Remarks to the Spanish War Veterans in Boston, Massachusetts

June 25, 1902

Mr. Toastmaster, Mr. Chairman and comrades:

Let me first, before addressing you, as I intend to, thank most heartily the men in command of the drum corps. They are the real thing. Col. Pew, they have done as well as I have been told, by regulars, your regiment always does.

I have a special right to comradeship with the men of the ad and the 9th who were down at Santiago, where I served also. It has been my good fortune to see them in a campaign bearing themselves well and honorably, as we have been taught by the past history of the Union confidently to expect Massachusetts soldiers always so to bear themselves. Some of you who are members here tonight fought in the great war where there was quite enough to go around. You of course saw the real fight—the days that tried men's souls.

And really this is not exactly the audience to which I would like to say one or two of the things I am going to say, because I am sure I have you with me. Now, there has been a good deal of criticism, and some of it of an exceedingly intemperate kind, about the action of the army over in the Philippines. That army is composed of exactly such men as those I see here tonight. Some of you went to Cuba, some to Porto Rico, some to the Philippines, and the regulars whom I join in greeting here tonight with the pride in their vast achievements and their present standard which all good Americans feel—the regulars have served simply wherever they happened to be sent. It is exactly the same army that went to Santiago, that went to Porto Rico, that stayed in Chickamauga because it was its duty, and for praise or for blame it must stand as our representative, and we share the praise or blame with it.

In the last fortnight there has been an appalling outrage committed in the Philippine islands. Four men were captured and after being kept for a little while were put to death by torture. You have heard very little of it; have seen little comment on it, and the reason you have heard little of it is because those four men wore the United States uniform. For that deed, if it is possible to exact punishment, punishment will be exacted. Do not misunderstand me— but I do not have to say that I am speaking to soldiers. You know that any infringements of the laws of war in exacting such punishments will not be tolerated for a minute, and that any man wearing our uniform who discredits that uniform by torture shall not be saved from punishment by any record of excellence in the past. You know that, and so to you it is unnecessary to say it, but let the other side of the medal be kept in view also. Let it be remembered that of all forms of cruelty the worst because the most provocative cruelty is the weakness that hesitates to use just and proper severity when just and proper severity is needed.

Peace is coming. Peace is almost here in the Philippines. We have trouble with the Moros and the uncivilized Mohammedan tribes in the archipelago, but, outside of that, part peace has almost come and it has come because the army of the United States, the officers and enlisted men wearing the national uniform persevered quietly and uncomplainingly with the iron resolution proper to that splendid service.

The army has gone about its duty, heeding the foe in front as little as it has heeded the defamation of those behind who should have known better—and steadily insisted that peace should come not by falling back from armed resistance but by overcoming it; steadily insisting that order should be obtained, it has gone forward until now, throughout the Philippine islands, there is a condition of greater peace than had obtained in them from the time when the keels of the Spanish ships first furrowed the waters of Manila bay until the present moment.

And more than that, remember that the army has conquered not to bring military rule. The army has conquered in order that the sphere of civil government should be constantly extended at the expense of military rule. So that to use the language of the Declaration of Independence, owing to what the army has done in the Philippines the average Filipino has more chances now for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than he ever dreamed of having, or his fathers before him, until he came under our flag.

It is unnecessary to say that no soldier can be worth his salt if he has not got the fighting desire. A good soldier must not only be willing to fight, but he must be anxious to fight. I do not want to have anything to do with him if he is not. And while that is absolutely necessary, it is very far from being enough. The soldier has got to have the fighting edge— the power and will that will make him bear himself well on the battlefield. But that edge will be of little consequence if he has not also the power of faithful performance of duty in the infinite multitude of small things that will have to be done before he can go into the battle, or else when he goes there he will be of no use.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks to the Spanish War Veterans in Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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