Historian or government worker?

A person fanning out $100 bills. Money is a necessity for higher education, as a PhD program in the United States ranges anywhere from $28,000 to $55,000. Photo by Alexander Mils/Unsplash

Despite the heaps of criticism I have and will continue to levy on higher education, I must admit my love of learning has never died. I have carried my love for history with me even up to now. Whether it is reading about it, talking about it, watching media involving it or researching it, it is my true passion. My goal was always to be a PhD student in history and become a professional historian, pursuing that love at the highest level — at least that was my plan until last semester. 

As everyone knows, higher education is expensive. A PhD program on average in the United States ranges from $28,000 to $55,000, in addition to undergraduate costs. For all intents and purposes, scholarships and grants are essential. One name that kept appearing was the Boren Scholarship, which would have helped tremendously by five figures. It sounded amazing and generous and I was all set to apply, but then I discovered something: The Boren Awards are for students who are interested in studying in regions crucial to “U.S. national security”. This is followed up by a commitment by the student to work for at least one year for the United States government.  

“Why?” I thought. In what way does working for the United States government make me any more qualified for my position than if I did not? This is to say nothing of the morality of doing so. The U.S. State Department is a purveyor of some of the most extreme violence and suffering in the world. 73% of the world’s dictatorships are supported by the United States; the wars of the U.S. have inflicted untold suffering for hundreds of millions across the globe. Why is support for this government not just in a rhetorical, but a material sense, necessary for the pursuit of higher education? Working for the State Department would be a sign of approval for its actions. 

Since 1991, the United States has launched 251 military interventions. Let that sink in: In 30 years, the United States has launched more military actions than the number of years it has existed as an entity. This is ignoring the heinous results of U.S. economic sanctions as well, which are imposed on more people and entities than any other country. By international law, unilateral sanctions are illegal; one nation cannot of its own accord declare economic warfare designed to disrupt and destroy another nation’s economy. This means that the 60-year U.S. embargo on Cuba that no other country recognizes is illegal by international law. These sanctions are more than just illegal; they also are deadly. It is estimated that between 2017 and 2019, American sanctions on Venezuela killed 40,000 people from lack of access to crucial care and resources. If we try to estimate the total for all of the nations sanctioned it is fair to assume that it reaches into the hundreds of thousands at least. This is the sort of violence I would be at least partially condoning if I went through with my initial plan. 

In “The Godfather: Part II” — yes this has a point, bear with me — Corleone family leader Michael Corleone tries to balance preserving both his mafia family and his blood family. In the end, Michael does eliminate all of the rivals of the Corleone family at the cost of alienating his own. This is the moral quandary one is placed in when what you want to achieve in life comes at the sacrifice of all your tenets of morality. Well, I am not Michael Corleone. In the battle between business and principles, business will always lose. The bloody handprints of the State Department never should and never will have a place in the pursuit of higher education.


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