Pete Hegseth is a war hero who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Millennial awarded honors such as the Bronze Star Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge who served as CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and Executive Director of Vets For Freedom.
Beyond his service in uniform, Hegseth returned home from physical combat to vie on the political battlefield for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota in 2012. Though unsuccessful in that endeavor, Hegseth moved on to graduate with a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, became a Fox News contributor and just released a new book: In The Arena, Good Citizens, a Great Republic, and How One Speech Can Reinvigorate America.
In The Arena gets its title from the excerpt of “Citizenship in a Republic,” a famous speech by former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered in Paris:
“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.”
Hegseth repeatedly refers to that mantra throughout the book, a paragraph he framed and kept inside his dusty green, standard-issue duffel bag he carried from the sands of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Middle East. Roosevelt’s words were etched in his mind throughout each challenge in Hegseth’s life, and his book seeks to revive Roosevelt’s pride in the exceptional American experiment.
“His call to action is the call of this book,” Hegseth writes. “My own humble journey — which in no way compares to Roosevelt’s — thus far validates his recipe for the revitalization of our nation’s greatness. Our task now is to convince all Americans to get out of a defensive crouch and into the arena.”
Though Hegseth admits he disagrees with Roosevelt’s gradual leftward shift, he admires the Rough Rider’s indomitable spirit in the face of adversity, his grit and determination that Hegseth finds deeply lacking in today’s American foreign policy.
Hegseth is deeply troubled by a sense propagated by some in the media, academia and broader American culture, that our best days are behind us, that America is in decline. He pushes back on the Obama Administration’s apologies abroad for what Hegseth calls the “‘blame America first’ foreign-policy approach,” while also acknowledging U.S. missteps in Iraq and elsewhere.
“Iraqracy, or quasi-democracy, is eventually possible where societal ingredients exist that can either supersede or suppress hard-core Islamic law,” he writes. “Often, America pours mountains of humanitarian aid into vulnerable countries, without the necessary military component, hoping democracy will take root; instead, the situation only gets more violent, more chaotic, and full of corruption. Ultimately, sustainable ‘Iraqracies’ — no matter where in the world — require the capability for some level of sustainable shift in underlying societal preferences and opportunities combined with the will of America to shepherd that shift. Teddy believed others should ‘receive liberty,’ and so do I; in addition to ruthlessly hunting and killing our enemies, the challenge of the 21st century is finding the realistic opportunities for freedom promotion without blindly charging (or tepidly applying) American power in the service of unwinnable quagmires.”
While Hegseth’s call to service has led him to the battlefield, In The Arena urges Americans to apply the principles of Roosevelt into whatever their chosen realm of service; for Hegseth this is vital since “Ultimately, great republics rise — and fall — on the backs of ordinary citizens; it’s an empowering yet harrowing truth.”
With an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, Hegseth writes of his experience on Ivy League campuses where notions of “right” and “wrong” are fungible, the moral clarity that has guided America to be a beacon of hope and freedom throughout the centuries is eroding.
“American history is taught politically correctly and selectively, if at all,” he writes. “America’s youth are taught, as my brother was, their Native American ‘spirit names,’ but not the names of their American founders. Earth Day is as huge a deal, D-Day not so much.”
Hegseth is also worried about how America’s cultural fabric has been torn apart in many dimensions, pitting rich against poor, black against white, male against female. For this reason, he worries that the country is retrograding away from E pluribus unum, Latin for “Out of many, one,” the phrase on the Seal of the United States, into Ex uno, multis — from one to many.
This is why Hegseth wrote In The Arena, to urge Americans to jumpstart their lives back into the arena of action. In an area where social media and television ubiquity make the couch-potato lifestyle ever easier, Hegseth asks readers to remember their heritage of civic participation and strong community bonds, of leadership and taking smart risks.
“The arena for you could be starting or running a small (or large!) business, local civic action, perpetuating patriotic observances, supporting a principled candidate, leading a Boy Scout troop, coaching youth football, or volunteering at your church,” he writes. “In an American civil society built by rugged individuals with shared values, we will all have different talents interests and passions — all of which lead us down different paths, toward different pursuits, and to different levels of involvement. But all of those paths only lead to one American arena. You are either in it, or you are watching others shape it.”
Cross-posted from Opportunity Lives.
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others.