Remarks on the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Arlington, Under the Auspices of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Arlington, Virginia

May 21, 1902

Mrs. President, and members of the Society, and you, my comrades, and finally, officers and men of the Regular Army, whom we took as our models in the war four years ago:

It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon to accept in the name of the nation the monument put up by your society to the memory of those who fell in the war with Spain; a short war; a war that called for the exertion of only the merest fraction of the giant strength of this nation; but a war, the effects of which will be felt through the centuries to come, because of the changes it wrought. It is eminently appropriate that the monument should be unveiled to—day, the day succeeding that on which the free republic of Cuba took its place among the nations of the world as a sequel to what was done by those men who fell and by their comrades in '98.

And here, where we meet to honor the memory of those who drew the great prize of death in battle, a word in reference to the survivors: 'I think that one lesson every one who was capable of learning any thing learned from his experience in that war was the old, old lesson that we need to apply in peace quite as much—the lesson that the man who does not care to do any act until the time for heroic action comes, does not do the heroic act when the time does come. You all of you remember, comrades, some man—it is barely possible some of you remember being the man—who, when you enlisted, had a theory that there was nothing but splendor and fighting and bloodshed in the war, and then had the experience of learning that the first thing you had to. do was to perform commonplace duties, and perform them well. The work of any man in the campaign depended upon the resolution and effective intelligence with which he started about doing each duty as it arose; not waiting until he could choose the duty that he thought sufficiently spectacular to do, but doing the duty that came to hand. That is exactly the lesson that all of us need to learn in times of peace.

It is not merely a great thing, but an indispensable thing that the nation' s citizens should be ready and willing to die for it in time of need; and the presence of no other quality could atone for the lack of such readiness to lay down life if the nation calls. But in addition to dying for the nation you must be willing and anxious to live for the nation, or the nation will be badly off. If you want to do your duty only when the time comes for you to die, the nation will be deprived of valuable services during your lives.

I never see a gathering of this kind; I never see a gathering under the auspices of any of the societies which are organized to commemorate the valor and patriotism of the founders of this nation; I never see a gathering composed of the men who fought in the great Civil War or in any of the lesser contests in which this country has been engaged, without feeling the anxiety to make such a gathering feel, each in his or her heart, the all-importance of doing the ordinary, humdrum, commonplace duties of each day as those duties arise. A large part of the success on the day of battle is always due to the aggregate of the individual performance of duty during the long months that have preceded the day of battle. The way in which a nation arises to a great crisis is largely conditioned upon the way in which its citizens have habituated themselves to act in the ordinary affairs of the national life. You cannot expect that much will be done in the supreme hour of peril by soldiers who have not fitted themselves to meet the need when the need comes, and you cannot expect the highest type of citizenship in the periods when it is needed if that citizenship has not been trained by the faithful performance of ordinary duty. What we need most in this Republic is not special genius, not unusual brilliancy, but the honest and upright adherence on the part of the mass of the citizens and of their representatives to the fundamental laws of private and public morality – which are now what they have been during recorded history. We shall succeed or fail in making this Republic what it should be made—I will go a little further than that—what it shall and must be made, accordingly as we do or do not seriously and resolutely set ourselves to do the tasks of citizenship—and good citizenship consists in doing the many small duties, private and public, which in the aggregate make it up.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks on the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Arlington, Under the Auspices of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Arlington, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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