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Teddy Roosevelt pursues the boat thieves (2015) (nps.gov)
107 points by keiferski 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 60 comments

> The men he was chasing were armed and dangerous. How might you have reacted to the theft of a replaceable boat when capturing the thieves was so time-consuming and dangerous?

This might sound a bit self-helpy but I've found one of the best indicators of a great people is their passion for caring about things most other people wouldn't bother to put effort into and then turning that basic caring into something bigger and interesting. Like how this turn into one of his many legendary life stories.

Most of us have a capacity for a few things to care about but some people have an ability/energy to cast that broadly. The small details add up in life and it's what communities (and businesses) are built off of. Basically a dedication to principles and making the world you want to see not just consuming it.

The notion of objects being replaceable and therefore you shouldn't do much when they're taken is.. I think?... an invention of risk departments at modern corporations. Like sure if you're a department store you don't want to risk your employees getting hurt stopping a shoplifter, the downside far exceeds the upside. But as a person? That's your stuff, and it makes total sense to want it, not a replacement, and to want to punish the thief in the process. You're fully within your moral rights (imo) to try to take it back.

.. I mean, within reason. Don't do anything stupid.

Anyway this very human urge is why e.g. rampant property theft in certain US cities is so frustrating. I want to live in a world where the government protects not just my life and rights but also my stuff and the coherence of the world. Within reason.

Agreed, and at the risk of saying something inflammatory, it really grinds my gears when I hear people argue against lethal defense of property with comments along the lines of, "Is your X really worth more than someone's life?", as if the moral and ethical burden should fall on the victim and not the aggressor.

Property and ownings aren't free, you often cannot replace them without cost or replace them at all if they are sentimental. The money I spent to buy them, and the money I will spend to replace them, did not come from nowhere, that represents time wasted out of my life, that I will never get back. In a sense someone stealing something from you is not just about the material value of what was stolen but the transfer of all the hours of your life you wasted to afford it to someone who didn't. In an abstract sense it is an indirect assault on your lifespan. The real question to thieves should be, is YOUR life less valuable to you than my possessions?

Well, I mostly agree although I think lethal force is often not in the 'within reason' clause of my stance. Depends on the circumstances but Americans love to jump to talking about lethal force way too fast and it's creepy. Not to mention that it results in, well, a lot of death.

But it is really more than just the hours it took, or sentimental value. It is also the coherence of the worldview that "one's stuff is theirs and they'll get to keep it and the world will agree". That worldview in its own has value: it causes things to make moral sense; it's necessary for our lives to function. I would not allow it to be compromised without a defense.

>Well, I mostly agree although I think lethal force is often not in the 'within reason' clause of my stance.

For sure, there definitely are situations in which case it would be absurd to try to justify as within reason. But I would say burglaries, home invasions, muggings, carjackings or any theft that has an implication of violence towards the victim and the like squarely fall into the "within reason" category regardless of the actual amount attempted to be stolen.

>Depends on the circumstances but Americans love to jump to talking about lethal force way too fast and it's creepy. Not to mention that it results in, well, a lot of death.

I know what you mean, but I think this comes about as a result of Americans being one of the few peoples in the world in the unique position where they have the right to do something about it, and many of them are afraid of this right being curbed or taken away. There are not many countries where your average everyman can just walk into a store to buy a weapon that would actually be reasonable to use in a self defense scenario without harming yourself and then use them to legally protect themselves, their families, their properties. And those are rights sadly that many people in the US campaign against even knowing that once they are gone they are not likely to get them back. In other countries, people do not bring up such topics because they know the reality of having such rights in the future are more or less an impossibility.

> ...a weapon that would actually be reasonable to use in a self defense scenario without harming yourself...

Such a tired narrative. Guns are far more likely to kill oneself or a loved one in an accident or suicide than to stop an attacker or robber.

If one must rely on such a device for defense then the state has already failed spectacularly. Fixing such situation with guns, or bigger cars, or moving away won't make things better. In fact it entrenches the problems.

"Guns are far more likely to kill oneself or a loved one in an accident or suicide than to stop an attacker or robber."

Accident rates are really low[1], part of a 3% "Other" bucket for gun-involved deaths.

Suicide is not commonly viewed as a threat to one's safety. You could try to look at it that way but I don't think it's very convincing as you presented it.

So if your point is that guns are a net decrease to an individual's safety, you need something more.

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/04/26/what-the-...

Or people in other countries are actually glad that the risk of being shot are minimal while still being safe

Crime exists everywhere on different scales. The genie is out of the bottle so to speak in the US, so gun control on a scale that brings America in line with other countries while also keeping citizen's rights and safety intact is imho not so much possible anymore. Does not feel like there is a good black and white answer to that, I would say the risk of being shot while not committing crimes is quite minimal in the US as well.

You might say that but it is certainly incorrect compared to other countries. Have a look at mass shooting statistics across countries just as one example. Those victims are not committing crimes.

You could easily find news about a lot of cases when a child shot on playground in US.

That is impossible in EU.

Its weirdly almost on the level of a fetish for some of them in the sense they crave and fantasize about coming out guns a'blazing. You can hear it in their voice, see it in their eyes, and their body language completely radiates their contempt for any world where they are not the main character killing "bad guys"

The notion that a thief would have to pay for their crimes with their life, either because anyone could be armed and its legal to protect your property with lethal force, or the government would punish repeated theft with death, I think would be enough to deter most people from doing so. It's the fact that a jail/prison sentence is meaningless to most criminals (if they're even sent there), that we have such rampant crime.

Just look at any country that has strict laws, and serious punishment like Singapore, Japan, South Korea. They enjoy unparalleled safety in their cities.

I agree that the immediate risk of death would probably influence it a bit. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that there is not a strong negative correlation between "risk of death" and "crime rate" in the world, just think about south America (high death risk and high crime) and the Nordic countries (low death risk low crime).

I also strongly disagree with the statement "It's the fact that a jail/prison sentence is meaningless to most criminals (if they're even sent there), that we have such rampant crime.". Again, compare prison sentences in the USA with e.g Norway, then compare their recidivism rates. There are many many factors that play into crime rate (poverty, education, and recidivism being important ones), reducing it to 'our prisons are too nice' is way too simple.

> (low death risk low crime).

If you look at lower level crime (theft etc.) Western Europe and especially the Nordic countries are not doing that well. Sweden for instance has the highest levels of theft and burglary in the whole Europe by quite a margin. Not saying "too nice" prisons are too blame for this, there are certainly some more important factors (hint: recent immigration and failure to integrate second/third generation "immigrants" (couldn't find a better word to describe this group)).

I don't really think so. In the middle ages, punishments for all sorts of crimes were pretty severe--but partly because the vast majority of crime would go unsolved. If you're a peasant in the middle ages and some valuables go missing, who's going to track that down for you? It's not happening unless you know for sure it was your neighbor or something.

So yeah, when they would catch a thief they would receive some pretty harsh punishment. But it didn't stop much. Theft in the middle ages was rampant.

Humans are pretty bad at making calculations involving a really bad outcome at a 5% chance of happening, or those sorts of things. Theft persists today as it did then, just because it's really hard to investigate and so generally goes unpunished.

Another point is that inequality also drives petty theft, especially in the Middle Ages. People don’t tend to commit petty theft because they want to. For a modern example, see https://jacobin.com/2022/02/mainstream-media-news-shopliftin...

> They enjoy unparalleled safety in their cities.

Plenty of countries/cities which don't are pretty safe too (e.g. Eastern Europe these days)

I'm not gonna pretend homogeneity isn't a factor.

I hate that argument too because it very callously disregards the assymetry of intention and information when in fact you almost can't responsibly assume its anything other than life or death. Its so very easy for the barristers perched up in their High Courts to dictate homilies while after the fact of someone trying to kill you and they don't want to put them back in prison or get the press hounding them due to statistical irrelevancies although that should not be totally ignored in other more appropriate forums for such civil discussion

TR went to significant risk and effort to retrieve his boat and see that the thieves were jailed. It would have been much easier - expected, even - that he would have just shot them dead.

Of course not everyone is TR. He is a high moral standard to live up to, and he was also a lot stronger than most then and certainly most today.

Lethal force is only to be used in self defense, when your life is truly threatened and you truly have no other way of stopping them.

I don't know the context in which you mean that, so maybe I am misunderstanding you. But in my eyes someone who has chosen to commit theft on your property is already showing enough of a blatant disregard for social norms and the safety of you or your family that your life would be considered threatened. It's not possible to know their intentions or motivation and I wouldn't pass judgement on someone who chose lethal force in that kind of situation.

For what it's worth, the only state in the United States which agrees with your philosophy is Texas. Every other state requires an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm to justify the use of lethal force. (And honestly, Texas only holds that position because of its huge size and ranching background, where cattle rustling stood a major risk to the state's economy.)

100% agree - but I think that extends to when your life was threatened in defense of your property

Unfortunately, ultimafan, we can't just kill people for wasting our time.

The largest category of property theft in the US is wage theft. Are workers justified to use threat of lethal force to regain stolen wages from their employers?

Well, I have some Appalachian ancestry so I might be skewed redneck[0] here, but sometimes yes. Or at least a good whooping. There’s an old bit from some comedian (Chris Rock?) that everyone should get one free smack on someone annually, maybe that’s a good line?

As a young, starry eyed entrepreneur living in the city I got in on a startup as Employee #1, built the entire company from scratch. Worked insane overtime, had some limited equity (5% ISO)… but the founder had certain strategies and tactics.

Always had excuses and lies for me about how he uses some app with his bank that mails the checks and I don’t know why the paycheck hasn’t come in the mail, he’ll go in person tomorrow and demand the manager though! Fast forward two months, the overdue check would arrive. Except now you might be waiting on last month and your current one as well…

I watched this same tactic repeat with contractors, our marketing and graphic design folks. Except not only would he delay for months making them sweat, he would give them a story about cash flow issues but he could settle the account now for, say, 40% of the original amount. They all took the deal, knowing they would likely never see a dime otherwise.

I ended up leaving the company after a 7th(?) wave of not being paid, we had received a 500k investment three months prior and our two man firm was magically out of money again so I called bullshit.

Sure, maybe you could retain legal council and see him in civil court 3 months later after your water was shut off for non-payment and you apartment evicted. Theoretically, we have non violent means of retribution here. Theoretically, you who burnt savings up trying to stay afloat while your credit card has interest and your apartment and utilities accrue late fees.

The guy really know how to toe the line of legal-but-immoral here… I don’t know, maybe a good whooping would be a sound solution for him? Who knows.

[0] - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain


I asked the question provocatively for OP to consider their suggestion but I understand the defensive need for workers to arm themselves in American history within living memory, many such cases where capital and state and organized crime all banding together against workers with extreme violence to coerce them antagonistically. Not to mention the ongoing modern cases of American business putting hits on workers abroad as a form of union negotiation

Workers in America have softened and given up their power in decades since but these conditions could easily return domestically, where it’s not just a fair wage being sought but survival under direct attack

Wage theft is abhorrent but does not have the implication of violence behind it, so I would say no, take it to the law and go work somewhere else. It's a far cry from knowing a stranger has broken into your house and violated one of the few sanctuaries you have and potentially put your family at risk, and left behind the trauma of family members never feeling safe in that home again (and that is something I can tell you from experience). You do not know what he is thinking or what his motivations are. You do not know how he will react to your presence or to the presence of your family, but you do know for him to have broken in he is not in the right state of mind and his reasoning skills have issues.

Oh I thought you were talking about property loss, not violent break and enter into your home. So you’re talking with people speaking out against lethal force in home invasion. Ok. Got it

Yes, sorry I should have been more clear about that in my initial post. I would not condone someone going out and explicitly seeking violence after the fact.

The thief has your box of savings and are walking away. You recognise the thief, and can give the police its name. You happen to have a gun. Are you morraly permitted to commit violence to stop the thief? And how does this violence compare to the violence you can commit to the vage thief?

I am entitled to a citizens arrest of the suspect, with all the liability that implies for myself if I am wrong.

If the subject refuses to comply, then enough physical violence to restrain them until police arrive or at least my property is returned is absolutely warranted. No more violence than this though, and it's a very subjective line. If I end up being wrong about it being my property, I am in some serious shit if I decide to go down this route.

This whole meme that you can do whatever you want to my property and you can't do anything about it is just silly. It's not reality for most of humanity, and is a very small bubble in western history so far.

I'm doing fine in life now so my bar for this is far higher. However at much more desperate times in my life, stealing the tools out of my truck would have been existential and I would have fought anyone I caught stealing them to the death if required. It's a huge amount of privilege to say property doesn't matter and can easily be replaced.

I also have in the past showed up at thieves homes to retrieve my stolen property - luckily no violence was ever needed, and I had no plans to engage in it going into those situations. The vast majority of the time if you confront such a thief they will instantly give up because they are simply not used to any pushback whatsoever from victims (or anyone at all whatsoever these days).

Was this likely a stupid personal decision for my own safety? Yep. But it was the only decision you can make if you actually care about society. We are seeing the results of too many people making the rational personal choice at the expense of the greater good today.

Too much of a hypothetical to give a real answer to that, imho. I do not think it is immoral to protect your savings or property if someone has gone to the lengths of violating your safety by breaking in to your home. If you know and recognize them, and you're familiar with them, you would probably know well enough to know that they are not a threat and didn't break in with the intention to hurt you. But all that goes out the window if you happen upon an unexpected stranger in your home in the spur of the moment.

With a wage thief, it's not an action that could directly threaten you. You would be making the choice to go well out of your way to cause harm to them, it'd be premeditated violence. And I would hope no one would choose to do that.

FYI your original post sounded like you were advocating shooting purse snatchers or shoplifters in the back as they ran away with the goods.

Home invasion is quite a bit different from property theft.

Leaving aside the question of justification, one of the mysteries of life in the United States is that with so much gun violence there is so little of what you describe.

That becomes less of a mystery when you look at the gun violence details. A significant chunk is self-inflicted, and another significant chunk is gang related. Remove those and that leaves a surprisingly small amount of gun violence when you consider there are 1.5 guns per American.

In the vast majority of cases when people use guns to prevent theft, no shots are fired. Usually brandishing a weapon is sufficient. These incidents happen all the time, yet they don't appear in any official statistics.

Theft is different in the sense that you don't willingly engage in a transaction at all. Wage "theft" is not usually theft; it's one party not fulfilling their obligations.

In practice not paying someone for work already done is really bad, so we should (and do, to varying degrees) have laws to try to protect workers.

The article has this quote from Roosevelt:

> “In any wild country where the power of law is little felt or heeded, and where every one has to rely upon himself for protection, men soon get to feel that it is in the highest degree unwise to submit to any wrong…no matter what cost of risk or trouble. To submit tamely and meekly to theft or to any other injury is to invite almost certain repetition of the offense, in a place where self-reliant hardihood and the ability to hold one’s own under all circumstances rank as the first of virtues.”

> an invention of risk departments at modern corporations.

No, it's an invention of an industrialized society that, for the most part, has material goods in relative abundance.

Very few people are actually in a situation where some burglar is in a position to ruin them to destitution. We aren't subsistence peasants, for whom the theft of a farm animal could have been the difference between life and starvation.

Violence, inflicted either by you, or at you, on the other hand, can very well be the difference between life and ruin, and it's baffling how so many people seem to treat the use of deadly force as if its some kind of video game, or Stephen Seagal flick.

>Very few people are actually in a situation where some burglar is in a position to ruin them to destitution. We aren't subsistence peasants, for whom the theft of a farm animal could have been the difference between life and starvation.

Don't about 60% of Americans live pay check to pay check? Though anecdotal what I tend to see while lurking is that HN is a bit of a bubble. There are plenty of people for whom the theft of their car, which they rely on completely because of the difficulty of living in many parts of the US without one can lead to financial ruin. And that is not mentioning the future potential of your life lost by any trauma associated with knowing your home is not safe and someone has broken into it, and potential income you will lose struggling with those thoughts or the anxiety of it.

> Don't about 60% of Americans live pay check to pay check?

It's way less than that, closer to 20%.

And if you're in that kind of financial situation, you won't be able to afford killing someone over property. If you're that precarious, even if you're eventually 100% cleared of all the legal questions, the costs/time spent on it will ruin you. That kind of poverty is highly correlated with... Having a lot of difficulties navigating the justice system.

That's fair. I've never been in such a situation, and hope that I never will. When my family faced a break in we were thankfully not home at the time, did not have much of value that could have been or was lost either. But I would still not pass moral judgement on someone in a similar situation who did happen to be at home and choose to protect their property. And I do find it sad that the legal system would potentially ruin their life over it.

I see it more deeply ingrained in martial-arts/self-defense culture. First lesson is often to avoid violence by whatever means necessary. You don't know if the thief has a weapon or backup on standby.

Your wallet is much cheaper than the risk of serious injury or death. The "hands on" self defense skills are a last resort.

True but there's also been apocryphal stories of burglars suing homeowners for injury on their property when stealing their stuff.


1) Great read: "Roosevelt in the Bad Lands", by Hermann Hagedorn. Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press Cambridge 1921, Copyright 1921 by Hermann Hagedorn, available at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/24317/24317-h/24317-h.htm

2) Some modern photos of the country there, plus my own random thoughts: "Moody, hey?" at https://ultralighter.blogspot.com/2017/10/moody-hey.html

I like the story of Roosevelt in a Montana bar. When a local cowboy came up to him with revolver drawn, mortally offended that some Fancy Eastern Dude would actually show his face in that establishment while WEARING EYEGLASSES of all things, Roosevelt stood, faced the man, KO'd him with one punch to the face, and got the upvotes of all assembled.

knuckleheads are nothing to celebrate - you can't wear glasses in that bar because you have to be ready to knuckle-up. generations of broken tooth morons IMHO

hint- yes, getting knocked hard in the head, over and over, often results in long-term brain damage. The men who practiced it had honor among the hunting pack, to look past not being able to do simple arithmetic or remember what week it is... more common among illiterate people, since reading differentiates quickly for those cognitive traits

The Moody link was fantastic. Thanks.

Related: the Roosevelt–Rondon Scientific Expedition through the Amazon River system, in Brazil. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt%E2%80%93Rondon_Scien...

The River of Doubt, Roosevelt's documentary of the expedition: https://youtu.be/fKXOtJeaTEQ

A 100-year anniversary expedition visiting the Roosevelt River in Brazil. https://youtu.be/hUACMEJfCvc

Roosevelt wrote, “Tell Osborn I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and if it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so.” ― Candice Millard, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

“Let us weep,” Rondon would tell them, “for I loved this man who has perished for my sake. But I command you to do as he did. Never shoot.” Rondon believed that his mission in protecting and pacifying the Indians was larger than his own life, larger than any of their lives. He would rather die than surrender his ideals, and he obliged his men to follow suit.” ― Candice Millard, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

If you haven't already, read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. One of the best biographies I have ever read.

+1 to this.

That book has a few sections describing policy arguments on the floor of the New York Senate which are so well written that they are absolutely riveting! It sounds ridiculous to say that political arguments (from 100+ years ago) could keep you on the edge of your seat, but they do. It’s why this book the Pulitzer Prize.

I think I took note of that exact passage:

> Some insult to do with the pea jacket (legend quotes it as “Won’t Mamma’s boy catch cold?”) caused Roosevelt to flare up. “Teddy knocked him down,” Hunt recalled admiringly, “and he got up and he hit him again, and when he got up he hit him again, and he said, ‘Now you go over there and wash yourself. There was a broken chair in the room, and I got a leg of it loose and put it down beside me where it was not visible, but where I might get at it in a hurry if necessary I then put the bill in my pocket and announced that I would report it anyhow. This almost precipitated a riot, especially when I explained … that I suspected that the men holding up all report of the bill were holding it up for purposes of blackmail. The riot did not come off; partly, I think, because the opportune production of the chair-leg had a sedative effect, and partly owing to wise counsels from one or two of my opponents.

Going to go look for an audio book

Interesting that the US NPS leaves completely un-noted the description of a thief as a half-breed.

Some of Roosevelt’s other commentary on Native Americans:

“I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

Perhaps even now the NPS can’t help but turn a blind eye to the less endearing aspects of Roosevelt’s legacy.

Theodore Roosevelt was actually quite progressive for his time. He was one of the first US president to invite a black man, Booker T. Washington, to dinner at the White House[0]

  On October 16, 1901, shortly after moving into the White House, President Theodore Roosevelt invited his adviser, the African American spokesman Booker T. Washington, to dine with him and his family. The event provoked an outpouring of condemnation from white politicians and press in the American South.[1] This reaction affected subsequent White House practice and no other African American was invited to dinner for almost thirty years
Ironically, democrats were one of the most ardent critics:

  The response from the southern press and politicians was immediate, sustained and vicious. James K. Vardaman, a Democrat from Mississippi, complained that the White House was now, "so saturated with the odor of nigger that the rats had taken refuge in the stable;" the Memphis Scimitar declared it "the most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States"
Very different times. One shouldn't judge past generations according to today's ethical norms.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booker_T._Washington_dinner_at...

Assuming a historical figure wasn’t racist feels like a bad default. I don’t think it’s necessary to point out racism in every hagiography.

don't try to apply modern moral standards on historical figures

I’m sure decent people existed then, too. Rather, no need to make excuses for historical figures who don’t care if you criticize them.

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