4 MARCH 1995, Page 47

High life

Neither up nor down


Abook review by Anthony Howard in last week's Sunday Times has caught my eye, and because of it, I shall forget all about the Barings and the Harrimans, two dynasties about to fall because of their association with low-lifers. Howard reviewed The Roo- sevelts, An American Saga, which is an engrossing tale of the hitter rivalry between two branches of a famous American family.

Howard starts off by declaring that the Kennedys were not America's first royal family, that the Roosevelts were there before. Perhaps to people like Howard — a soft lefty and a believer that the individual may misbehave as he or she pleases thugs like the Kennedys may be considered royal, but he's in the minority, along with a few thousand Paddies in Boston. This is just for openers.

He then goes on to say, 'Teddy Roo- sevelt's children were, on the whole, none too bright ' Well, please bear with me while 1 try to explain how dumb they were. But I'll start with their father. Asa former President, T.R., as Teddy was known, cam- paigned relentlessly to bring the United States into the European Great War. He called Woodrow Wilson 'an old grey skunk, a prize jackass', and many other apt adjec- tives. Wilson was pulling a Clinton, saying one thing and doing another — and initiat- ing taxation. After war was declared in April 1917, T.R. went to see Wilson and demanded to command a battalion in com- bat. Typically, Wilson was noncommital.

T.R. had beaten the drums of war against Spain before the turn of the centu- ry, but when war came, Teddy formed his own Rough Riders battalion and charged Up San Juan Hill in Cuba to win the most celebrated battle of the last major war of the 19th century. No one who saw Teddy lead his riders up the hill under withering fire expected him to conic back alive. But he returned alive, and at 59 years of age demander] a combat role on the Western front. It gets better. Not only did he seek combat in France, he wanted all four of his sons to fight. All did. Quentin was shot down and killed. Archie and Teddy jr were badly wounded. The second world war found the surviving three brothers, now pushing 50, anxious for combat duty, and all three achieved it.

In fact, they tried as hard for the most dangerous assignments in units where the other men were of an age to be their sons, as the • present occupantof the White House tried to avoid serving his country. Ted jr even sent his younger brother Ker- mit a white feather because he had not enlisted quite as fast as Ted felt he should have. Theodore Roosevelt jr, age 57, went ashore with his son on D-Day, the oldest man in the invasion force. Walking with a cane he personally led U.S. troops on Utah Beach, winning the Medal of Honor posthumously in an action General Bradley called the bravest he saw in wartime.

These, then, were the children of T.R. that Anthony Howard calls dumb. If, like Anthony Howard, 1 had not seen war and combat from close up, perhaps I'd agree with him that men who answer the call to arms, or volunteer for it, are dumb. They are simply superior: the shameless personal conduct of people like Clinton and his Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, is not for them. (Talbott defended Clin- ton's draft dodging and noted that his own knee 'was bad enough to keep me out of the Mekong Delta but not off the squash courts and playing fields of Oxford . '.) I don't know where Howard went to school and who taught him to call brave men dumb, but it wouldn't surprise me if he and the Draft Dodger didn't drink from the same yellow fountain.