February 3, 2022

BEARD | How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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As we return to a Cornell campus blanketed in snow and brace ourselves against the mind-numbing winter temperatures of central New York, the name of the game is “starting over.” The dawn of another year and semester gives all of us the opportunity to make resolutions, change our study habits, break resolutions, impulsively switch majors, etc. As the hopeful saying goes, “new year, new me.”

Yet, not even a month into our new year and we already have the makings of a punchline at the expense of all of those naïve optimists like myself. For the past two weeks, the news cycle has been dominated by the increasingly legitimate threat of a Russian invasion into Ukraine. It’s kind of feeling like the universe has been playing an agonizingly long joke on all of us here on Earth. Three years of uncertainty, tragedy and division, and right when there’s light at the end of the tunnel, the universe has introduced the potential for global war.

Like many good jokes, its comedic stock can be measured in irony. Last semester, I took a class on European affairs in which Russia was a prominent topic. I’ll set the scene for you. It was fall 2021. The location was a dimly lit lecture hall where I spent an hour and fifteen minutes doing a combination of listening and sleeping every Monday and Wednesday. For about a week or two, our class covered the Russian federation and its less-than-savory antics with its neighbors. Primary sources, academic papers, a guest lecturer and our professor all seemed to agree that war in Ukraine plainly wasn’t in the interest of Vladimir Putin. Flash forward a couple of months and 100,000 Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian border later, and it’s beginning to look like our course’s prediction may be a losing bet. 

So what’s my point here? As crazy as it may seem, The Cornell Daily Sun is not an academic journal, and I am not an international security expert. My point, though, is that sometimes even the experts get it wrong. 30+ years of experience in the field of international relations, and our textbook’s author had just about as good of a guess about future outcomes as I did. Of course that may be an oversimplification of the fact, but still the point remains. Try as we may and worry as we do, the future does what it wants regardless. Consult the graphs all you want and laude your expertise in whatever field it may be, but at the end of the day, you could still end up with your own proverbial “land war in Europe.”

This may come across as a defeatist attitude but — trust me — it isn’t intended to be. The title of this article includes “How I Learned to Stop Worrying,” not the opposite. In fact, I’d argue that there’s some relief in not knowing what this coming year holds. Imagine if we knew exactly what was going to happen in 2021 back in 2020. I think a lot of us simply would have given up.

Here in college, the idea is that we’re all figuring out what we’re doing with our lives. The premium placed on figuring out our future is all around us at Cornell. Career fairs, picking a major, research and hypothesizing, the bold proclamations of professors — all of them in a sense boil down to a form of academic and professional palm reading. We’re all just trying to add some certainty to the murkiness of our future endeavors. But if anything, it’s the naïve spirit of hope that lies in the uncertainty of the new year restart that sustains many of us. Maybe knowing what’s going to happen isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. 

Back to 2022, though. Will Russia invade Ukraine? Will the global pandemic come to an end? Will 2022 be better than the past three years? No one knows — and as I’ve been saying, maybe that’s a good thing. As the Pentagon puts 8,500 U.S. soldiers on high alert, it’s a candid reminder that no one — not even our professors — can predict the future with absolute certainty. Yet it works both ways. There’s still hope things don’t deteriorate further in Ukraine. There’s still hope that we can all make good on our new year’s resolutions, and still hope that 2022 will furnish more good than bad. Whatever the case, I’ve learned to stop worrying and love the uncertainty. 

Brenner Beard ‘24 is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected]. Agree to Disagree runs every other Friday this semester.