I always thought I would spend my life trying to understand the causes and consequences of political violence. I was 9 years old when the Berlin Wall came down, and I remember watching news coverage of the 1989 revolutions sweeping across Eastern Europe with my family after we ate dinner in our cozy colonial home in a Dayton suburb.
When I was 13 years old, my parents bought me Zlata’s Diary. Sometimes called “the Anne Frank of Sarajevo,” Zlata Filipovic was a Bosnian Serb who found fame at the age of 13 after a journalist published her personal accounts of the war in the Balkans. The wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia became a particular interest of mine, and the book had a profound impact on me. Zlata was my own age, yet I had never experienced the horror of a military siege, the violent deaths of my schoolmates or hunger, as Zlata had.Zlata’s Diary had a lot to do with my decision to commit my life to studying violent conflict. (Interestingly, decades later, I met and talked with Zlata about this at an event at Harvard University, where I was a fellow).
I spent much of my teenage years hunched over my desk, door closed, listening to the classical music of Dvorak or Vaughan Williams on a hand-me-down Discman as I devoured books on the wars of the 20th century — the First World War, the Russian Revolution, World War II, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War. Movies and television reinforced the idea that political violence was something people used to gain and wield power.
By the time I came to UD, I knew that I wanted a career in international relations with an emphasis on security. I would study political violence, understand it, explain it and predict it. I reasoned that prediction allowed for some degree of control — the ability to anticipate or even prevent human suffering.