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Harold W. Rood, RIP

Odd, how life works.  I was in a happy state that Harry Jaffa would celebrate his 93rd birthday on the 7th, and on that day I heard that Harold W. Rood died the day before.  He was my second teacher in Claremont; not as old as Jaffa, about my mother's age. He taught international relations, national security affairs, and had been at CMC since about 1962.  I'll let someone else tell the historical details--how dozens of "political philosophy" students ended up studying with this untheoretical man, of his many virtues, of this man's good life--I just wanted to say something about his one great virtue.

This entirely American man--loving and kind and sweet--was a great teacher. He was a great teacher unlike Jaffa.  Rood didn't test the logos in the same way, he didn't simply grab the truth as it revealed itself in front of him.   Rather, he talked and the story came out about how men wanted to live rather than die, and what they may then do, and why that is always so.  He was able to portray things outside of our experience in such a way that we could see the shining stars above to be the same as the shining campfires in the soldiers' tents below.  Rood was a great poet. He was able to talk about anger or love in such a way that showed us what it was like to be in anger and to be in love.  He did the same with his love of country. He seduced us this way into thinking, and we loved it and we loved him for it.  No one will ever forget the experience of being with him in a classroom.  May he Rest in Peace.

Update: Over at Power Line, Steve Hayward, another Rood student, writes a fine post on the good professor. 

Categories > Education

Discussions - 15 Comments

I loved Harold Rood. I was disappointed that I had not encountered him in an international relations class as an undergraduate. But then I "enrolled" in his "classes" from then on, whether that was a formal lecture or a delightful conversation. He was unfailingly polite, always a gentlemen and always ready to defend his country, by word and by deed. RIP

He was among the best of men I have ever known or ever hope to know. As a teacher, he had only one equal whom I have known. It was impossible not to love the man. His kindness and his generosity to students were unsurpassed--and, probably, well more than any of us ever deserved. But he made us wish we did deserve it and, one hopes, we occasionally remember and so strive to do so, even still. RIP and God Bless.

He was a veteran of Patton's Third Army, so his knowledge of war was not simply through the books.

So sad to hear. Too many Rood stories to tell, but you know a man is a legend when, like anecdotes about Lincoln, a few of them sound too good to be true. Like the one about a student who thought Rood would never be able to read every word of the term papers due at the semester's end, so in the middle he wrote, "Rood is a [expletive]," to which the professor marked on the margin, "Source?" In Claremont, your education was deemed deficient if you did not frequent the "Rood Awakenings" held over breakfast at Walter's, the local Afghani restaurant. The man taught me how to read a newspaper, esp. during the Cold War. Then there was the time we took Rood to see Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V, with Rood reciting passages en route from memory. (He preferred Laurence Oliver's movie version.) Sobering to think he's no longer with us. May he rest in peace.

I loved all your comments, but particularly the "Source?" story, Lucas. You made my day. That is damned funny!

His reading lists and class exercises were legendary: about a dozen (mostly thick) books of history and politics--Nicholson, Wheeler-Bennett, Henry Adams, Langer, Carr, etc. Exercises included 100 definitions to be tracked down (pre-google), a fragment of a map to be identified. He once gave as an example of how to do the definitions--see #61, and he did it. It turned out #61 was the only one common to the sheets. He had devised unique worksheets for each person, so the terms couldn't be divvied up among a group of students.

I always loved to get a paper or assignment back from Professor Rood, just to read his margin notes and, sometimes, the PAGES of handwritten commentary that would accompany it. The first time this happened it was jolting, as if I had done the assignment wrong or, perhaps, had made a mess of it. But once I started going through the comments, I began to understand that his marginalia were compliments--and sometimes literally so--but always evidence of degree of devotion to his students and to his craft that ought to mark the efforts of more teachers. His commentaries were just another way for him to engage his students and extend the conversation. He took his work very seriously--and it was liberating and invigorating to experience this kind of instruction. It was not about anything so trite as a grade. He was not some scolding professor with a pointer in his hands and a frown on his face looking down his nose at you and your pathetic efforts through spectacles perched on the end of his nose. No. He was much more likely to be smiling, passing around the classroom some sort of weaponry (I have distinct memories of his charging a trashcan with a bayonet attachment!), and perhaps squinting up at you or off into the distance as he gave serious thought to something a student had asked or said. He was just a more experienced soldier showing the new guy the ropes. And he took to that and to us as a calling and with a fervor few professors can hope to approximate.

I'll never forget Day One of Rood's "Diplomacy and Military Power" class--was it 30 years ago? He brought an elegant young man to the front of the class, pulled out his old Lee Enfield, and did bayonet drill on the stunned student. The Professor then added the advice: If your bayonet gets imbedded irremovably in bone, you must fire off a round, to let the recoil dislodge your blade. The class was dumb-struck.

A liberal once mocked him: "Professor Rood seems to think only of power; surely he doesn't think of power when he's in the bedroom!" To which Rood responded, "Buddy, if you don't have power in the bedroom, then you're really in trouble."

He was unfailingly kind to all his students--not just those who breakfasted at Walters. I once made a crack about "the spoiled young men at CMC," and he replied, with his characteristically sad eyes, : "It'll be hard for them soon enough. They'll learn when they must."

Strangely, I'd just started re-reading one of his favourite books, Mackinder's Democratic Ideals and Reality, when I heard. I never got a chance to tell him my two oldest boys are both Marines. Requiescant in Pace.

Harold Rood was the best teacher I ever had. I could tell dozens of stories, but this one will have to do. In one his classes I gave a presentation on the military organization of the Roman Empire. I brought book with me that a "centerfold" with a marvelous picture of a Roman legion standing in a field with the different cohorts color coded.

Joe Woodard, who posts above, was one of the students in the class. As I held up the book and revealed the image, Joe said: "that's beautiful. I want one!"

Another student said: "you want what, the legion or the book?"

Rood piped up: "If you had the legion, you could get the book".

It was impossible not to love a man like that. I loved him. Rood looked like the Grinch who stole Christmas after his heart enlarged. Rood had a great heart and great courage. He called 'em like he saw 'em, and he saw deep done to the bone of history.

I still find myself imitating him when I lecture. He liked to walk back to the podium and then turn around, take his glasses off, and make the real point.

God bless you Dr. Rood.

"Rood looked like the Grinch who stole Christmas after his heart enlarged."

Exactly right! He acted like him, too. Perfect.

His lecture subtitled: "Hard, Sharp, and Pointy Things." was one of my favorite memories from grad school.

Damn, I'm old.

Time to raise another beer. We lost Nat Davis earlier this year as well. Two amazingly great men.

One thing I never understood: How did he end up being called "Bill"?

Wonderful and accurate tributes all. "The Source" story is absolutely true. I remember when it happened. I was at CMC from 1968-1972
One enduring question that I could never fully answer in all of the hundreds of hours with Bill over 40 years: how could one person combine such a kind and gentle soul with such a brutal assault on conventional wisdom and muddled thinkers.
Bill taught us all not to be afraid to think out of the box.Isnt that what teaching at the college level should be all about? He built courage of conviction one student at a time.
"That was the way it was in the real world" at CMC thanks to Bill.
To Juanita, Hilary and Elizabeth, thanks for sharing him with us. RIP my dear friend and guiding light.

Joe-his middle name was William and he preferred Bill to Harold.

He was called Bill his entire life, as a boy sometimes called
Billy, which he did not like. He was always, as some of you have said, a complete gentleman. His absence leaves a void that can never be filled.

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