Professor James Wood is to be congratulated for taking the time and energy to write an op-ed piece, entitled “Good Soldiers, Bad Leaders,” for the Record. Too few professors participate in the intellectual life of the College outside of their classrooms.

That said, Wood’s piece is so flawed that it calls out for a “Fisking” — blogosphere slang for a point-by-point quoting and debunking.


Here are the sections of Wood’s piece that I have issues with along with my complaints. Wood starts with:

Enough time has elapsed since the beginning of Bush’s Iraq Adventure . . .

Do we even need to read anymore? By describing the war in Iraq as an “Adventure” (note the capitalization), Wood has told me all I need to know about what is coming next. A Neocon Manifesto this is unlikely to be. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a little rhetoric, but if your goal is to actually persuade people — or at least honestly engage those who disagree with you — then an insult in the first sentence is not the way to go.

. . . that we can begin to draw some conclusions about where it fits into the history of warfare; what it tells us about American military ability; why we encountered difficulties there; and what it reveals about Bush and the Republican ideologues who, for the moment, hold the reins of power.

National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss ’79 — nobody in positions of power in Washington but those nasty “Republican ideologues”. Of course, in Wood’s world, all Republicans are ideologues and (almost) all ideologues are Republican, so his formulation is a little redundant.

This is not, however, to minimize the performance of the American military. Our technically advanced volunteer forces are highly professional, well led, precise and lethal.

These are not the adjectives that someone sympathetic to the US military would use. If you really care about the life and sacrifices of men like Zack Pace, Bungee Cooke and Dan Ornelas, all ’98, you call them “brave.”

If you think that today’s US military on the same moral plane as, say, the Waffen SS or the USSR Spetsnaz, you call it “precise and lethal.”

Willfully ignorant of Iraqi society and culture, they were surprised by the nature of Iraqi resistance (what there was of it), and incapable of understanding the ingratitude of the people they liberated.

That’s right, nobody but idiots like Mitchell Reiss ’79 and Drew Erdmann ’88 (and dozens of other products of places like Williams) running things in Washington. You can disagree with the policies of the current administration without believing that they are stupid. Indeed, a belief in one’s own intellectual superiority is the single most common sin of the professariate.

Saddam was a beast and his years in power horribly degraded Iraqi society.

“Degraded?” Sounds like a College Council president who lets the meeting run too long. Saddam butchered hundreds of thousands of people. Now, it does not follow from this fact that the war in Iraq was a good idea, but why bother with Wood’s substantive points when the words he chooses demonstrate such an obtuseness to the real issues at stake?

I’ll leave a fisking of the actual substance of Wood’s argument, what little there is, to Mike Needham, but on style points alone, this article is an embarassment.

There are cogent and reasoned arguments to make against the war in Iraq. It is a shame that Wood seems unable to make them. I only hope that his predictions for the future of Iraq are no more accurate than Professor Cassandra Cleghorn’s forecasts of millions of post-war refugees.

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