By Amée Zoutberg
Looking back on 2018, I feel that one of my greatest lessons learnt came about a month after receiving my UCR diploma. Which was great. Really. I painfully discovered that in three years of sacrifice and voluntary enslavement to the academic system (for that sweet, sweet 3.5 GPA), I had in no way been prepared for the real world.
This discovery is a bit disappointing, especially for you that are still studying there now – and especially when you consider the main purpose of our beloved Liberal Arts & Sciences. According to UCR, liberal arts is based on the “‘opening of the mind’” and “[being prepared] for a world whose demands and challenges will grow more complex each year”.
Speaking about this very complex year: the EU is going down hard. With the USA eating its own tail in general and withdrawing military support and protection for the EU specifically, Merkel and Macron seem quite keen to build their own army. The UK said it would veto that idea some time ago – but who in the EU still cares about them at this point, anyway?
For this army to work, we will need soldiers. It is remarkable that such liberal nations, at least for now, are not abhorred by the idea of risking the lives of some of our own. Aren’t our cultural values personal development for everyone, reading good books, visiting museums, going to rallies to defend our political desires and gay rights and organic food production? Don’t we HATE guns? Isn’t that the whole reason why the EU was conceived in the first place, to prevent warfare? Or so the liberal elite screams in the background. I took a forefront seat in that choir.
Killing people is ridiculous. How could anyone in their right mind not see the larger political games at play? We learned all about this in countless hours of SSC 255: International Relations and SSC 354: Security in a Post-Cold War Era. The governments can’t be trusted. Every war is pointless. SSC 111: Introduction to Sociology and SSC 232: The Development Encounter made it clear: The West should never engage in conflict, because all we want is power. Screw the rest. ‘As has been demonstrated before’, hence, thus and therefore: the soldier engaging in this conflict is stupid. She or he hath no brain.
So, what was the summer experience that finally opened my eyes to the real world?
With my diploma in hand, I actually went out and was, to my extreme fortune, accepted into an internship for Waterloo Uncovered (Vicky, if you’re reading this – thank you so, so much!). For two weeks, I would be living alongside the army men and women that were part of a system completely alien to me. It might as well have been Area 51, except our scientists were even more mysterious, and the participants wore neon yellow vests instead of white. On the possible presence of extraterrestrials at the dig I will not comment in this article.
For the first time in my academic career I was able to talk to the people that make up our study material. The publishing middle woman was gone. Unfiltered and unscientifically, I could ask for their opinions. On war. On killing, and being very sure that you killed someone. On submitting yourself to a power game larger than yourself. On propaganda. On dying in the line of service. And also, on the EU – but that did not go well, as they were all hopeless Brits. (Love you guys)
Under a starry sky on top of the hotel roof we may or may not have secretly climbed on to, the answers started flowing. The academic underestimation I had held for these people slapped me in the face with a cold hand. Yes, they knew. All of it. At some points they were much more aware of the filthy strategic interests they carried out. They experienced first-hand what it meant to be a soldier and how it could destroy your life or that of your beloved in moments. Recovery was possible and often went slowly. The comradery on the battlefield and beyond was unlike any other connection they had felt in ‘civilian life’. People had fully realized what they signed up for. For many, in their own way, it was a job well worth doing.
I have never felt so dumb.
The answer that stuck with me the most that night, and that is a piece of wisdom for all of us was this: “It’s just like any other job. At points you hate it – but just like anywhere else, you have no choice but to keep doing it.”
Amée Zoutberg, is a graduate from the Class of 2018 with a major in Sociology in Politics from Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Image Source: Photograph from Waterloo Uncovvered