The Vault

His Son Killed in Action, Theodore Roosevelt Longed to Go to War

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In this letter, written a month after his son Quentin, a pilot, was shot down over the Marne River in France, 60-year-old Theodore Roosevelt wishes he could join the fight.

Roosevelt had advocated for American preparedness and, later, entry into World War I quite early in the conflict. In a series of newspaper articles, he harshly critiqued his erstwhile electoral opponent Woodrow Wilson’s neutral stance.

“Peace is ardently to be desired, but only as the handmaid of righteousness,” Roosevelt wrote in his foreword to his collected newspaper articles, published as America and the World War in 1915. “There can be no … peace until well-behaved, highly civilized small nations [such as Belgium] are protected from oppression and subjugation.”

Once the United States entered the war in 1917, Roosevelt offered to form a division of volunteer troops, a la the Rough Riders of earlier days. Wilson turned him down. Roosevelt’s sons Theodore Jr., Quentin, Kermit, and Archibald all served. 

John Burroughs, the letter’s addressee, was a famous naturalist and writer as well as a longtime friend of Roosevelt’s. Roosevelt calls the older Burroughs “Oom John,” which means “Uncle John” in Dutch.