The Village Idiot
Like most amateur historians, I often spend my evenings scrolling through Wikipedia as my mind toys with counterfactual history. For me, our past is more than what happened—it’s also a matter of what could have happened. Omissions, oversights, and lapses in judgment; these are the plagues that comprise our history and render our imaginations vulnerable to an abyss of alternative worlds. What if someone had locked the Kerkoporta Gate? What if Hill had done a better job safeguarding his sensitive military documents? What would our world look like today?
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.