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Leonard Wood: Rough Rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism

de Jack McCallum

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One of the most fascinating but least remembered figures in modern American history, Major General Leonard Wood (1860-1927) was, with his close friend Theodore Roosevelt, an icon of U.S. imperialism as the nation evolved into a global power at the dawn of the twentieth century. The myriad of roles that Wood played in his extraordinary career offer a mirror image of the country's expansion from the urban Northeast to the western frontier to Latin America and the Far East. Boston surgeon, Indian fighter, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Medal of Honor winner, commander of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, Governor General of the Philippines, and presidential candidate, Wood was one of a select cadre of men that transformed the American military at the turn of the century, turning it into a modern fighting force and the nation into a world power. Throughout his life, Wood tested the division between military and civilian power to its very limits. His 1920 presidential campaign and his conflicts with civilian politicians were harbingers of the struggles that Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower would face as they moved from the battlefield to Washington following World War II. Jack McCallum has mined Wood's extensive personal records--including diaries, correspondence, and photographs--to create a vivid portrait of a complex man and the legacy he left on U.S. imperialism. America's rapid conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and the subsequent political and economic reconstruction it imposed under Wood's military supervision in these regions have important parallels to current U.S. involvement in the Middle East, both in its successes and its failures.… (mais)
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As being both a medical man and a historian, one can see why the author would be drawn to the topic of Leonard Wood, a doctor who was one of the first men to bear the title of Chief of Staff of the United States Army. The book is at its best when talking about Wood's activities in civil affairs and empire building in Cuba and the Philippines, where Wood's medical background was of most value. There is also no slighting of how Wood essentially created a military career via courtiership, or how he was truly his own worst enemy in terms of being unable to maintain any vocational loyalty that might have tempered his ravening ambition.

That said, this book tends to be a little weak in terms of dealing with the contexts in which Wood functioned in his day, a point brought home by McCallum's throwaway line that: "Perhaps we have forgotten him because he was too much like ourselves." The Leonard Wood that McCallum depicts is a very 19th-century man who would be considered strident, self-righteous, racist and self-promoting, even by the standards of modern nationalist and conservative politics in the United States. Seeing as Wood's relevance has increased in the light of contemporary American military adventures, one wonders whether McCallum's reluctance to connect those dots say something about the author's politics.

Also, seeing as McCallum is a neurologist, one might have also expected him to spend more time analyzing what Wood's ultimately losing bout with brain cancer had on his behavior, but perhaps that is merely the reluctance of a doctor to comment on a patient he cannot actually examine. ( )
  Shrike58 | Dec 9, 2011 |
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One of the most fascinating but least remembered figures in modern American history, Major General Leonard Wood (1860-1927) was, with his close friend Theodore Roosevelt, an icon of U.S. imperialism as the nation evolved into a global power at the dawn of the twentieth century. The myriad of roles that Wood played in his extraordinary career offer a mirror image of the country's expansion from the urban Northeast to the western frontier to Latin America and the Far East. Boston surgeon, Indian fighter, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Medal of Honor winner, commander of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, Governor General of the Philippines, and presidential candidate, Wood was one of a select cadre of men that transformed the American military at the turn of the century, turning it into a modern fighting force and the nation into a world power. Throughout his life, Wood tested the division between military and civilian power to its very limits. His 1920 presidential campaign and his conflicts with civilian politicians were harbingers of the struggles that Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower would face as they moved from the battlefield to Washington following World War II. Jack McCallum has mined Wood's extensive personal records--including diaries, correspondence, and photographs--to create a vivid portrait of a complex man and the legacy he left on U.S. imperialism. America's rapid conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and the subsequent political and economic reconstruction it imposed under Wood's military supervision in these regions have important parallels to current U.S. involvement in the Middle East, both in its successes and its failures.

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