A Profile in Courage – Marshal Candido Rondon

Who is Candido Rondon? It is likely you have never learned about this Brazilian figure of history, but he was not only an exemplary Brazilian, but he was also an extraordinary explorer, friend to indigenous peoples, soldier, statesman, and traveler. Achieving the highest rank in the Brazilian military, he devoted himself to the service of his nation in the twilight of empire and the forging of a new republic. While not a politician nor a man hungry for power, he was a man of great courage, fortitude, and moral fiber. He put others before himself and never wanted to be immersed in the modern wants for fame or fortune as others greedily claim for themselves in the modern era.

While a military officer first, he was a famous explorer who cared about the environment and did his best to balance that with his desire for progressive development of connecting a new nation together through telegraph lines as director of the official commission. He not only cared about the environment but also sought for the protection of indigenous peoples who he encountered during his explorations and made sure that all of his interactions with them were both peaceful and friendly.

He did many incredible things in his life but as far as what I have learned about him; he was never a big braggart who boasted incessantly and who was much more concerned with how his men were doing whether they were his fellow soldiers, explorers, or countrymen. He was very successful because he set a powerful example and took care to accomplish whatever he took upon himself to the best of his abilities. From being a director for the protection of indigenous peoples to setting up telegraph lines as a commissioner to commanding fellow troops to explore the unknown regions of the Amazon, Rondon was a man who was the epitome of a ‘profile in courage.’

Marshal Rondon was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has various catastrophes and tragedies befall him as a child. His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was only two years old. His grandparents died when he was a boy, so he was cared for by his uncle. Rondon was a victim of discrimination for his indigenous origin and was bullied because of it. He was not tall or very strong physically either.

However, none of these setbacks stopped him because nothing would stop a man who was courageous, determined, and a hard worker. Most of all, it should be said that rather than let these personal tragedies derail him and his life goals, it is likely that they spurred him on to achieve great things and to make the most of the time that was given to him with more awareness of the preciousness of life and how quickly it can be taken away.

Marshal Candido Rondon has great discipline and determination especially when it came to his education as a teenager and as a young adult. He studied both Mathematics and Physical and Natural Sciences at the War College in Rio de Janeiro. He became second lieutenant of the Armed Forces of Brazil in 1888. He was directly involved as a military officer in the formation of the Brazilian Republic after the fall of the Brazilian Empire. In addition to all of these academic pursuits, he self-taught himself various skills especially engineering. He also became physically disciplined allowing him to spend months and years in the harsh tropical climate due to his time spent in the military and military school.

Rondon was instrumental in connecting the Amazonian region of Brazil to the rest of the country. As an Army engineer, he was in charge of expanding the reach of the new republic and removing the isolation that this part of Brazil had become accustomed to. He built the first telegraph line that crossed the state of Mato Grosso. With his leadership, construction began on a main road from Cuiabá to Rio de Janeiro (The Capital of Brazil at the time). Telegraph lines were also established from Brazil to Bolivia and Peru. He maintained peace both with the indigenous tribes and Brazil’s neighbors during his time as the Telegraph Commissioner.

You could argue today that Marshal Rondon was the closest to being thought of as a Pacifist that a military officer could be. He always tried to make friends with the indigenous tribes of Brazil especially. He never ordered his men to shoot the Indians, even when they were being attacked by them sometimes by poisonous arrows.

Because of Rondon’s beliefs in Positivism and positivist thought, he wanted to make the indigenous tribes civilized and connected to the rest of Brazil in a non-violent and gradual way. For his actions, he later on in life became the first director of the Indian Protection Service (SPI), which still exists in Brazil today under a different name of FUNAI (National Indian Foundation).

After 1888, Marshal Candido Rondon became a member of the positivist church in Brazil, which was based on humanist ideals. Heavily influenced by the Brazilian thinker, Benjamin Constant, the Brazilian military and its new republic helped to spread the ideals of positivism within Brazil. Mr. Constant was influenced by the French enlightenment philosopher, Auguste Comte. Positivism as an ideology emphasizes naturalism, science and altruism, rather than any religious doctrine in particular. Marshal Rondon was influenced by positivism in his actions with regards to supporting the telegraph expansion and by his pursuit of co-existence and eventual friendship with the Indigenous populations. The positivism movement and the spread of Republican beliefs among Brazil’s military and political leaders helped in a major way in changing Brazil from an empire to a republic.

What most people outside of Brazil, especially Americans such as myself who are fond of history would only know about Candido Rondon, would revolve around his historic journey of discovery and exploration with then ex-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1913-1914. The Roosevelt – Rondon scientific expedition was a research expedition between 1913 and 1914 to follow the path of the River of Doubt (Rio da Duvida) in the Amazon. Because of sheer physical dexterity and encyclopedic knowledge of the Amazon, Rondon, miraculously, was the only man who came back healthy. The ex-President, Theodore Roosevelt almost died of illness and it could be said that Rondon helped save his life and that of his son, Kermit too.

Three of the Brazilians died during the expedition sadly. Without Rondon and the local experience and knowledge of his men, the expedition would have been a disaster. Historically, this was also an important moment to solidify good relations between the two countries which were both far away in terms of language and cultural connections at the time. The ‘River of Doubt’ was renamed the Roosevelt River (Rio Roosevelt) in honor of the former American president for completing the journey which would not have been successful without the assistance and perseverance of Marshal Rondon. There are times in a man’s life where you can state how his leadership was instrumental to the success of a group and in this expedition, Rondon’s leadership was unquestionably the reason why it succeeded and why it is remembered so fondly today.

Few Brazilians have made as great of an impact on their country as Marshal Candido Rondon. The Indian Protection Service (SPI) had its problems, but it became FUNAI, which still helps indigenous peoples today throughout the country. The new Brazilian republic grew both more connected and stronger due to the telegraph and road construction commissions which were led by Rondon and his men. Rondônia is now a Brazilian state composed of the Amazon Forest that is named after the Marshal. His military service, his care for the Indians, and his positivist beliefs are still remembered by many Brazilians today. Marshal Candido Rondon died at the advanced age of 92 in 1958, in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of a country for which he did so much and honored so very proudly.

Book Recommendations – Volume IX

What better way to enjoy the Winter season than by enjoying a few good books by the fireplace or in a coffeeshop. Whether its’ fiction or non-fiction, being able to sit down and read for an hour each day is one of the best activities one can do during those cold, winter months. The three books I have recommended cover very different themes and topics but each of them is worthwhile reads especially if you are into non-fiction. From Candice Millard’s vivid storytelling of President Theodore Roosevelt’s perilous journey to the Amazon, James Clear’s atomic habits to build a better life, and author Chris Hedges’ look into the dark underbelly of American society, each book is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone depending upon what kind of non-fiction they are looking to dive into.

1.) The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

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In our current era where past Presidents settle into retirement by creating foundations, writing memoirs, and going on paid speaking tour circuits, it can be difficult to recall that there was a time when the American president would not stay still but rather seek out new adventures. President Theodore Roosevelt was just such a former President when he embarked on a perilous and physically strenuous journey down the Rio Duvida (River of Doubt) in the heart of the Amazon. In the aftermath of his election defeat in 1912, the former President did not stand idly by and settle into a quiet retirement from politics. Instead, he did what he did best and ended up taking upon himself an adventure that no other modern President would think of doing nowadays.

Still in the early days of the 20th century, it was still the age of exploration as explorers from the Western world would go to the lesser known parts of the world to make their mark on mapping areas and landmarks that had not been discovered yet. From Antarctica to the Himalayas to the Amazon, men like President Roosevelt were drawn to both the adventure and the notoriety but also to discover the flora, fauna, and newly discovered animal species, which had never encountered humanity before. This expedition’s success relied upon the men whom Roosevelt and his Brazilian counterpart, Colonel Candido Rondon, would bring on to make sure it was successful in its mission of mapping the extent of the mysterious Rio Duvida. Because of the courage, hard work, and perseverance that men including the former President’s son, Kermit, displayed, they were able to get through a series of trials and tribulations that would have broken lesser men.

Over the six-month period of 1913-1914 when the 19 Brazilian and American men descended the River of Doubt, they were faced with multiple challenges including diseases like malaria, perilous weather conditions, intense rapids, and murder among their ranks. President Roosevelt dealt with near misses to his life including a close encounter with a venomous snake as well as a ghastly injury suffered when trying to retrieve a loose canoe that caused a serious gash injury to his leg. The President flirted with thoughts of suicide after his injury and infection leading his son and counterparts to decide whether they should honor his wishes or to carry him the rest of the way’s journey. Because of their pledge to not leave any man behind including the President of the United States, Kermit and others pushed through the physical obstacles ahead of them to arrive at the successful end to their journey through perseverance and the belief in their mission to map the entire river.

Brilliantly told and remarkably intense in its description as a fast-paced tale of adventure, Millard’s ‘River of Doubt’ is an excellent book that details a harrowing journey of the 26th President, his son, the Brazilian colonel Rondon, and his courageous men. It is hard to believe that there was a time when an American president would go on a journey like this one well into his 50’s but that was the kind of man Theodore Roosevelt was. Because of his courage and his perseverance, the Rio Duvida was renamed Rio Roosevelt in his honor. This story reminds us of what it takes to push past our mental and physical limits and why we remember these tales to understand what true bravery looks like and how Presidents should act in the face of a great challenge.

2.) Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

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‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear is an excellent book on how to re-think our habits and our reliance on them based on our awareness of how they come to be, how they are implemented, and how to change or remove them based on their overall utility. As Mr. Clear explains, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” We can only develop ourselves based on the habits we have on a daily basis. In order to change them effectively, small changes that lead to incremental improvements are what we should be aiming for. It’s not advantageous to change our systems of living overnight but rather to slightly shift our habits each day and start to see progress over a longer period of time.

One example is going to the gym for the first time. You may not stay for very long but if you are there for five to ten minutes and get through the initial hurdle of showing up, you can feel better about the progress you have made. Over time, you should start to feel more comfortable and attuned to going to the gym as well as staying longer once you get used to the new routine. I found James’s four-step process to breaking a bad habit or creating a good habit to be very persuasive in its argument. The ‘cue, craving, response, reward’ system is laid out in greater detail in his book but I believe that it’s an effective tool for developing better habits and eliminating bad ones.

Also, keeping track of both your bad habits and good habits will help you measure if you are making progress with either by understanding what habits you have on a daily or weekly basis. In order to better change our habits, we firstly have to be aware of them and classify them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on their utility to our lives. For example, if you don’t floss your teeth, perhaps you have to make it attractive by highlighting the benefits associated with the action, putting the floss in a visible place on your bathroom counter so it’s visible, and then make it easy by not using mouth wash without flossing first to develop the system.

Mr. Clear’s book is easy to read, the system he advocates for is immensely appealing, and the four-step process is clear in its methodology. You cannot change your habits without doing it yourself but ‘Atomic Habits’ successfully gives its readers a vision of how you can do so while not making it overly complicated. The system is easy to follow and he incorporates outside materials like the ‘habit tracker’ to make it easy to start changing them while reading his book.

3.) America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges

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Beyond the stock market, the unemployment rate, and even the gross domestic product, notable author and journalist Chris Hedges writes eloquently and profoundly about the state of America in 2019. He does this through excellent on-the-ground reporting from Anderson, Indiana to Atlantic City, New Jersey in an effort to understand how while Americans at the top of wealth and power are doing well, the rest of us are struggling to get by in this new gilded age of income inequality. Hedges pulls no punches regarding the societal ills that have been wrought due to political dysfunction and record income inequality in America by describing in great detail the effects of the opioid crisis, the recent rise of hate groups, increased reliance on gambling, pornography, and sadism to escape reality.

Our ability to combat these negative societal trends is nullified when communities are weak and the bonds that religion, union membership, and rotary groups provided have been cast to the side. In an age of increased atomization and loneliness, Hedges argues that the average person will not be able to build a better future for themselves or their families if they have no ways of accessing economic opportunities or through having deeper social connections.

This book is a true warning sign that time is running out and that we must start paying attention to the swirling negative political and economic trends going on because it is likely that the next generation in America will be worse off if serious changes are not made. By failing to combat income inequality, climate change, gun violence, the opioid crisis, and failing infrastructure, faith in both the economic and political system will continue to decline. When power is concentrated in the hands of the few, that prosperity is not going to spread around or ‘trickle down.’

While it may be a dark and disturbing book to some, Mr. Hedges is a student of history and is eloquent in describing what are the warning signs or symptoms when a society is on the verge of decline or overall collapse. From the Roman Empire to the Soviet Union, the warning signs were there in the forms of inept political leadership and an unholy concentration of wealth. Mr. Hedges warns that we are on the same path to potential ruin and that the societal hollowing out relating to increased suicides, the fall in overall life expectancy, and the epidemic of gun violence are the sad consequences of how we are failing the average American citizen in 2019.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the sheer effort that went into meeting with people across the country to get a sense of how difficult things are and what challenges they are facing. Mr. Hedges should be commended with focusing on the real issues that confront us as Americans and being a truth-teller when it is not always popular to do so. My hope after reading this dire book is that we are able to make the necessary changes and confront these systemic challenges before it’s too late.