John D. Weaver and the Redemption of the 25th Infantry
Until the lions have their own historians,
tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter
— African proverb
On November 5, 1906, Teddy Roosevelt lost his temper, resulting in the largest mass dismissal in the history of America’s armed forces. It was an epic tantrum, with roots deep in the American psyche, and its effects resonated for generations.
I have written an extended screenplay treatment of the story of the 1906 dismissal, very much extended to include not only scenes from Roosevelt’s childhood but also the narrative of John D. Weaver, the writer who uncovered the episode sixty years after the fact and retold the story, correctly, sparking an official apology from the Army. This modest, indomitable figure, our scholar-hero, makes a fine contrast to Roosevelt, who plays the villain, and a fine contrast to the silent warriors of the 25th, men with no skills to tell their own story.
In a third draft, I would like very much to stretch the story further to include three more episodes from the mighty 25th’s combat record. Reading about their exploits at San Juan Hill, Guadalcanal and Cu Chi gave me goose bumps. Every time I have been discouraged on this project I have re-read these accounts and come away stronger. The 25th Infantry continues to serve today in Fallujah and Afghanistan.
I have been able to capture only a fraction of the passion, high drama, treachery, and shades of gray which must have accompanied these events. This story takes as its focus Theodore Roosevelt, who is an epic in himself, yet it is a storyline that includes many presidents – certainly Lincoln, certainly Eisenhower, and probably FDR and LBJ as well. Each faced the consequences of Hofstadter’s rule, in which the late Columbia University historian warns that presidents can exert both legitimate power and illegitimate influence: the more they use the latter, the quicker they lose the former.
The real story is the hardest one to tell, that of the generations of black soldiers who served a nation that wasn’t sure it wanted them. There are many more scenes to add to that storyline.