On this anniversary of Sept. 11, I find myself pondering with renewed intensity the three-way conflict that has plagued me for the past year: how to reconcile my background as a New Yorker, with my education at Yale that challenges me to seek universal truths, with my training in an institution that demands decisions, that by definition must take sides, and that then requires unflinching commitment to its cause — the United States Marine Corps.
As a New Yorker, I was shocked and outraged by the terrorist attacks. Throughout the schools and offices that my parents worked in, it was clear that the mood of New York had changed. As a loyal New Yorker and American, I felt threatened and angry because the cause claimed by the terrorists was based on nothing legitimate. There was simply no excuse for the mass murder of innocent, unsuspecting, unarmed civilians. These barbarians were pure evil, and there was no option but war, if not in the name of civilization, then in the name of self-defense.
As a Yalie, I was taught to reserve judgment. I needed to see the hijackers’ perspective because, after all, for many Arabs and even for some Americans, they were heroes, moral crusaders. It would be arrogant, condescending, racist, even closed-minded of me to label the events of Sept. 11 as evil. Instead, I needed to be sensitive to the plight of a large group of people who were angry — let’s face it — because of excessive American might. Again and again I heard that America had really brought the attacks upon itself.
As a Marine Corps officer candidate, I was in a quandary: who was right? Would I risk my life for a cause if it was possible that the Yalie was right? But how could I let the New Yorker go unprotected? It then dawned on me: the New Yorker wasn’t the only one who benefited from having a Marine Corps to protect it. Against his will, the Yalie in me had to concede that the blanket of security provided by the Marine Corps and the other branches of the service afforded him the luxury of thinking, acting, and questioning the way he did, of even being at Yale at all. Nowhere else in the world are institutions such as Yale to be found, certainly not in the numbers in which they are found in the United States. Without America none of the luxuries of modern universities would be possible — least of all in the seventh-century, fundamentalist Islamic world envisioned by the terrorists. The only thing standing between our principles and their principles is a strong military. And given the reality and consequences of those differences (ie. Sept. 11), it is essential that we think critically and judge.
I concluded that, despite some flaws, I love America. I found great comfort in my affiliation with the Marine Corps. Rather than lament Sept. 11, the Marines took action. There is simply no higher calling, because without institutions like the Marine Corps, there can be none of the other high callings that are open to us as Americans, and especially to us as Yalies. This remains true to this day, a year later, with al Qaeda fairly well debilitated, for the question raised by Sept. 11 lingers on: can we Americans be fully Americans, and we Yalies be fully Yalies — with the implied high standards of living, freedom, and equality and with the definitional degree of economic, educational, and career opportunity — if we still live in fear? Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought not, and it is the job of all of us and especially, I am proud to say, of the Marines to be increasingly vigilant and press on in the war on terror.
Ewan Macdougall is a senior in Branford College.