By Tom Viscelli ’02
Tom Viscelli ’02, a former Army officer, development professional, and adventure motorcyclist, lives in Kabul and works to develop business connections between the international community and Afghan entrepreneurs.
Those of us in the Class of 2002 were young when the Berlin wall came down, lived our adolescence and teenage years through the “end of history,” and were ready to graduate from college and enter the world as adults when history started right back up.
We were getting ready for the beginning of our senior year on the morning of 9/11. Outdoor Action trips had returned, teams were at practice, and the campus was in that quiet lull before the start of the semester. In the year after the towers came down, we thought about what had happened that day, we wrote about it, but only rarely did we do anything about it.
I have seen many American reactions to 9/11 up close. I was “boots on the ground” shortly after we invaded Iraq, renovating schools and mentoring neighborhood councils. I applauded Gen. David Petraeus *85 *87’s efforts to bring the techniques we used to the Army as a whole, and did what I could to educate my soldiers and others. As a civilian, I returned to the national mission, this time in Afghanistan. The context was different, but the goal was the same: Help the local people stand up, create their own modernity, and join the global community.
What I’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan more than anything else is the importance of well-educated leaders dedicated to achieving that global community. Our diplomats are at their most effective when they are educated about history and dispassionately curious. International-development professionals can achieve phenomenal results when they back up good intentions with critical thinking. Military officers combine the same good intentions, critical thinking, and historical understanding with a bedrock pragmatism born of life-and-death decisions.Princeton can be a fertile field for these leaders. Society benefits when its leaders have a world-class education, and leaders in every sphere benefit from experience in the “service of all nations.” My class and every succeeding class have known only a world informed by 9/11. The more we think, the more we write, but most importantly, the more we do to build that global community, the more we shape the lessons that future Princetonians will learn from that tragic day.