Survival Guide

Another semester, another document of things I wish I could communicate to my students (by which I mean stuff I tell them, but they forget or don’t listen to).  Please look it over.  It is long, about 7.5 pages worth, long enough that I’m not sure many students will bother to read it through, though 3 of those are examples illustrating some exercises discussed.  I wish I could be pithier and less preachy, but there’s just so much that I feel students don’t know or do inefficiently…


The most dangerous game

Today it was announced that Osama bin Laden has been killed.  Let me put this in perspective: I was too young to understand what was going on when the Berlin Wall fell.  I didn’t even realize movies went from most bad guys went from being bad guys to something else.

I do remember where I was on 9/11.  It was my second year in college, and I had just gotten out of a morning lecture.  I had just walked into the Tau Beta Pi office and someone told me that the World Trade Center had been bombed, and I was like, “Ha ha, yeah right” but soon realized it wasn’t in a joking tone of voice.  Soon afterward reports of the second tower collapsing came in.

Confusion and anger were my predominant emotions that week, but the brain soon retreats from extremes.  However, even a year or two later I pondered which service could best use a newly graduated electrical engineer.  Since I had worked a couple years at a research lab funded by the navy, the best thing would be to go to grad school and see where that took me, but I was really tempted to enter the navy’s nuclear engineering program, especially since they were looking for people to eventually become teachers in their training program.

I did support the invasion of Afghanistan at the time.  Historians will argue in retrospect if it was the beginning of the end of the American century.  If they don’t pick Afghanistan, they’ll probably point to Iraq.  Besides two wars bankrupting the country and, combined with the recession, leading to the current debt crisis, it severely tarnished America’s reputation abroad, which had been built up by Kosovo, Kuwait, the Cold War, the Korean War (not Vietnam), WW2, and stretching back to WW1: the champion of freedom and defender of the little guy lost their moral high ground when they decided to use their muscle to pick on one country/religion/dictator.

The last course I took in college was US-Russian Foreign Policy (it satisfied my second government course requirement).  The last half of the class was how 9/11, a little under 2 years ago, had pointed US foreign policy in a completely new direction.  For decades, the US knew who its allies were (well, mostly), who the enemy was, and where to aim its nukes.  Containment was the policy established by Truman, that we would control the spread of Soviet Union influence but not provoke the bear.  Between the Berlin Wall and 9/11, US foreign policy flapped in the breeze, but 9/11 again trained it like a laser.  But Containment and Mutually Assured Destruction would not work against Islam fundamentalism, and with the state department trying to find its legs, it is unfortunate that it was 7 years of G.W. Bush that set the course for this new chapter in American history.

The death of Osama bin Laden is not the end of the chapter either.  He might have been rallying point for anyone with anti-American designs, but I doubt the terrorism threat or the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan will simply collapse.  Maybe in the movies will a movement fall apart without its leader, but I’m sure already there those raising him as a martyr and others taking up his reins.  It’s a success, but one battle does not end the war.  I think the main message it sends is that the US does not give up.  It may take years, but resorting to terrorism will not go unpunished, and hopefully that message will keep Americans safer.