Book Review: In Command: Theodore Roosevelt and the American Military


by Matthew Oyos

Lincoln, Nb: Potomac Books, 2018. Pp. x, 438. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $36.95. ISBN: 9781612349671

Teddy Roosevelt and the Making of the Modern Armed Forces

Prof. Oyos (Radford University), has written the first ever account of the military education, experience, and thought of the 25th president. He finds the roots of Roosevelt’s interest in things military in his childhood during the Civil War, in which his father did not serve in uniform, and the social Darwinism of the Gilded Age.

About a quarter of the book covers Roosevelt’s early life and the influences on his military thought. With a deep interest in history, while at Harvard he wrote The Naval War of 1812, still considered a valuable treatment, and his extensive readings, notably of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783, as well as his time in the New York State Militia (a curious episode), his tour as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and his service in the war with Spain, all contributed to the development of his military thought.

The bulk of the book covers T.R.’s efforts as president to improve the armed forces and make America a major player on the world stage. Oyos argues, effectively, that Roosevelt was an inconsistent reformer. Generally forward looking, he pushed particular ideas, such as adding more and better battleships to the fleet, yet failed to see that the Navy needed more personnel to man them. Similarly, while favoring the expansion and improvement of the Army, he missed the necessity of instituting a major reform of its administration, which was done by Elihu Root, with only little help from the President. These efforts involved personality clashes, bureaucratic battles, fights with pacifists and isolationists, and much more. Naturally Oyos covers Roosevelt’s use of military forces as an instrument of policy, notably in the dispatch of the “Great White Fleet” on its world cruise.

Oyos devotes the latter part of the book to T.R.’s continuing attempts to influence military affairs after his presidency. While he does mention that during the First World War, Roosevelt tried to raise a “Rough Rider” division, Oyos does not cover the matter very well, as T.R.’s concept – which even included an African-American regiment --idea offers a glimpse into his thinking about America.

In Command is a valuable read not only for those interested in T.R., but also for its insights into how military reform comes about.


Note: In Command is also available as an e-publication.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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