America in the World
My tenth great-grandfather, Stephen Hopkins, was a Mayflower passenger.
Besides living in the uncomfortable ship for 66 days with his family, Hopkins was one of the Mayflower Compact’s 41 signatories and served as assistant governor of Plymouth during the colony’s early years. But like the colony and country he helped build, his legacy was imperfect.
In our daily lives, much has changed in the past 20 years. Instead of streaming a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime, you would drive to Blockbuster to rent — heaven forbid — a VHS! In 1999, if you had a cellphone you probably played Snake on your Nokia device. Now, you can play thousands of games while texting your friends and calling your parents.
Despite these monumental cultural changes, some things are eerily similar. Such indistinguishable change plagues American foreign policy.
Last fall, I fought with one of my blockmates over our rooming situation. Initially, our blocking group decided to have two common rooms where one would be the actual “common room” and the other was split amongst myself and another roommate as a bedroom.
When I returned to campus, I thought the bigger room should become the bedroom, since people would actually live there. One of my blockmates, who used the designated common room far more than I did, fervently disagreed. On our first day back, a shouting match erupted. Another roommate, who I consider one of my closest friends, was in the room listening. When I asked him if he agreed with me, he demurred. He had no position on the matter.
I recently visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to conduct thesis research. After spending a few days requesting folders and files that last saw the light of day four decades ago, this trip helped to not only substantiate my thesis argument, but to also redefine and illuminate my thesis’ importance and impact on U.S. national security strategy.
But at a certain point, when I had requested pulled one too many folders and flipped through one too many files, I had to ask myself, “What is it all for?” I have heard many seniors ask this same question, with perhaps more agony, a week before their thesis was due. But the question does not seem to answer itself even when the thesis is completed. During his 2000 Class Day address at Harvard, comedian Conan O’Brien ’85 mentioned that he had written a thesis but that “no one is ever going to care.” He is probably right. The only person who will care about a thesis is the person who tirelessly researched, drafted, edited, and reviewed your thesis — but that may be more than enough.
I yearn for the good old days of U.S. foreign policy. The days before the Berlin Wall fell and American statesmen would religiously consult with its allies and vanquish the “right” enemies. I miss when national security leaders from both parties worked with the president and devised a judicious strategy to contain the Soviet Union. Those were the days.
Except those days apparently never existed.