The Village Idiot
In 1453, someone forgot to lock Constantinople’s Kerkoporta Gate, enabling the Ottoman army to sack the city. In late 1862, a Union corporal discovered General Harvey Hill’s battleplans in a discarded cigar box, allowing the Union Army to halt the Army of Northern Virginia at Antietam. Although I neither smoke nor worry about Ottoman sieges, these mistakes unnerve me.
My father’s tactics failed, but not because I was ignorant. I read "The War Prayer." I knew about the U.S.’s crimes in Vietnam and Central America. I agreed that the occupation of Afghanistan was a poorly managed campaign of mistakes, a catastrophe only overshadowed by the largest geopolitical disaster of the twenty-first century—the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Yet I’m skeptical of how much good organizations like the PBHA can do. Most PBHA programs lack a quantitative analysis of their impacts; in other words, we have no idea how much long-term good (if any) they generate. But more importantly, PBHA seems focused on pushing Harvard students to volunteer their time instead of encouraging them to offer their most valuable resource to those in need—their money. The world would be much better off if well-to-do students pledged to give 15 percent of their summer or future full-time incomes to an effective charity, like Doctors Without Borders or the Against Malaria Foundation, instead of spending their summers volunteering at a foreign orphanage where their inexperience may harm—not bolster—the orphanage’s capacity for good.
Not that there was all that much for me to manage (or ruin) anyways. Our platoon sergeant—like any platoon sergeant—was an experienced soldier with multiple deployments under his belt. His voice was biblical, his orders were law, and his mind was as sharp as his tongue.
This isn’t to say that my girlfriend hasn’t developed or protected me; throughout these past four years—five come April 14—she has repeatedly gone above and beyond to help me through my darkest moments. I’m not a cruel cynic seeking to prove that there’s no such thing as serious romantic love. But what concerns me are the fantasies we chase: pretty pictures that deliver nothing but disappointment.