Feb. 1, 2011 — -- Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has written "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," in which he discusses America's role in international politics.
Read an excerpt from the book below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library.
I hate to weed. I've hated it ever since my father put me to work weedingthe garden at our home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was plantedwith zinnias, snapdragons, and petunias, none of which seemed to grow asheartily as the weeds. After what seemed like hours of work, I never couldsee much progress, and I'd complain to my dad. "Mitt," he would reply,"the pursuit of the difficult makes men strong." It seems now like an awfully grandiose response for such a pedestrian task. I complained about the weeding often enough that I heard his homily regularly. I'm sure that's why it sticks with me to this day.
My father knew what it meant to pursue the difficult. He was born inMexico, where his Mormon grandparents had moved to escape religiouspersecution. At five years old, Dad and his family were finally living prettywell. They had a nice home and a small farm, and Dad even had his own pony,called Monty. But in 1911, Mexican revolutionaries threatened the expatriate community, so Dad's parents bundled up their five kids, got on a train, and headed back to the United States. Their furniture, their china, his mother's sewing machine — everything they had worked hard to accumulate — had tobe left behind. Once back in the States, they struggled. They moved timeand again, and work was always hard to find. My grandfather established aconstruction business, but he went bankrupt more than once. Dad used toregale us kids with claims that one year in Idaho his family lived on nothingbut potatoes — for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Dad began to contribute to the family's income early on. During hishigh- school years he worked long hours as a lath- and- plaster man, finishingthe interior walls of new houses. He never was able to put together enoughtime and money to graduate from college.
Three decades later, by the time I was weeding that Bloomfield Hills garden, my father had become a successful businessman. I know he worried that because my brother, sisters, and I had grown up in a prosperous family, we wouldn't understand the lessons of hard work. That's why he put us to workshoveling snow, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, planting the garden, and ofcourse, weeding — always reminding us that work would make us strong.About this time, Dad faced a difficult pursuit of his own. In 1955, onlyfive months after he became vice president of the newly created AmericanMotors Corporation (AMC), the company's president, George Mason, diedand the board of directors selected my father to succeed him. With news ofMason's death and mounting losses, the company's stock collapsed from$14.50 a share to $5.25. The banks didn't have much more confidence in thecompany at that moment than its stockholders did. I remember hearing myparents discussing with certainty that if the banks pulled out, the companywouldn't survive.
My parents had sold our home; we were living in a rented house whilethey prepared to build a new one. With my mother's blessing, Dad took themoney they had put aside from the sale of their house and used it to buyAMC stock. He even used the savings he had given me for Christmases andbirthdays to buy stock. He believed in himself, and he believed in hard workand what it could achieve.
Dad spent long days at the office and, when he was home, the work continued. He met with the company's bankers, shareholders, and employees,explaining his vision for the company's future: dropping the venerable Nashand Hudson brands and focusing instead on the Rambler compact car. Hewould eventually close the company's Michigan plant to consolidate production in Wisconsin. He agonized over that decision, but concluded in theend that "to save a patient this sick, surgery is necessary."
In 1959, AMC's stock was selling for more than $95 a share. Dad madethe covers of Time and Newsweek. He and Mom built their dream home,and we kids, now even more prosperous, were given still more chores.
What Dad accomplished at American Motors prepared him for thechallenges that would follow. He served as leader of Michigan's Constitutional Convention, as three-term governor of Michigan, as secretary ofhousing and urban development in the Nixon administration, and asfounder of the National Center for Voluntary Action. And I have to admitthat the weeding and chores probably didn't hurt me, either something Iunderstood well by the time I took the reins of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Over the years, I've come to believe that the value of "pursuing the difficult" applies much more broadly than only to individuals. When I met TomStemberg in 1985, he had come up with an idea for a new business, one hebelieved would revolutionize the retail industry, and in particular the business of selling and distributing office supplies. Tom's vision was to create the world's first big-box office products chain, one with hundreds of stores, tens of thousands of employees, and billions in revenues. Most people I spoke withthought it would never work, believing that businesspeople wouldn't leavetheir workplace to shop for office supplies, no matter how great the savings.But they were wrong, and today Staples is what Tom dreamed it would be.
Reaching Tom's goal was difficult. At first, the manufacturers of supplies didn't want to sell to him because his idea threatened their traditional distributors. Stores were hard to locate in real-estate-cramped New England where he began. A warehouse with multistore capacity had to be built and financed, even though at first there were only a handful of stores to serve. Copycat competitors sprung up everywhere; at one point, we countedmore than a dozen. And money was tight. In the end, because Tom and his team achieved success in the face of so many challenges, Staples and itsmanagement team became very strong indeed, and now lead the industry.
Today, the United States faces daunting challenges, and I am similarly convinced that if we confront them and overcome them, we will remain astrong and leading nation. Just like individuals, companies, and human enterprises of every kind, nations that are undaunted by the challenges theyface become stronger. Those that shrink from difficult tasks become weaker.
Consider our nation's history and the strength we developed as we facedour greatest threats. George Washington's army was in no way comparableto the British forces he faced: his troops were untrained, unpaid, and out-manned. The British navy boasted 270 vessels, while the Continental navy had only twenty-seven. In April 1775, British warships laid siege on Boston Harbor and successfully took command of the city. But under GeneralWashington's direction, during the following winter, Colonel Henry Knoxand his men hauled fifty-nine heavy cannons by ox-drawn sleds three hundred miles from Fort Ticonderoga, New York, where they recently had been captured. Finally positioned on Dorchester Heights, a hill overlooking the harbor, the cannons threatened the annihilation of the British armada.The British navy withdrew and Boston remained in American hands. Thevictory was emblematic of the entire conflict: American ingenuity, derring-do,and faith in Providence helped win our improbable independence from theworld's superpower.
I was born after the Second World War and can only imagine the confusion, incredulity, and fear that must have overwhelmed the nation when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Yet once again, the United States rose to the occasion. In Detroit, where my father was already working in the autoindustry, factories that once made cars were quickly turned into assemblylines for military aircraft. Cars and planes aren't very similar, but in only ayear, Detroit was making bombers and fighters. We ultimately lost 418,000men and women in World War II. The financial costs were great as well.But we also became far stronger. Women joined the workforce — a trendthat would wane, then wax again to our economic advantage. Our factoriesbecame the most productive in the world. Returning GIs went to college inwhat was the greatest expansion of higher education in history. And Americans recognized that while we constitute much of a continent, we are not an island — alone and isolated from the rest of the world.
I was in grade school when Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Unionin 1957. Mr. Garlick, my high-school science teacher, hung a model of thesmall satellite from the ceiling of our classroom as a reminder, he said, thatAmerica had fallen behind the Russians in science and technology. Thefuture was up to us, he'd say, sounding a lot like my dad.
Three months after the Soviets' first successful satellite launch, we attempted to enter space. Our Vanguard rocket failed to develop enough power to lift off the launch pad. It toppled over on its side and exploded into flames. Over the next three years, NASA tried and failed to launch elevenmore satellites. Despite our dismal record, President John F. Kennedy calledfor us to put a man on the moon. Young people all over the country grewenthusiastic about studying physics, engineering, and the space- sciences.We became a more technically proficient people. And we became the firstnation on earth to put a man on the moon.