A Study in the Power of Trust and Teamwork-"Boys in the Boat"

December 24, 2014

“The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown

A magnificent story of nine young men who labored valiantly with two great coaches from the University of Washington to win the Olympic Gold Medal in 1936 in Berlin.

It is a story that vividly brings to life the power of trust and teamwork and giving one’s last ounce of effort for a noble cause.

It made me appreciate  even more than I had before the values to be gained from great sportsmanship. I came to see as never before how crew like other team sports teaches much of what is most important about life.

It teaches teamwork, for the synchronized effort of the eight crew members and coxswain is fundamental for success.  It teaches the importance of practice, practice, practice.  Of dedication to technique.  It teaches the importance of drawing on the last ounce of one’s energy and courage, past the point of feeling the body could do anymore, or the mind either.  As George Yeoman Pocock, the designer of virtually all the winning crew shells of that generation said, “where is the spiritual power of rowing?  The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew as a whole.” 

Joe Rantz, who emerges as perhaps the “hero” of the book, though every one of these boys was a hero, discovered the moment that led him to break through was when Pocock told him that he needed to learn how to trust. “Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power working within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes you will feel as if you’ve rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.”

As the “Husky Clipper” (Washington U.’s boat) approached the finish line, author Brown vividly recalls the scene,  “Joe realized with startling clarity that there was nothing more he could do to win the race, beyond what he was already doing.  Except for one thing.  He could finally abandon all doubt, trust absolutely without reservation that he and the boy in front of him and the boys behind him would all do precisely what they needed to do at precisely the instant they needed to do it.  He had known that in that instant that there could be no hesitation, no shred of indecision.  He had no choice but to throw himself into each stroke as if he were throwing himself off a cliff into a void, with unquestioned faith that the others would be there to save him from catching the whole weight of the shell on his blade.  And, he had done it.  Over and over, 44 times per minute, he had hurled himself blindly into his future, not just believing but knowing that the other boys would be there for him, all of them, moment by precious moment.”

Trust in the team. Again and again, I have seen it play out. At P&G, at Yale, at Disney.

The team’s coach, Al Ubrickson, said it this way: “Every man in the boat had absolute confidence in every one of his mates. Why they won cannot be attributed to individuals. Heart felt cooperation all spring was responsible for the victory.”

I am reminded of a belief expressed by the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi. “I don’t necessarily have to like my associates, but as a man I must love them. Love their loyalty; love their teamwork. Love respects the dignity of the individual. Heart power is the strength of a corporation.”

This also took me back to the wonderful words of Marina Keegan, a young Yale valedictorian that tragically died in a car accident driving home with her boyfriend right after her graduation.  She used these eloquent words to describe what she termed as “the opposite of loneliness”. This is what she felt when she was with her classmates:  “there was just this feeling that there were people, an abundance of people, who were in this together.”

People—in this together—an irreplaceable ingredient not only for success but for happiness.

I loved something else that George Yeoman Pocock said in the book:  “Harmony, balance and rhythm.  They are the three things that stay with you your whole life.  Without them, civilization is out of whack.  And that’s why an oarsman, when he gets out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life.  That’s what he gets from rowing.”

There was another telling reflection in the book that bears on how I have sometimes felt in my role and probably how other people have felt as well.  I refer to Joe Rantz’s belief that “he was the weak link in the crew.”  He recognized that he had been added to the boat last and had often struggled to master the technical side of the sport and he, in his view, still tended to row erratically.  “But what Joe didn’t know,” Brown writes, “and what he wouldn’t, in fact, fully realize until much later, when he and the other boys were becoming old men, was that every boy in the boat felt exactly the same that summer.  Every one of them believed he was simply lucky to be rowing in the boat, and that he didn’t really measure up to the obvious greatness of the other boys, and that he might fail the others at any moment.  Every one of them was fiercely determined not to let that happen.”

And they did not let it happen. In the final race of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with Hitler in the stands, “Husky Clipper” passed the finish line 6/10th of a second ahead of the boat from Italy and one second ahead of the German boat. Over the 2,000-meter course and in a race that had taken 6 minutes and 25 seconds—or 385 seconds—the margin between the first and third boat was only 1 second. What testimony to the power of teamwork, preparation and the expenditure of every ounce of effort by every team member. Of such elements are victories gained, in every walk of life.


December 22, 2014


If I were asked to boil down all my thoughts on what should guide our relationships with each other into just two words, they would be:  “Everyone counts.”


December 17, 2014

"Woe to the Statesman Whose Arguments for Entering a War Are Not as Convincing at its End as They Were at the Beginning" Otto von Bismarck


We are at this moment seeing an unfolding geo-political and  financial crisis in Russia and Ukraine which unless checked will not only severely harm millions of people in these countries but will spill out across Europe and the rest of  the world. The decline in the price of oil, welcome for many reasons, is a significant cause of this but it is greatly compounded by the sanctions being imposed on Russia and the consequent  flight of capital and decline in investments. These elements of course have flowed from the unraveling of trust and clear, fact based communication among leaders of the key actors.

Bismarck's warning, uttered over 150 years ago, demands deep and honest reflection. The risk is very high of making decisions and allowing an out-of-control dynamic to continue which will bring serious, long lasting negative consequences for the world and the self-interest of the countries involved.

Ask yourself: what benefit will Russian military involvement, to whatever degree it is present,  in Eastern Ukraine bring to the Russian people and the people of Ukraine?

Ask yourself: what will sanctions really accomplish for the world? If it deepens a recession in Russia, just about everyone will suffer, especially the Russian people but also the peoples of Western Europe.

What outcomes do we really want to achieve?

Who from our respective countries should sit down, not for a short conversation, but  one that will go as l long as needed to leave the room with a plan to exit from this quagmire.

This is not a game. This is serious business.

I am reposting a paper I wrote on this subject in April. The impasse it described has worsened.  Its basic indicated actions in my view remain unchanged.

Russia-Ukraine-United States and the West
“There’s Plenty Of Blame To Go Around—Now Is The Time for Mature Leaders
To Step Forward To Take The Right Action For The Future”
April 2014
by John E. Pepper, Jr.
Procter & Gamble (1963-2003) Chair of Board and CEO
Introduced P&G to Russian Market in 1991

The most recent turn in the “up and down” relationship among Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the West has been a dismaying sight over the past month or so.  It is the culmination of a number of decisions that might have been different and some historical realities that won’t change.  And, as I reflect how this current situation might have been avoided, there is, I believe, “plenty of blame to go around.”
It is vital to view the situation from the perspectives of all sides, bearing the historical realities and current circumstances of all parties in mind.
 Looking back at the almost 25 years of involvement I have had in Russia and the ex-Soviet Union since 1989, there have been many times when I believed the United States could have done things differently.
 During the challenging ‘90s, we could have provide greater financial, technical and moral support.  We could have gone further in recognizing Russia as a partner.   We never did anything approximating what is now being offered to Ukraine (circa $20 billion; I only hope that it will happen; similar “promises” have gone wanting in the past) or what we did in the Marshall Plan.  As then-Ambassador Jack Matlock reflected on the United States’ role in the reconstruction of Russia’s economy*:  “My point is not that the Bush administration, or the Clinton administration that followed it, is responsible for the mistakes that were made as the Soviet Union abandoned the command economy and Russia subsequently created a market economy.  They are not.  However, it is clear that most of the assistance and advice given by the West was not particularly helpful.  It was based more on a free-market fundamentalism than on the real problems of creating a market economy out of a collapsed command economy, much of the initial advice was not only useless, but sometimes actually damaging.”
 Following that, the West moved to expand NATO into the bordering regions around Russia, including Poland (1999), the Baltic's (2004) and Romania (2004) and Bulgaria (1994).  Then, and of greatest concern to Russia, we advanced the idea of extending NATO to Ukraine and Georgia as well as installing ABM launchers in Poland and the Czech Republic.  With the animosity still overhanging from the Cold War era, this might have been seen in the U.S. as akin to the Soviet Union’s earlier extending the Warsaw Pact to Cuba or Central America. 
*”Superpower Illusions” (pg. 110)
Yes, the expansion was done with a benign intention (defensive) but, to a country that had been attacked many times, it looked to many like a surrounding effort.   At a minimum, it fueled the animus of those who wanted to interpret it that way.  It fed the worst fears and allegations of those who wanted to “go back.”
As former Secretary of War, Robert Gates, says in his new book, “Duty:  Memoirs of a Secretary of War”:   “When I took office in 2007, I had shared with the president my belief that from 1993 onward, the West, and particularly the United States, had badly underestimated the magnitude of Russian humiliation in losing the Cold War and then in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which amounted to the end of the centuries-old Russian Empire.  The arrogance, after the collapse, of American government officials, academicians, businessmen, and politicians in telling the Russians how to conduct their domestic and international affairs (not to mention the internal psychological impact of their precipitous fall from superpower status) had led to deep and long-term resentment and bitterness.” 
 Gates continued:  “What I didn’t tell the president was that I believed the relationship with Russia had been badly mismanaged after Bush 41 left office in 1993.  Getting Gorbachev to acquiesce to a unified Germany as a member of NATO had been a huge accomplishment.  But moving so quickly after the collapse of the Soviet Union to incorporate so many of its formerly subjugated states into NATO was a mistake.  Including the Baltic states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary quickly was the right thing to do, but I believe the process should then have slowed.  U.S. agreements with the Romanian and Bulgarian governments to rotate troops through bases in those countries was a needless provocation (especially since we virtually never deployed the 5,000 troops to either country).  The Russians had long historical ties to Serbia, which we largely ignored.  Trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching.  The roots of the Russian Empire trace back to Kiev in the ninth century, so that was an especially monumental provocation.”
 It was also natural for Putin to view the West’s strong support for Kosovo’s separating from Russia’s long-supported ally of Serbia as violating the rights of the Serbian state.  (To be clear, in my view, Kosovo’s achieving independence was the right outcome.)  And especially in hindsight, Russia viewed the invasion of Iraq as an unsanctioned act by the United States and by some Western countries to overthrow a sovereign leader based on weak, if not manufactured, allegations that Saddam Hussein was in the final stages of developing weapons of mass destruction. 
 These realities were combined with enormous and, for me, overblown sensitivity on Putin’s part, grown in part, I suspect, from his career in the KGB.  To say that he became paranoid about the intentions of the United States would not be an over-statement.  And he surely saw it as a means of strengthening his own popularity at a time when it was declining.
 More recently, I believe Putin has greatly exaggerated the mistreatment of Russians in Ukraine, including Crimea.  Characterization of the folks who went into Maidan Square as “Russia-phobes and Neo-Nazis” has been hyperbolic.  Surely there were some such people there, but to define the entire group in these terms in ludicrous.  Most of them surely simply wanted release from a corrupt and ineffective government.
Finally, we should not be surprised at the reaction that Putin and others in Russia had to the overturning of the agreement that had been reached on February 22 by Yanukovych and other Western countries before the ink was scarcely dry.  This agreement would have probably led to an election by the end of the year which would have voted Yanukovych out of office.  If one believes, as Putin certainly does (and there are reasons for this belief), that the movement in Maidan Square which led to the ouster of Yanukovych was incited to some degree by the West, one could take it as license to act.
 And that’s exactly what Putin did.  I believe he seized on this as an “excuse” to move into Crimea.  It is obviously a purely personal judgment, but I don’t believe if that agreement had been allowed to unfold through the end of the calendar year, Russia would have moved to have the referendum for independence in Crimea or have absorbed it as they have. 
 What’s more, I believe, Putin’s/Russia’s absorption of Crimea will prove to be a costly mistake for Russia and its people.  It will be a financial drain in its own right.  It has already produced sanctions, capital flight, a weaker ruble and it will, at least for a time, dampen foreign direct investment.  Nevertheless, we are where we are.
 Stepping back, Russia has always had and always will have different interests than the United States and the West; some geographical, some ideological in nature.  For example, Russia is far more dedicated to the preservation of existing governments—to very strong governments--that are more autocratic than we believe is right.  The United States acclaims much greater allegiance to individual democracy, to individual rights, to everyone speaking up.
 But, with all that, there are two things that are of paramount importance:
  1. There are many critical issues such as nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, on which it is absolutely critical that Russia, the United States and the West and the entire world work together on cooperatively. 
  2. Alienating and isolating Russia will significantly impede that cooperation.
So, what now? 
  1. We need to clearly define what we will not tolerate (e.g., any incursion into Ukraine or other independent country).
  2. We should recognize that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is not going to be overturned.
  3. We need to try to agree on what is in the common interest of our countries and the world.
  4. We need to identify the specific agenda items which we need to work together.
  5. We need quiet, tough-minded, no-nonsense, respectful interchanges among leaders in Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the West—leaders who understand each other’s history, culture and contemporary realities.(1)
I would like to add here the excellent perspective provided to me by a Professor of Russian History at the University of Cincinnati, Willard Sunderland.
 “The only point I’d suggest adding to your piece is that we should do everything we can to de-emphasize the neo-Cold War rhetoric and casual anti-Russian prejudice that has crept into the way our politicians and journalists/pundits tend to describe Russia.  There are too many simplifications in the way we are representing things, and there’s the risk that our simplifications will work against us.
 Russia today is not the Soviet Union.  We are not on the edge of a titanic global contest between “our way” and “their way.”  You are absolutely right – we have nothing to gain from isolating the country.  Likewise, though Putin is most definitely not a Western liberal or conservative, as all our TV talking heads are telling us, he’s also not a Brezhnev or an Andropov.  I see him as a Russian statist conservative in the mold of the last great tsarist premiere Petr Stolypin.  He wants a strong Russian state and a stable international neighborhood, while also supporting Russia’s full engagement with the world.  I do not think that there’s a plan afoot to gather up the lands of the old USSR motivated by some sort of imperial nostalgia.  He’s not interested in a lot of difficult and costly border changes.  He is a pragmatist more than he is an ideologue.  And he’s also, in my view, far from in charge of everything we’re seeing.  He’s hardly a grand master poring over a would-be chess board, moving every piece exactly where he wants it.  I think he and the Russian power establishment were as shocked by Yanukovich’s flight from Kiev as anyone else.  Much of what’s happened since then has been more opportunism than master strategy.  Putting all of this together, I see a situation in which there is every reason to work with Putin rather than to double-down against him.  To that end, I think your last point is dead on:  firm engagement is the key.  Quiet, persistent, firm engagement.
That is what we need now!
 (1) I’d note this is the kind of interchange that in times past was conducted by leaders like
George Schultz and Eduard Shevardnadze.  I believe former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock, was absolutely right in crediting the cultural sensitivity of certain U.S. leaders as a key factor in establishing good relations with their Russian counterparts:  “One of the keys to the success that Reagan, Schultz, Bush and Baker had in engaging the Soviet leaders,” Matlock writes, “was their attention to this factor [culture].  Reagan may not have mastered every detail of every arms control negotiation…but he spent as much time trying to understand Gorbachev’s thinking and the political constraints on his behavior as he did studying the ‘substance’ of the issues.  George Schultz was acutely aware that Eduard Shevardnadze, a Georgian, was immensely proud of this cultural heritage.  By showing interest in it and respect for it, Schultz was able to establish a degree of personal rapport with the Soviet Foreign Minister that helped them come to terms on issues that had resisted solution for decades.  James Baker picked up where Shultz left off and continued the relationship that benefitted both countries.”*
 *”Superpower Illusions” (pg. 74)

November 24, 2014

Remarks delivered on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary 
of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

“Once in a lifetime,” the poet Seamus Haney writes, “the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.”

These are the inspiring words in the Freedom Center film, “The Struggle Continues,” which I have returned to again and again for hope, for courage and for stamina. 

Surely there are few events in history which demonstrate how “the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme” more emphatically than the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 

It is altogether fitting that we are here today to commemorate that historic event at the Freedom Center.

The Freedom Center’s mission is simple and profound:  “We tell the story of freedom’s heroes from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times in order to inform and inspire all of us to take steps for freedom in our own life today.”

This year, we are celebrating the Freedom Center’s 10th anniversary.  We have done much during the past decade to fulfill our mission.  We have hosted millions of visitors, including over 400,000 students on school visits.  We share with them the history of the fight for freedom and encourage them to reflect on how the values embedded in that fight--values of standing up for what you believe in, of never giving up, of respecting other people--can influence their lives today, whether that might be confronting bullying in a schoolyard or just being a good friend.

Our International Freedom Conductor Award events, the first occurring before we even opened in 1999 when we honored Rosa Parks, to the most recent, when we honored Presidents Nelson Mandela and President Lech Walesa—each of these events put us in touch with the lives of freedom heroes in ways which can inspire us to be at our best as we confront issues of freedom and seek to help one another in our own lives today. 

I feel sure that President Walesa’s courageous leadership of the Solidarity Movement in Poland helped fire the courage and commitment of the hundreds of thousands of East Germans who protested on the streets of Leipzig and other cities of East Germany as the irrepressible momentum for freedom built in October and November of 1989.   And who knows how many were inspired by the immortal words Nelson Mandela uttered in the docket at the Rivonia Trial in April, 1964:  “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” These words, too perhaps, touched the minds and hearts of many of those brave souls in East Germany who plotted, marched, and risked their own lives and, in some cases, lost their lives, to bring down that Wall. 

This we are certain of--we rise on the shoulders of others, heroes from the era of the Underground Railroad to today as we seek the courage and the stamina to live our lives, being faithful to the highest values.

The Freedom Center’s mission is to showcase those lives and what they mean for us today. 

Recently, the Freedom Center has launched important new initiatives to advance the cause of Freedom today.

We are the home of the only museum-quality exhibit in the world illuminating the horror of contemporary slavery.  Thousands of visitors have told us that the knowledge they have gained from this exhibit is leading them to action.  We have partnered with the U.S. State Department to create a website that will bring to life the stories of heroes from around the world who have fought against human trafficking, allowing us to share the inspiration and learning to be gained from their lives around the world. 
I find it especially appropriate that we are here today to commemorate the courage of the men and women who led the transforming movement which brought this Wall down.  We need the encouragement and the hope that this provides.  Why?  Because we face many walls today.  Some walls are physical, like the one separating Israel and Palestine.  But many more of the walls—indeed the tallest walls, the hardest walls to breach--are not physical walls at all.  They are ideological walls; walls created by misunderstanding, by the unwillingness to view a situation through other people’s eyes; walls created by viewing people who are different than we are as some “other,” as people unworthy of our respect, of our time; or, in the worst of cases, unworthy even of their lives.

The Freedom Center’s mission is to help us break down these walls--to do it by sharing stories of inspiration like the Underground Railroad story itself, or stories of Nelson Mandela’s life which are now embedded in a new exhibit at the Freedom Center showcasing touch points in his heroic life.

I believe the Fall of the Berlin Wall can give us hope and stamina and courage as we face challenges that often seem to go beyond our ability to cope with.  These challenges are emblazoned on the front pages of our newspapers and the lead-in to nightly news programs.  They range from the sad and dangerous unraveling of our relations with the Russian Federation to the bloody disorder in the Middle East to fissions in our own country revealed in Ferguson, Missouri.  Yet, in the face of all these challenges, there lies hope and lessons to be drawn from what we celebrate today.  For, above all, the fall of the Berlin Wall and people’s brave and decades-long quest for freedom which led to it, is a vivid, hope-fueling demonstration of what is possible, of the imperative to never give up.
May this inspire us in the fights for Freedom that continue today.
The fight to tear down walls of misunderstanding and disrespect, differences which all too often become the basis for regarding a person of a different ideology or nation or faith or race as almost inhuman. These are walls we must breach by recognizing our common humanity, our common rights which as we avow in our Declaration of Independence (and virtually every Nation does in one way or another in their own constitutions) include the unalienable God-given rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit Of Happiness. These are words to not just admire and utter piously, but to act on. 
It is the Mission of the Freedom Center to convert the HOPE for Freedom into ACTION to achieve Freedom, by building awareness of the challenges to Freedom and providing a forum for learning and dialogue that will inspire, guide and motivate us to take the necessary action to overcome these challenges in our own lives. 
As we say to our visitors as they leave:  "If not you, then who; If not now, then when?"
The world, the society, the city we live in demands and deserves no less from us who can make a difference. 
Thank you. 

November 18, 2014


“Shane” was made in 1953, sixty years ago.  I was 15; my sister, Elizabeth, was 13.  She always said it was her favorite movie.  I think she was a bit in love, or maybe a lot in love, with Alan Ladd; and, no wonder.  Talk about a hero.  Sixty years old this movie, but as telling, or more telling for me today, than ever before.  I’ve probably seen it five times over the years.  It operates and is effective on so many levels.  In a way, it’s a story about Freedom.  Homesteaders, trying to raise a family on rich, open land in Wyoming, surrounded by ranchers who commanded the small town and had most of the guns.  They wanted the homesteaders off the Plains so their cattle could roam free; and they were ready to drive them off.

The homesteaders wanted to stay, to band together; but, one by one, as they were killed or had their homes burned, they decided they had to leave.  But there was one homesteader, Joe Stark, and a lone man, Shane, who came upon the family by happenstance, who wanted to stay.  They rallied altogether to face the challenge.

Shane came from an unknown background but it was apparent he had been a gunslinger; now quiet and restrained, seeking a new life, but still with latent power.

The relationship he forms with young Joey, probably around 10, makes the movie.  It’s clear that Joe’s wife, Marian is attracted to Shane and he to her.  Her husband senses this.  But there is never a hint of Shane crossing the line.  Too must respect for her and her husband and for himself for that to happen. 

The family life is real; the landscape beautiful; the fight scenes filled with tension.  The music, even if somewhat overdone, adds an enormous amount to the story. 

In the end, Joe was about to go into town to settle things with the gunmen.  Knowing Joe would be outgunned, Shane knocks him out in a fierce fight and then goes in his place and, in an incredibly dramatic finale, kills the gunmen.

This is a deeply moving movie way beyond what my words can convey.  It shows the loyalty of a family; the exuberance of a child; the honor of people; the courage of the homesteaders against the challenges they faced as they, yes, fought for Freedom. 

It is another example of how the fight for Freedom has gone on in every era, just as it goes on today, and how the values which we advance at the Freedom Center--courage, cooperation and perseverance--are what mark every Freedom movement that succeeds. 



November 9, 2014


This was one of the most thought-provoking books which I have read in a long time.  In the study of Taft and Roosevelt, the author presents a remarkably clear perspective on leadership qualities, pro and con.  It presents numerous illustrations of how the challenges we face today in government corruption and splintering of the country into partisan groups are, by no means, new. 

I have chosen to develop some summary thoughts on a few themes* which I think are relevant to my own life and to life in general below:

Theme #1 -- Roosevelt’s Character and Vision
The first point that impressed me was how he had grown up in a life of privilege; as did Taft.  No better example of this than when Roosevelt was 14, the family spent an entire winter in Egypt; three weeks in Palestine; two weeks in Lebanon and Syria; three weeks in Athens and Smyrna and Constantinople; and five months in Germany.  They had a two-month journey along the Nile in a private vessel with a 13-man crew. 

A characteristic of Roosevelt (much like my own) is that he never left anything to the last minute; preparing far ahead “freed his mind” from worry and facilitated fresh, lucid thought.  At one point, Taft marveled:  “I never knew a man who worked this far in advance of what has to be done.  Perhaps I value this virtue more highly because I lack it myself.”

I also came to appreciate Roosevelt’s love of his family.  He remarked when he was in college that he doubted if there was anyone “who has a family that loved him as much as you all do (writing to his Father).”  And “I am sure there is no one who has a Father who is also his best and most intimate friend, as you are mine.”

It’s hard to know how much future strength Roosevelt drew from as horrible a sequence of blows as one can imagine.  At the age of only 22, his wife, whom he had pursued as aggressively as I pursued Francie, died; on that same day, his Mother died.  She was only 49. 

He went on to marry a childhood friend, Edith Carow.  His affection for her was signaled early in their relationship as, in only a period of five weeks of being separated, he sent her 17 letters and she wrote almost as many in return.  I can identify with that. 

I can identify, too, with the strength he drew from being with his family.  One of his friends observed:  “His wife and children gave him the kind of spiritual bath that sent him back to the city refreshed and ready for what might come.” 

*In many portions, I have redacted phrases directly from DKG’s magnificent book.

It wasn’t a singular picture, however, of “family comes first.”  While his wife was very sick, indeed not knowing “whether she would live or die,” Roosevelt “could not forego the opportunity to go to Cuba” to serve with the Rough Riders.  “You know what my wife and children mean to me,” he told one of his supporters, “and yet I made up my mind that I would not allow even a death to stand in my way; it was my one chance to do something for my country and for my family…I now know that I would have turned from my wife’s deathbed to have answered the call.” 

That, I can assure the reader, would not have been my choice.

The combative nature of Roosevelt comes through loud and clear.  He was always ready for a fight.  As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he insisted that he would “rather welcome a foreign war.  The victories of peace are great; but the victories of war are greater…every man who has in him any real power of joy in battle knows that he feels it when the wolf begins to rise in his heart; he does not shrink from blood and sweat, or deem that they mar the fight; he revels in them, in the toil, the pain and the danger, as but setting off the triumph.”  He was looking forward to a war with Spain over Cuba. 

I can only say that Roosevelt had not tasted the true trauma of war; too young to have experienced the Civil War firsthand; not in office when the horrors of World War I hit.  I don’t believe he would have waxed so enthusiastically about war today.  One would hope not. 

I was especially taken by Roosevelt’s pointed view on the role of corporate responsibility and the importance of the Republican Party adopting a progressive stance.  He came down hard on “monopolistic constructions that impeded the consumer interest.”  He firmly believed that the Republican Party “should be beaten and badly beaten, if we took the attitude of saying the corporations should not, when they received great benefits and make a great deal of money, pay their share of the public burdens.”  Advocating “the adoption of what is reasonable in the demands of reformers” as “the surest way to prevent the adoption of what is unreasonable,” Roosevelt hoped to propel “the party of property” toward a more “enlightened conservatism.”

Again and again he returns to this theme, struggling as the author notes, “to reconcile Party allegiance with the drive to address social problems, a balancing act that became more difficult as the troubling aspects of industrialization intensified.  While he considered himself conservative in relation to the Populists, he believed that his party was in thrall to reactionaries who so ‘dreaded radicalism’ that they ‘distrusted anything that was progressive’.” 

As President, he worked hard to take action “on the single economic issue of the day:  the trust” and his desire to establish the Department of Commerce “with the power to demand information and determine necessary regulation” was effectively opposed by Republicans.

“I pass my days in the state of exasperation,” Roosevelt told his son, Kermit, “first with the fools who do not want any of the things that ought to be done and, second, with the equally obnoxious fools who insist upon so much that they cannot get anything.”  He lamented what we see today, letting legislation “fall between the two stools of the House and the Senate.”  He was referring here particularly to antitrust legislation. 

He continued to talk about what the Republican Party needed to do in terms that apply today.  As DKG writes, the cost to both his party and the country would be immense, he believed, if “the people at large” perceived “that the Republican Party had become unduly subservient to the so-called Wall Street men—to the men of mere wealth, the plutocracy.”  It would result in a “dreadful calamity,” Roosevelt told a conservative friend to see the nation “divided into two parties, one containing the bulk of the property owners and conservative people; the other the bulk of the wage workers and the less prosperous people, generally; each party insisting upon demanding much that was wrong, and each party sullen and angered by real unfancied grievances.” 

What better summation could there be of the situation we face today?

Running as the Presidential candidate of the Progressive Party in 1912, Roosevelt said this:  “We Progressives believe that human rights are supreme over all other rights; that wealth should be the servant, not the master, of the people.”  “Unless representative government does absolutely represent the people, it is not representative government at all.”  At this point, he was arguing for direct primaries and for federal laws to regulate child labor and women’s working conditions, to establish an income tax and to establish workman’s compensation.   

One of his favorite maxims on leadership was this:  “Don’t hit until you have to; but, when you do hit, hit hard.”  And this:  “It is never well to take drastic action if the result can be achieved with equal efficiency in less drastic fashion.”  And this, most famous of all:  “It is not the critic who counts,” he had famously preached upon his return from his African safari, “not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done 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, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Elihu Root, a leading Republican, captured Roosevelt’s essence very well in this observation:  “He is essentially a fighter and when he gets into a fight, he is completely dominated by the desire to destroy his adversary.”  That was aptly demonstrated as he turned on Taft, a man whom he had said was more qualified to be President than anyone in history during the nomination battle to be the Presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1912.

In a way, I found nothing more descriptive of Roosevelt’s character than how he reacted to being shot.  With the extent of the wound unknown, he demanded that he continue to be taken to where he was speaking and he spoke for an hour and a half, then telling his associate that he was ready to go to the hospital.  What they discovered was that the bullet had fractured his ribs, only missing his heart because it had hit the wadded speech which he had put into his pocket.

I believe the best summation of Roosevelt’s commitment to relentlessly pursuing a great cause is contained in this statement:  “Perhaps once in a generation there comes a chance for the people of a country to play their part wisely and fearlessly in some great battle of the age-long warfare for human rights.  We know that there are in life injustices which we are powerless to remedy, but we know also that there is much injustice which can be remedied.”  Referring to the Progressive Party, he pledged that it would harness “the collective power of the people through their governmental agencies.  We propose to lift the burdens from the lowly and the weary, from the poor and the oppressed.  We propose to stand for the sacred rights of childhood and womanhood.  Surely there never was a fight better worth making than this.  Win or lose, I am glad beyond measure that I am one of the many who, in this fight, has stood ready to spend and be spent.”

Theme #2 -- How Times Remain the Same
It was striking; indeed it brought a smile to my face to read that William Howard Taft’s mother, Louise, served as the first President of the Cincinnati Free Kindergarten Association.  As DKG writes, in the 1880s, Ohio laws had forbidden public funding of education for children younger than six.  Public kindergartens would eventually be established but, meanwhile, Louise and a group of her friends helped raise money to open a series of charity kindergartens.  “If the little ones who wander neglected in our streets are to be reached,” she proclaimed, “private benevolence must come to the rescue.  We, therefore, appeal to the friends of education and humanity to help us in this effort.”  The first kindergarten was established in 1880, followed by others, including one in which William Howard Taft’s wife, Nellie, taught.  Today, we are seeking to provide quality pre-K for all children.

There is also the continuing effort of each party to profit from holding office.  Theodore Roosevelt focused heavily on civil service reform.  As Roosevelt said, “Each party profited by the offices when in power, and when in opposition each party insincerely denounced its opponents for doing exactly what itself had done and intended again to do.” 

Roosevelt had long been aware of the corruption that was endemic in the country’s political and judicial systems, but he was sustained by what DKG says was his “sometime overweening belief in the right of his cause and the prospect of arousing struggle.”  “For the last few years, politics with me has been largely a balancing of evils and I am delighted to go in on a side where I have no doubt whatever and feel absolutely certain that my efforts are wholly for the good; and you can guarantee I intend to hew to the line and let the chips fly where they will.”

So, too, the split in the nation which we lament today is not new, though I doubt if it’s been more exaggerated than it is now.  Going back to the mid-1890s, the candidate who opposed Roosevelt in running for the mayor position in New York, Henry George, observed:  “We girdle the land with iron roads and lace the air with telegraph wires; we add knowledge to knowledge and utilize invention after invention.”  (Yet, despite such progress) he declared, “It becomes no easier for the masses of our people to make a living.  On the contrary, it is becoming harder.” 

DKG notes that a mood of rebellion began to spread among the laboring classes with an unprecedented number of violent strikes.  The combination of meager wages for 12-hour working days in unsafe, unsanitary conditions has spurred millions of workers to join unions.  In the year 1886 alone, more than 600,000 workers walked out on strike.

Citing the mindset of Walter White, a fabled correspondent, “he (White) began to understand the profound inequities that had produced the Populist uprising; how the growth of colossal corporations strangled competition in one field after another; how these corporations blatantly wielded their power through venal politicians, widening the gap between the rich and the poor.  Belatedly, but surely, he (White) came to recognize that (William Jennings) Bryan’s platform in 1896 ‘was the beginning of the long fight for distributive justice, the opening of a campaign to bring to common man…a larger and more equitable share in the commonwealth of our country’.”

DKG also shines a sharp light on the fact that corruption about which we complain so much today in other countries was alive and well in the United States.  Lincoln Steffens, one of the leading so-called “muckraker” journalists committed to social reform, conducted a series of interviews to determine why, when gambling enterprises and houses of prostitution were illegal, did the police officers of law allow them to exist?  Why were some saloons permitted to stay open beyond the designated hours while others were not?  “With astonishment,” Steffens learned that pervasive, systematic bribery allowed these businesses willing to pay Tammany Hall’s substantial monthly charge to operate unmolested, while those who refused to furnish protection money were closed down.  That’s the way it was. 

The practice extended all the way to the Senate, this in a day when senators were not elected through open elections but through backroom deals.  A scathing editorial from The New York Times said it well, suggesting that a millionaire could buy a senate seat “just as he would buy an opera box, or a yacht, or any other luxury in which he could afford to indulge himself.”  In some instances, The Times reported:  “The sale takes the form of open bribery of the legislators”; more often, the senate seat was “simply the satisfaction of a ‘claim’ acknowledged by the leaders of the party and created by large contributions to the party treasury.” 

Who could fail to hear an echo today from these words in a New York Times editorial on October 2, 1904 in the midst of the presidential campaign:  “The steady advance and the influence of money in our public life (works) as a poison on the minds and hearts of men.”  The editorial was launching out against Theodore Roosevelt, lamenting that “when a man of Mr. Roosevelt’s native scorn for corruption can be the willing, the eager, beneficiary of funds paid into his campaign chest through his former secretary and former cabinet officer with the undisguised hope that it will be repaid in favors to the subscribers.”

In happy contrast to this, DKG describes the demise of the Cox machine in Cincinnati and the “Young Republicans in Cincinnati” who formed a new club with a progressive agenda.  It was led by Howard Hollister (a founding member of the current law firm carrying that name).  At Hollister’s request, both Taft and Roosevelt accepted honorary memberships in the “Roosevelt Republican Club.”  Only such clear disassociation from corrupt and self-serving elements in the Republican Party, Hollister argued, could “disabuse the public mind of the growing feeling of domination of the party by the corporations and money-making commercial politicians.”

Theme #3 – The Character and Accomplishments of William Howard Taft
The most illuminating part of this book for me was the light it cast on the character and accomplishments of William Howard Taft.  I had known really little about him, and I came away from the book feeling that he was underrated both as President and as a human being.  His accomplishments were remarkable in many ways:  as the Governor of the Philippines; as President; as a judge throughout his life; and, finally, in what for him was the best job of all, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  There are certain aspects of his character, at least as viewed from outside, that are akin to my own.  And some that were very different, particularly, at least as described in this book, his tendency to delay doing things.

Taft’s affection for his wife is embodied in words much like I would use.  Describing her to a friend, he said:  “You know what a constant source of comfort and strength she is to everyone who seeks it from her.  She has already made me a better man--my ideals of life are higher and I believe my purpose to attain them is stronger.  Certainly there could not be given to a man a stronger motive for upright, consistent, hard-working and kindly living than the approval and intelligent sympathy of such a wife.”  And this which he wrote in a letter to his young wife:  “We can be happy as long as we live, if we only love each other and the children that come to us.”

One of the characteristics attributed to WHT that has much in common with my own character and even more perhaps what is described as my character, was his conciliatory nature and, sometimes, too great a need for approval.  Doris Kearns Goodwin describes this in many different dimensions.  One was the way in which he sought approval from his father:  (DKG) “Years later, Taft would credit his father’s indomitable will and lofty aspirations in prompting his own achievements.”  Or, as his father was dying, he described this spirit to his wife, Nellie, “I have a kind of presentiment that Father has been a kind of guardian angel to me and that his wishes for my success have been so strong and intense as to bring it, and that as his life ebbs away and ends, I shall cease to have the luck which has followed me thus far.”

A telling comment came from Taft’s mother, Louise, as she described her son’s level of needing  approval as a “besetting fault.”

In contrast to Roosevelt, Goodwin describes Taft as a “conciliator by nature; Taft was never comfortable when called upon to deliver ‘partisan diatribes and political rallies.’  He was reluctant to stir controversy or give avoidable defense.”  I can identify with that description.

At the same time, and I’d put myself in the same camp, Taft was not ready to “compromise his principles for approval or expediency.”  Goodwin describes Taft’s “quiet courage in his fight” against his political opponent “and his refusal to fire conscientious workers simply because of their political preferences.”  As Goodwin writes, “Taft had been willing to resign his post as revenue collector rather than bow to demands that he fire the best men in his department due to their political affiliations.”  (This brought me back to my admiration for my son John’s decision at Boloco.)

As President, Taft brought on a great deal of controversy in a debate over who should be leading the Department of the Interior.  Unwilling to let a controversial figure (Ballinger) go, the President said:  “Life is not worth living and the office is not worth having if, for the purpose of acquiring popular support, we have to do a cruel injustice or acquiesce in it.”  He generally believed that the press was “unjustly persecuting” a good man.

Taft’s sense of honor also emerged when Roosevelt asked him to assume a position on the Supreme Court.  “All his life,” his wife, Nellie, recalled, “his first ambition had been to attain the Supreme Bench.”  However, because the invitation came in the midst of great “religious excitement, monetary crises” and cholera in the Philippines, where he was serving as Governor, his response was, “Great honor; deeply appreciated; but must decline.”


There were those who felt Taft’s personality was ill-suited to the commanding role of President.  I suppose a few people felt that way about me, too, as the CEO.  Reporters described Will Taft as “the kindest man they (had) ever known in public life.”  Goodwin states that:  “The politics of personal destruction held no relish for a man ‘born with an instinct to be personally agreeable.’”

His mother Louise Taft understood the strengths and weaknesses of Taft.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” she warned him when he declared his candidacy, knowing that Roosevelt would also throw his hat in the ring.  “Roosevelt is a good fighter and enjoys it, but the malice of the politicians would make you miserable.”  A reporter said it this way:  “The country respects and trusts his ability and integrity, but his attitude is that of passive recognition and approval, not the headlong affection that brings power to a political leader of the first rank.”  But, from my perspective, that was overcome by the sense of responsibility and opportunity he brought to the task once in office.  No matter what it was.

There is no doubt that, at some points, Taft was too deferring; and perhaps, on occasion, so was I.  An example, shortly after his election, and with his administration still being formed, he told an audience that Elihu Root “ought to be President-elect and I ought to be a prospective member of his cabinet because I know how to serve under him.”*  (That I can never imagine saying having been appointed to a senior position.) 

Goodwin asserts that “such sentiments cannot be simply construed as extravagant humility or a nod, self-disparaging honor.  Rather, like his chronic procrastination, they connote tentativeness, a want of confidence arising from underlying insecurity.” 

There were points along the way when I probably deferred too much to some of the pronouncements and decisions of Durk Jager.  I finally came to grips with this, but in hindsight I took too long on some issues.  And the reason I did, I think, traces to some of the points that are made about Taft’s temperament, ones I share.

             *Elihu Root served as Secretary of War and Secretary of State.

Perhaps the most striking blow to Taft’s leadership image was the deferential approach he took to the Speaker of the House, Joseph Cannon.  His original intent (and the desire of many) was to oust him.  But he backed away from doing that.  This dispirited the reformers a great deal and caused them to lose confidence in his leadership.  Goodwin goes on to say that:  “Perhaps it was inevitable that Taft’s temperament – his aversion to dissension and preference for personal persuasion – would ultimately lead him to work within the system rather than mobilize external pressure from his bully pulpit.  But his conciliatory approach left his administration and the American people at the mercy of Joseph Cannon ‘the most sophisticated’ politician in the country and ‘the most familiar with every subterranean channel of politics, the most cunning in its devious ways, the most artful in the tricks of the craft.’”


I greatly admire Taft’s attitude toward the Filipinos when he was the Governor.  There was a great deal of discrimination shown against them at the time.  His wife shared Taft’s dismay:  “It is a great mistake to treat them as if they were inferiors and it really surprised me that the powers that be do not insist upon a different policy.”  Taft’s view was very contrary to Arthur McArthur’s* who “considered Taft’s desire to provide education and involve the populace in government as both wrong-headed and ultimately hazardous.”  This was influenced by the strong abolitionist beliefs of his father.

One aspect of Taft’s character which is unlike me (and may be over-characterized by Goodwin) was his unwillingness “to accept honest criticism.”  He had what is described as a “defensive, even paranoid stance toward the press.”  Rather than accept that “criticism may spring from an honest difference in principles,” Taft, per Goodwin, sought to discredit the publications, implying that their critiques sprang from self-interest or malice.  How sad.

In many ways, I believe that Roosevelt “failed Taft.”  He did not support him in the end.  He looked for opportunities to disagree with him. How ironical this was given the incredible praise and support Roosevelt had given to Taft.  At one point he said this:  “You are of all the men in this country the one best fitted to give the nation the highest possible service as President.”  His confidence was expressed again and again.  He brought him back from the Philippines to be his Secretary of War and regarded him as by far the most important man he could turn to, in the Cabinet.  He, per DKG, “admired Taft above any other figure in public life.”  And no wonder, based on what he had done.

Yet, after returning from Africa, and as the battle for the 1912 nomination unfolded, Roosevelt could not have been more negative.  His (Taft’s) problem, Roosevelt said, was not that he had “gone wrong,” but that he had stayed put while the country was moving ahead.  “He never thinks at all of the things that interest us most; he does not appreciate or understand them.  As for my ever having any enthusiasm for Taft again, it is utterly impossible.”

            *Military Governor of the Philippines; father of General Douglas McArthur.

Then, there was this assault in the final moments of the 1912 campaign:  “Taft has not only been disloyal to our past friendship, but he has been disloyal to every cause of decency and fair play.”  He only discovered I was dangerous to the people when I discovered he was useless to the people.”

Happily, they reconciled before they died.  Roosevelt first in January 1919; age only 61.