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PSS Spring '09 - The Houghton House Renaissance

Online Exclusive

Interview with Thomas W. Lippman, Author of Arabian Knight:
Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East

by John Heavey '09

(L-R) Col. Eddy , Saudi King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (Ibn Saud) and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

(L-R) Col. Eddy , Saudi King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud
(Ibn Saud) and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
photo Courtesy of the National Archives

Why Bill Eddy?
While researching and writing my book Inside the Mirage: America's Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia, I came across the name Bill Eddy everywhere I looked. I kept thinking about how this weird alliance between two nations seemingly on two opposite poles came about, who this man was and what role he played, and became very interested.

What are the implications of the U.S./Saudi relationship Eddy helped to facilitate?
After meeting with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eddy aboard the USS Quincy after the Yalta Conference, Ibn Saud, King of Saudi Arabia declared war on the axis powers, thus becoming an ally of the U.S. in the conflict and casting their lot with us. Moreover, the establishment of the relationship finally settled the question of who the dominant external force would be in Saudi Arabia. After meeting with FDR and Eddy, Ibn Saud liked FDR better than Churchill. End of story.

While President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Bill Eddy actively included civic responsibility into the curriculum. What was he hoping to accomplish?
Eddy had a deep sense of civic duty rooted in his own personal religious faith and the patriotism derived from growing up in a place as an American where no one else was. In the 1930s, during the throes of the depression, he saw all around him a country for which he envisioned much more. Eddy felt a moral obligation to instill civic responsibility in the nation's youth after seeing privileged young people ignoring what was happening all around them and playing the moral equivalent to Frisbee. His idea of education sought to ennoble people.

Between the military, politics and academics, Eddy was quite the Renaissance man, what was the underlying value that drove all he did?
Patriotic rectitude. In all his endeavors, Eddy wanted nothing more than people and organizations in America to do the right thing.

With so much happening in the Middle East today, where would Bill Eddy stand? How does our era's climate align with his vision?
Speaking 5 dialects of Arabic, Bill Eddy had a deep understanding of Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon during his political career and actively reported their activity to the C.I.A. He had a vision of a grand moral alliance between Islam and Christianity and would be appalled by what is happening in these countries today, where thugs and despots run them. Additionally, it would have never occurred to Eddy to invade Iraq or Afghanistan. In his time it was unprecedented to invade a nation, especially when unprovoked. It was in neither the nation's or Bill Eddy's interest to exhibit a presence through the military.