Over on No Left Turns our friend Peter Schramm reflects on the passing of Harold W. Rood, one of the legendary teachers of so many of us out at Claremont in the 1970s and 1980s. Peter is right that Rood was a great poet. But like Socrates he could be an ironic one. No one could convey like him such unsentimental truths in the weaving of poetic and spellbinding tales.
While Harry Jaffa taught us how to divine the theoretical depths of classic philosophical texts and recognize their esoteric elements, Rood taught us a similar technique: how to think counterintuitively about historical and current events, which is also an esoteric skill. For several years after many of us had finished our coursework but were naturally procrastinating on qualifying exams and dissertation writing, we always had a regular breakfast with Prof. Rood every Tuesday morning at Walter’s restaurant on Yale Avenue in Claremont. There we’d simply scan the morning newspaper headlines, and sit back as Prof. Rood would explain why exactly the opposite of the news story was likely the truth of the matter. He was usually right.
On strategic and military matters he knew whereof he spoke, having been in Patton’s Third Army as it swept across France and Germany in World War II. Though he knew how to drive a tank, he didn’t drive a car. He only wrote one book, Kingdoms of the Blind: How the Great Democracies Have Resumed the Follies That So Nearly Cost Them Their Life. The book appeared in that timely year of 1980, which was close to the nadir of western strength and resolve, after a decade of Soviet advances and American retreat almost everywhere. It is long out of print, but available second-hand, and still worth reading for the methodology alone, just as Prof. Rood awakened us to the value of old obscure classics of strategy such as Halford Mackinder’s 1904 essay “The Geographical Pivot of History,” an essay nowadays relevant in light of events in south central Asia. The first sentence of Kingdoms conveys the seriousness of the man and his theme: “This work is a reminder of the dangerous inclination democratic peoples have of discounting the likelihood of war.” Harry Jaffa wrote of Rood’s work: “Professor Rood is a painter of the strategic scene. The combination of what at first appears to be insignificant details, the discovery of a harmonious relationship among seemingly discrete events, is accomplished by him in a manner that would have delighted Churchill the painter no less than Churchill the strategist.”
A number of us heard the news of his terminal illness last month at a friend’s wedding back here in Bethesda, and a large group of his former students posed on the lawn for a photo to send along to the great man. Strangely I cannot find a photo of Prof. Rood anywhere on the Internet, though I suspect he might have seen to that. All I can post is the spartan cover of his great book, which is probably how he’d have wanted it. RIP.