An Intellectual Desire
"Past things unforgotten help to shape the future."
So read the giant white Chinese characters carved out of a volcanic black wall in Nanjing. Skulls, shattered bones, and other distressing evidence of the Rape of Nanjing in the winter of 1937-38 lay nearby. I recall standing in a bleak rain, being saddened by the suffering, yet uplifted by the resolve, of the victims there.
I was in the midst of a journey rooted in a high-school assignment of Homer's epic The Odyssey . The choices Odysseus makes, such as deliberately eluding the pleasures of the starry-eyed lotus-eaters, seemed to suggest something about what humans are and how they ought to live. The adventurous Greek hero inspired me to search out who I was and how I ought to live. Through his story and other reading, I came to believe that trying to understand humankind, the "world out there," and the relationship between the two was the most important task I could undertake.
After college graduation, I set out to teach English in China, and history and English in Guatemala, for several reasons. First, my growing interest in politics led to a desire to experience different political, legal, and social systems and to understand how behavior and attitudes are constrained in each. Second, I wanted to gain real fluency in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Third, I wasn't convinced that the world needed another philosopher and thought that by living abroad I might be able to determine what the world needs that I can offer.
My time in China and Guatemala fulfilled all of my expectations. In both places, the education I received far outweighed the education I provided. I read local, native-language newspapers alongside U.S. newspapers, noting their contrasting interpretations of events. I found the dissonance even deeper upon reading history texts in the native languages alongside those published in the United States. Mutual fear and misunderstanding seemed to pervade the relations between nations, and I found myself caught in the middle, trying to understand the cultural, historical, and political assumptions of both sides. In April 2001, when a U.S. spy plane landed on Hainan Island in China, I had a unique vantage point from which to view this bilateral distrust and suspicion between nations. Berated on the street by local Chinese on the one hand and encouraged by acquaintances back home to give the Chinese Government a piece of "our" mind on the other, I began to wonder about and research what role international law plays in such situations. The legal confusions and problems raised by such confrontations seemed far-reaching and enthralling.
A trip to the Nanjing memorial of the Japanese military's atrocities in World War II strengthened my conviction that international law and relations between nations affect people's lives profoundly. There lay the gruesome results of shared cultural misunderstanding and fear. China closed itself off from the rest of the world for twenty- seven years shortly thereafter, but its recent entry into the WTO confirms its renewed embrace of global trade and broad diplomatic relations. Similarly, Guatemala's recent CAFTA negotiations with the United States highlight its belief that participation in the international community benefits its people.
From development lawyers who draft laws governing public fund allocation in Guatemala to corporate lawyers who consider local, regional and treaty law in consulting on infrastructure-finance deals in developing countries, international lawyers possess unique skills that enable them to influence the way business and government operate. From State Department legal attaches who advise corporations expanding abroad, to human rights lawyers who attempt to ensure compliance with peace accords, international lawyers require a skill set I possess: language fluency, cultural understanding, analytical ability, and a sense of both progress and justice. I have concluded that what the world needs that I can provide is, in fact, the skilled efforts of one more attorney.
My odyssey has brought me through Aristotle and Nietzsche, Shanghai and Guatemala City. However, as with Odysseus, so with me: the "Great Wanderings" must come to an end at a meaningful destination. The Greek warrior sailed home to massacre 107 men and reclaim his wife. My ship, much less dramatically, is docking at law school, and with a keen eye on things past, I look forward to studying law to help shape the future.