In the Arena: Good Citizens, a Great Republic, and How One Speech Can Reinvigorate America

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9781476749341: In the Arena: Good Citizens, a Great Republic, and How One Speech Can Reinvigorate America
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A vigorous call-to-arms to reignite American citizenship at home and restore American power abroad, using the timeless truths of Teddy Roosevelt’s iconic “Man in the Arena” speech, by the Fox News contributor and decorated Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran.

Pete Hegseth makes an impassioned and experiential argument for how Teddy Roosevelt’s articulation of “good citizens,” “equality of opportunity,” and unapologetic U.S. leadership—“good patriots”—can renew our imperiled American experiment and save the free world, in this fascinating, first-hand challenge to elite progressivism, ahistorical foreign policy, and status-quo politics.

Despite contention surrounding Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy, Hegseth argues that the Rough Rider’s exhortation serves as a timeless wake-up call for our Republic. Hegseth resurrects Roosevelt’s famous “Citizenship in a Republic” address—best known for the “Man in the Arena” quote—as a roadmap for addressing the massive challenges facing America today. In order to rejuvenate what makes America exceptional, we must unapologetically get back into Roosevelt’s arena—as engaged “good citizens” at home and powerful “good patriots” in the world.

Bolstered by gripping personal experience, Hegseth channels Teddy Roosevelt’s words to make a case for turning America’s highest ideals into action through the gritty virtues of citizenship, the dogged pursuit of equal opportunity, and aggressive commitment to winning the wars we fight—including the Iraq War. An exceptional American experiment was entrusted to “average citizens” in 1776 and has been perpetuated by every generation since...until now. If we won’t fight for America, then what will we fight for? And if not now, then when? Get in the arena!

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About the Author:

Pete Hegseth is a FOX News contributor who regularly appears on FOX & Friends, The Kelly File, and Outnumbered. An infantry officer in the Army National Guard, he is a veteran of Iraq, Afghani­stan, and Guantanamo Bay who holds two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his time overseas. He is the former CEO of the veterans advocacy organization Concerned Veterans for America and former Chairman of the pro-victory organization Vets for Freedom. He is also a graduate of Princeton Uni­versity and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He writes regularly for National Review and FOXNews.com and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

An Invitation
The Man in the Arena
 
            Like every soldier of every generation, I have a few Army-issue green duffle bags that travel with me everywhere—from my home in Minnesota to Guantanamo Bay, from the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan to the sinkhole of American politics, Washington, DC. Always stuffed inside one of those duffle bags is a piece of plain white copy paper encased in a durable black plastic frame. Inside is a quote, printed in plain font. The words, known by many, come from a speech delivered in 1910 by former president Teddy Roosevelt at a famous university in Paris, France. Following a yearlong African safari—an intentional hiatus from American politics—Roosevelt was at the height of his post-presidential popularity when he gave the speech. He entitled it “Citizenship in a Republic,” and it contained the quote in my plastic frame:
 
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
 
Teddy Roosevelt’s words—commonly known as “The Man in the Arena”—challenge me every day when I wake up and every night when I lay my head down, every time I succeed and every time I fail.
           
Am I striving valiantly?
            Is my face marred by dust and sweat and blood?
            Am I spending myself in a worthy cause?
            Am I daring greatly?
            Am I in the arena?
_______________
In June 2004, with America at war, I found myself stepping off a plane in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The first thing that struck me about ‘Gitmo’ was the signature dry heat of the Cuban coast—followed by an authentic sense of purpose. Guarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay, while not combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, was a controversial and highly scrutinized mission; a legal-limbo-land that housed some of the world’s most dangerous Islamic militants. I was proud to be there. We’d be there for eleven months, a long eleven months; mostly confronting early mornings, late nights, monotony, menial tasks—and banana rats, the freakishly large rodents that roam Gitmo. The arena is a dirty place, always is.

Squinting in the mid-day sun, my infantry platoon—hailing from the New Jersey Army National Guard—descended the long stairway from the plane, saluted a general at the bottom, and shuffled into an Air Force hanger. After falling into quick formation, we dropped our duffle bags with a simultaneous thud. For at least a minute, it was silent, and I stood behind my thirty-four men, absorbing the new surroundings. I had no idea what to expect—and did my best to hide a nervous energy. During that silence I remember looking down at my two extremely full green duffle bags, and noticing the corner of that black frame sticking out from one of them. I took a deep breath.
What I didn’t realize at the time was the direct connection Teddy Roosevelt’s words inside that black frame had to the reason I was standing on American soil on the island of Cuba. I knew that Guantanamo Bay was leased from the Cuban government for $2,000 a year, and that the communist government under Fidel Castro had refused to cash the check since the Cuban revolution ended in 1959. But my knowledge stopped there, as revealed by the first line of my journal entry from that day—“nothing but a desert by the sea;” the observation of an infantryman more consumed with finding the new chow hall than mulling the significance of an international flash point.

Following victory in the Spanish-American War, Guantanamo Bay became sovereign United States soil when President Teddy Roosevelt signed the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations in 1903. The treaty outlined seven U.S.-dictated terms for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Cuba—the seventh of which allowed for the lease of Cuban land to the U.S. for “naval stations.” Soon thereafter, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay was born—seventy-one square miles of America soil and sea on the island of Cuba.

Those who deem the post-9/11 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay controversial would view the 1898 war that gave birth to its existence equally controversial. The Spanish-American War was brief, but consequential. Following the mystifying sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine off the coast of Havana, calls from hawkish Democrats and anti-Spanish journalists—“Remember the Maine!”—led America to war. Isolationists (dubbed “anti-imperialists” then) decried the war, and the U.S. military was ill prepared for tough combat in the hot climate (sound familiar?).

But thanks to the ineptitude of the Spaniards, and some good fortune for the Americans, Cuban independence was quickly secured—along with it, American regional dominance. Lasting less than four months, and costing 3,000 American lives (2,500 from disease), the “splendid little war” reshuffled the global chessboard. A younger, confident, and increasingly powerful America asserted itself against an experienced Spanish foe—effectively ending the Spanish Empire in the Caribbean.

On one of Cuba’s rolling hills—located just forty miles from where my green duffle bag landed in Guantanamo Bay—the trajectory of the free world was changed forever. On San Juan Hill, a decisive battle was won and a future President forged. Charging up a gradual hillside in the sweltering July heat of 1898, Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and his volunteer “Rough Riders” were met with withering Spanish gunfire. While unheralded Buffalo Soldiers bore the brunt of the fight, and a new technology—the Gatling machine gun—substantially aided the Americans, all accounts of the battle place Colonel Roosevelt at the front of the charge up San Juan Hill. It was a daring maneuver that earned Teddy Roosevelt the Medal of Honor and catapulted him into the American consciousness.

Standing atop San Juan Hill with his Rough Riders—an iconic photo in American history—Teddy Roosevelt became a national figure. He returned home a war hero, an emblem of American guts, swagger, and strength. He was elected Governor of New York as a Republican the following year, elected Vice President in 1900 (coining the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick”), and—following the assassination of recently re-elected William McKinley—he assumed the Presidency on September 14, 1901. Three years later he would earn the presidency in his own right, winning the popular vote decisively. Upon leaving the presidency and choosing his presidential successor, Teddy embarked on a year-long African safari—physically distancing himself from domestic politics. He was America’s international celebrity, her rugged exemplar.

On his way home from Africa in 1910, Teddy Roosevelt toured Europe, greeting adoring crowds from city to city. In many ways his myth was as large as the man. Everyone wanted to meet the American cowboy, the Rough Rider. Did he really carry a big stick, they wondered. He personified the confidence of the young American nation as it entered the 21st century, and Europe took notice. One of his final stops before heading home to record-breaking crowds in New York City was at the leading university in Paris. It was there, at the Grand Amphitheatre at the Sorbonne, that he delivered “Citizenship in a Republic.”

Which brings me back me to the words inside that black frame in my green duffle bag. Words that have forged my life’s path, and words that chart the course for America’s reinvigoration. Words that invited me to enter the arena, and words that still challenge:
 
Am I striving valiantly?
Is my face marred by dust and sweat and blood?
Am I spending myself in a worthy cause?
Am I daring greatly?
Am I in the arena?
 
Are you? Our fragile and imperiled American experiment asks.

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