Remarks at Tomlinson Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana
In speaking to the men who volunteered for the Spanish War, I wish to lay particular stress on the need of preparedness. Modern war of a serious kind is determined quite as much by what the antagonists have done in advance of the outbreak as by what they do afterward. Modern conditions have brought all parts of the world closer together, and while this nearness tells for good generally, it may at times tell for evil also. For all practical purposes our frontier is many times nearer Europe on the one hand and Asia on the other than it was in the days of sailing ships. Moreover, a nation which begins to play a great part in the world must count the cost and be willing to pay it, unless it is content to accept humiliation. As a result of the Spanish War we took a world position which had never hitherto been ours. We now have before us a destiny which must be one of great failure or success. We cannot play a small part in the world, no matter how much we might wish to. We shall be obliged, willingly or unwillingly, to play a large part; all that we can determine is whether we will play that large part well or ill.
Owing to our position, we do not need a large regular army. Two or three years ago you remember how it was prophesied by certain (perhaps not altogether serious) alarmists that it was the intention of those in power continually to increase the size of our regular army until it should become a menace to our people at home. How comic the prophecy now seems. As a matter of fact, at the present time advantage has been taken of the Philippine peace to reduce the army to but little more than two-thirds of the number allowed by law. Our army is small, but the individual units composing it we believe to be not inferior to the best of those of any foreign nation. And it is our purpose, beginning with the present year, to institute a series of maneuvers which shall offer some opportunity for training our officers to handle their men in masses.
Normally, however, in any contest we must expect that in the future as in the past the bulk of the American army will be composed of volunteers. It should be our object in every way to encourage the National Guards of the States and to build them up to the highest point of efficiency; to give them proper arms and teach them how to use these arms, and how to take care of themselves in field service.
But as regards the navy, there is no chance of doing what can be done with the army. The average American is, we believe, a man offering unusually good material out of which to make a soldier—a man who already possesses the fighting edge and needs only to have it developed, and who readily learns how to march, to shoot, and to take care of himself in the open. But no man can in a short time learn such highly specialized work as is that aboard our great modern war ships. One of these ships cannot be built under three years, and the officers and enlisted men aboard her would be absolutely helpless to make use of the formidable engines of destruction ready to their hands unless they had enjoyed periods of training ranging in accordance with the station of the man from a dozen months to twice as many years. No powerful fighting vessel, and still less an effective fighting crew, can be improvised after the outbreak of a war.
Therefore, any war in which we could possibly be engaged--and I earnestly hope and believe that there is not the slightest chance of our being engaged in such a war—would probably be determined mainly by the navy, and what the navy could do would depend absolutely upon the condition in which it was at the outbreak of the war. The fighting units would be the war craft already in existence and the crews which had already been carefully trained. In other words, our success would depend primarily upon preparations made in time of peace, upon the forethought shown when there was no immediate enemy to fear.
If we are not prepared to back up words by deeds, it is far better to omit the words. I believe in the Monroe Doctrine with all my heart.
I believe in asserting it because I believe the American people are willing to back it up. But it never can be backed up by words alone. If it became the interest of some great power to violate it, most assuredly that great power would do so if it was thought that we would only bluster and threaten, or if it was believed our force was too weak to be formidable in a fight. A good navy is absolutely essential if we intend to treat the Monroe Doctrine as we should treat it—that is, as the cardinal feature of our foreign policy. The fleet is in a peculiar sense the property of the nation as a whole. Every American, whether inland or on the seacoast, if he is both far-sighted and patriotic, should be particularly jealous about the efficiency of the navy. It would be the right arm of this country in the event of foreign trouble. Disaster to it would send a thrill of mortal anguish through the heart of every good citizen; and the triumphs won by it would in the future, as they have in the past, make every American hold his head higher in pride and joy. The navy must be built up, and it must be continually exercised and trained, so that the officers and men may attain the highest degree of excellence in handling the great war engines intrusted to their care.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at Tomlinson Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343522