One student's decision to join ROTC
By Liriel Higa '02
September 12, Jon di Cristina '02 decided to join ROTC. At the time,
his options were clear: join ROTC or immediately enlist. Initially,
enlisting seemed rather drastic; after all, he'd just returned to
Princeton after taking a year off. However, after a few weeks of
balancing drills and classes, Jon decided that the Air Force was
where he really belonged.
Jon recognizes that
staying in ROTC and becoming an officer in a couple of years, or
joining now, as an enlisted man will not make much difference for
the country; either way, this war will probably still be happening.
But it will make an enormous difference for him personally. As he
explains it, he wouldn't be content to make a bunch of signs, organize
a rally supporting the war, then return to his dorm room to study
the intricacies of Shakespeare.
Jon had a self-described
"lightbulb moment" while sitting in his Religion 230 lecture,
"a wonderful class, discussing the semantics of the Old Testament
and how scholars make distinctions to determine the different sources
that contributed to it. Professor Himmelfarb said that in one area,
a scholar was on to something very important. I thought, 'No, that's
not important at all.'" It was moments of clarity such as these,
as well as visiting New York City and seeing the altered skyline,
that have prevented him from ever doubting his decision.
Jon acknowledges the
romantic connotations of the military, but he has realistic expectations.
Both of his grandfathers fought in World War II and his father was
in ROTC; he also has a few friends in the military. He characterized
the work he expects to be doing as somewhat "banal, but important,
and vital to the nation's security." He doesn't foresee the
military becoming his career, but nor is he ruling it out.
He will start taking
tests as soon as he gets home to Modesto, California, and will begin
six weeks of basic training at the Lackland Air Force Base in San
Antonio in January. Ultimately, Jon would like to become a "cryptologic
linguist" (translator), and foresees himself stationed at a
base in the Middle East, translating Arabic into English. Although
he doesn't believe he will ever be in great personal danger, insomuch
as a military base will ever not be a target, he does admit to feeling
fear: "Anyone with a pulse would."
Jon's view of America's
position in the war is hardly one-sided, as he acknowledges that
America's Middle East policy may have contributed to the current
state of affairs. Regardless, he believes that the actions we are
taking now are correct. As he sees it, U.S. policy after World War
II arguably contributed to the rise of Hitler and Nazism; however,
that didn't mean that we didn't have an obligation to stop it. Similarly,
changing our Middle East policy is phase two of the war; addressing
the immediate threat to our country is phase one.
He will be leaving after
fall break; two days from now as I write this. Jon addressed the
schizophrenia I feel, along with so many others, as we try to continue
with our daily routine as though all was normal even as we hear
daily of bombing raids in Afghanistan and anthrax attacks in the
U.S. "I don't think anyone is wrong for not leaving because
everyone will be contributing," Jon told me. "Studying
history and religion and biology creates a culture worth defending."
Reaction to Jon's announcement
has been only positive. His father is not surprised; his mother
and sister are supportive, though concerned; his 14-year-old brother
thinks it's cool. Even students and professors that disagree with
the war have told him that they admire him for his decision.Jon
dismisses any suggestion that "because I have a Princeton education
I should wait till I can be of more help later." He doesn't
see himself as a hero, or extraordinary in any sense of the word:
"I'm a 21-year-old guy, people like me fight wars." Princeton,
he believes, should not make us feel obligated to enter certain
professions, since we're capable of doing so many things. At the
same time, he feels his own sense of obligation, to the country.
"Duty is a different kind of 'should,'" Jon said. "This
'duty-should' is what feels most natural and right to me."
Liriel can be reached