Remarks Before the Associated Physicians of Long Island in Oyster Bay, New York
Mr. President, members of the Association, friends and neighbors:.
I needed no invitation to come before you today. All I needed was permission. As soon as I learned that this association was to meet in our village I felt that I must take advantage of the opportunity to say a word of greeting to you in person.
Of course, it is most needless to say that ere is not and cannot be any other lay profession the members of which occupy such a dual position, each side of which is of such importance, for the doctor has on the one hand to be the most thoroughly educated man in applied science that there is in the country, and on the other hand, as every layman knows, and doubtless many a layman in the circle of acquaintance of each of you would gladly testify, the doctor gradually becomes the closest friend to more different people than would be possible in other professions. The feelings that a man has toward the one human being to whom he turns, either in time of sickness for himself, or, what is far more important, in the time of sickness of those closest and dearest to him, cannot but be of a peculiar kind. He cannot but have a feeling for him such as he has for no other man. The doctor must, therefore, to the greatest degree develop both sides of his nature, develop his nature along the two sides of his duties, although in the case of any other man you would call him a mighty good citizen if he developed only one side.
The scientific man who is really a first-class scientific man has a claim upon the gratitude of all the country. The man who is a first class neighbor and is always called in in time of trouble by his neighbors has an equal claim upon society at large. But the doctor has both claims. Yet, in addition to filling both of these functions, he may fill many other functions. He may have served in the Civil War; he may have rendered the greatest possible service to the community along a dozen different lines. Take, for instance, just what is being done in one of the great works of this country at the present time digging the Panama Canal. That is a work that only a big nation could under take or that a big nation could do, and it is a work for all mankind. And the condition precedent upon success in that work is having the proper type of medical work as a preliminary.
That is the first condition upon the meeting of which depends our success in solving the engineering and administrative problems of the work itself. I am happy to say that the work is being admirably done, and I am particularly glad to have this chance of saying it. Now and then some alarmist report will come from Panama. Just a couple of weeks ago there seemed to be a succession of people coming up from Panama, each one of whom had some tale or other to tell. You will always find in any battle, even if it is a victorious battle, that in the rear you meet a number of gentlemen who are glad that they are not at the front; who, if they have unfortunately gotten at the front have come away, and who justify their absence from the front by telling tales of how everything has gone wrong there.
Now, the people who flee from Panama will carry up here just such stories as the people who flee from the forefront of a battle carry to the rear with them. The people to whom this country owes and will owe so much are those who stay down there and do not talk, but do their work, and do it well.
Of course, in doing a great work like that in the tropics, in a region which, until this government took hold of it, was accounted to be a region exceptionally unhealthy, we are going to have trouble, have some yellow fever, have a good deal of malarial fever, and suffer more from the latter than from the yellow fever, although we will hear nothing like the talk about it. We will have every now and then troubles as regards hygiene, just as we will have trouble in the engineering problems. Just as occasionally we will have trouble in the administrative work. Whenever one of these troubles comes there will be a large number of excellent but timid men who will at once say what an awful calamity it is, and express the deepest sorrow and concern, and be rather inclined to the belief that the whole thing is a failure. It will not be a failure. It will be a success, and it will be a success because we shall treat every little check not as a reason for abandoning the work, but as a reason for altering and bettering our plans so as to make it impossible that that particular check shall happen again.
What is being done in Panama is but a sample of the things that this country has done during the last few years, of the things in which your profession has been so prominent a part. Take what we did in Cuba, where we tried the experiment, which had not been tried for 400 years, of cleaning the cities. One of the most important items of the work done by our government in Cuba was the work of hygiene, the work of cleaning and disinfecting the cities so as to minimize the chance for yellow fever, so as to do away with as many as possible of the conditions that told for disease.
This country has never done better work, that is, work that reflected more honor upon the country, or for humanity at large, than the work done in Cuba. And the man who above all others will be responsible for doing that work so well was a member of your profession, who, when the call to arms came, went as a soldier to the field, the present Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood.
Leonard Wood did in Cuba just the kind of work that, for instance, Lord Cromer has done in Egypt. We have not been able to reward Wood in anything like the proportion that services such as his would have been rewarded in any other country of the first rank in the world; and there have been no meaner and more unpleasant manifestations in all our public history than the feelings of envy and jealousy manifested toward Wood. And the foul assaults and attacks made upon him, gentlemen, were largely because they grudged the fact that this admirable military officer should have been a doctor.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks Before the Associated Physicians of Long Island in Oyster Bay, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343646