places to be occupied by the men of the nation who win deathless fame for themselves by the way in which they serve the nation in the hour of the nation's need. On the one hand we have the right to expect a peculiar measure of self-sacrificing service from you. On the other hand, we have the right to expect from the representatives of the people a peculiar care for your interests. It is well that every public man should feel under a peculiar obligation to see to the welfare of the army and the navy.
Governor Warfield, if you will pardon the personal allusion, I want to thank you for the way in which you have made evident your feeling toward this institution, for the reception you gave just the other night to these very men about to graduate. It is well that they should under stand that because of the position they hold the Governor of the great State in which the institution is situated recognizes their possibilities of usefulness to the country, the obligations due them, and the obligations we have a right to feel that they will recognize to the whole nation in return.
There are a good many baseless alarms which some worthy people feel from time to time in this country, and which other less worthy people affect to feel, but of all foolish crimes, of all baseless figments of a disturbed imagination, the cry of militarism in this country is the most foolish and the most baseless. Not only there does not exist now, but there never has existed in recent times, any nation so wholly free as this is from any danger of excessive militarism, so wholly free from any danger of an undue growth of the military spirit. The danger is now, will be, and always has been, the exact reverse; the danger is lest we do not take sufficient thought in preparing the men and material which will make our attitude in claiming to be a great nation respected.
I would be sorry to see us content to assume the position of a nation unwilling and unable to play a great part in the world, unable to hold its own in the shock of arms, should it be ever necessary, which I most earnestly hope that in the life time of no man here present it will be necessary. Should it ever be necessary, and I hope it will not be, to appeal to arms, I should be sorry to see us take the position of avowed weakness, take the position that we did not intend to rank ourselves among the great powers of the earth. I should be sorry to see that; but I would a great deal rather see that than see us insist upon taking such a position and refuse to provide the means which would make such a position other than a sham. If this country believes in the Monroe Doctrine; if this country intends to hold the Philip pines; if it intends, besides building, to police the Isthmian Canal; if it intends to do its duty on the side of civilization, on the side of law and order, and that duty can be done only by the just man armed—if this country intends to do that, then it must see to it that it is able to make good, if the necessity arises to make good.
It is idle to talk of our faith in the Monroe Doctrine if we are not able to make that faith evident. It is foolish to remain permanently in the Philippines unless we provide a base of military action for our fleets and army, should it be necessary to defend the Philippines in time of war. It is foolish to assert our position as entitled to the respect of other great nations unless we are willing to build the ships, to build the guns, and to train the men who are to man the ships and handle the guns, if the need arises. I should be ashamed to see this nation play the part of a weakling. But I would rather see it play that part frankly than see it boast itself a great nation and then so handle itself that if any one questioned the boast we should have to retreat from the position we assumed because we lacked the power to make our words good.
I earnestly hope that our foreign policy shall be continued absolutely without regard to change of administration, to change of party, along the lines of treating every foreign nation with all possible respect, of avoiding all provocation for war or trouble of any kind, of taking every step possible to minimize the chance of trouble occurring; and at the same time of taking every step possible to see to it that if by any chance trouble does occur we do not come out second best.
Just at this moment, to illustrate what I mean, we have negotiated certain arbitration treaties with the great foreign powers. I most earnestly hope that those arbitration treaties will become part of the supreme law of the land. Every friend of peace will join heartily in seeing that those arbitration treaties do become part of the supreme law of the land. By adopting them we will have taken a step, not a very long step, but undoubtedly a step in the direction of minimizing the chance for any trouble that might result in war; we will have in measurable degree provided for a method of substituting international disputes other than that of war, as regards certain subjects, and as regards the particular nations with whom those treaties are negotiated. We can test the sincerity of those people devoted to peace largely by seeing whether this people does in effective fashion desire to have those treaties ratified, to have those treaties adopted. I have proceeded upon the assumption that this nation was sincere when it said that it desired peace, that all proper steps to provide against the likelihood of war ought to be taken, and these arbitration treaties represent precisely those steps.
But the adoption of those treaties by themselves would not bring peace. We are a good many years short of the millennium yet, and for the present and the immediate future we can rest assured that the word of the man who is suspected of desiring peace because he is afraid of war will count for but little. What we desire is to have it evident that this nation seeks peace, not because it is afraid, but because it believes in the eternal and immutable laws of justice and of right living. Therefore, hand in hand with the negotiation of treaties of that character; hand in hand with the effort to put our foreign relations with every nation on a better footing must go the steady upbuilding of the army and the navy—above all the navy—so that our national honor may be sure of an adequate safeguard should our national honor ever be actively menaced.
I want to say a word to you boys here in particular. I am about to have the good fortune to present a sword to the best gunner, and certain medals, also for gunnery. The sword is given by the class of '71, given annually, so as to put a premium upon markmanship, and, Capt. Brownson, I would like through you to thank the members of that class for the patriotic service they have done in making such a gift.
The one thing that you graduates here, and all of the others in this school, must remember is that you ought to bend your entire energies to fitting yourselves as you can only be fitted by the most careful training in advance for the possible supreme day when, upon your success or your failure, will depend not only whether your own lives will be crowned with triumph or blasted with ruin, but whether the nation will write a page of glory or a page of shame on her history.
There is not one of you who is not derelict in his duty to the whole nation if he fails to prepare himself with all the strength that in him lies to do his duty should the occasion arise; and one of your great duties is to see that shots hit. The result is going to largely depend upon whether you or your adversary hits. I expect you to be brave. I rather take that for granted. It is not that you are to be commended much for bravery. You would be condemned forever if you lacked it. If you lacked it in the highest form, courage, physical and moral, the courage that will assume responsibility, no less than the courage that without a thought will face death, that we have a right to expect from every one of you, and I say that you are less to be commended for having it than to be condemned for failure to have it.
But in addition you have got to prepare yourselves in advance. Every naval action that has taken place within the last twenty years in which our own ships have been engaged, or in which any foreign ships have been engaged, has shown, as a rule, that the defeated party has suffered not from lack of courage, but because it could not make the best use of its weapons, or had not been given the right weapons. Occasionally, of course, if the victor happened to be matched against people who did not show courage, the courage counted. But I want every one here to proceed upon the assumption that any foe he may meet will have the courage. Of course you have got to show the highest degree of courage yourself or you will be beaten anyhow, and you will deserve to be; but in addition to that you must prepare yourselves by careful training so that you may make the best possible use of the delicate and formidable mechanism of a modem warship. The reason that you are trained here, the reason that you are put through this academy, the reason that your training goes on in the service is because without that training no man can hope to do the work that is set before you to do. It is equally true that the training cannot be given you only from without unless you actively and earnestly seek to get the best possible benefit from it yourselves; that the best teachers, the best superiors can not supply wholly or more than in very small part the lack of that which is within you.
No other body of men of your age in our country owes so much to the United States, to the flag that symbolizes this nation, as you do. No other body of young men has on the average as great a chance as each of you has to lead a life of honor to himself and of benefit to the country at large. Deep will be our shame if you fail to rise level to your opportunities and duties, and great will be the honor that I know you will win because I know that, judging you by those who have gone before you in the service, you will rise level to your opportunities and keep untarnished the proud fame of the American officer.
Theodore Roosevelt, Commencement Address at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343752