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Leonard Wood: Then and Now

January 28, 2019

Growing up in western Missouri, I recall hearing a lot about Fort Leonard Wood. It’s located in a beautiful portion of the Ozarks, in Mark Twain National Forest on old Route 66 between Rolla and Lebanon (now Interstate 44). As a Boy Scout who attended a popular summer camp in the Ozarks, I’d meet people who knew those stationed at Leonard Wood. School acquaintances and friends who enlisted in the Army might receive training there. And finally, it was a recurring object of base closure speculation in the 1990s.

After all that, you might have guessed I would have learned something about the base’s namesake, Leonard “Len” Wood. But I never asked, and was never told. Even as a history instructor, Wood’s name only ever came up in passing—enough for me know he was a general who was involved in actions in the American West. The West was never my primary area of study, and neither was the history of the military. Even as a kid, a fifth and sixth grader infatuated with military history, my main interest was WWII air and sea power. Wood was just never a focus.

Now, courtesy of my teaching responsibilities involving the history of medicine and a mature concern about imperialism, I’ve found myself thinking more about the Spanish American and Philippines Wars. Wood was more than just a commander of Rough Riders. He was a crucial administrative figure on both Cuba and the Philippines. He was also a Harvard-trained physician, obtaining his scientific medical education after the crucial medical school reforms pushed by Charles W. Eliot.

I’m still reading about Wood and getting down the details of leonard-wood-biohis life. Most of my knowledge is coming from Jack McCallum’s excellent biography, published in 2006 by NYU Press and titled Leonard Wood: Rough rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism. This is for a lecture coming up on Wednesday, weather permitting. My hunch is that I’m going to uncover some ethical conflicts , and probably atrocities ordered by him.

You can’t be a historian and not learn about the failures of society’s heroes. – TL

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  1. Leonard Wood: Then and Now – Brownite

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