According to the eulogy at the Kenyon website (here), Mr. Pochter was an idealistic young man. He taught English to young children in Egypt, had a “passionate commitment to peace,” wanted to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thought the world wasn’t made of different countries but of vibrant cultures, and believed that everyone should be included with no one left out and that one should try to build bridges between people.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that his idealism led to his death. People who are cynics would have not been anywhere near those clashes but would have run in the opposite direction. It’s idealism that leads one to think that one might make a difference, which in turn leads one to straying into a danger zone.
Just for the sake of balance, let me give a different view of idealists than that presented by our media and in our schools. Idealists are bad judges of people. They tend to minimize the flaws of the people they like and to maximize the flaws of the people they don’t like. (See here for a misjudgment by our current president on whom to support.) They see people who have been oppressed as without flaw, when in fact they can be even worse than the people oppressing them. They make the best solution the enemy of the good solution and don’t like to compromise. They tend to scapegoat and to choose the wrong person or group to scapegoat. They have illusions about what they are doing, thinking they are including everyone when in fact they aren’t. (Almost certainly Mr. Pochter would have left out members of the KKK, for example.) The idealism of today (though not of sixty years ago) sees every culture as a vibrant, wonderful culture, when in fact some of them are rotten and include customs that should have been abandoned centuries ago, but it’s impossible to say that to today’s idealists because they will call you a racist.
I’m not saying this to chastise Pochter, who in general seems to have been a fine young man, so much as the older people who instilled these beliefs in him. Someone should have told him that you just can’t build bridges to everyone, that some people simply are unreachable, but no one seems to have done so. Instead, he was surrounded by people who pushed him in what we now know was a dangerous direction. These are the people who talk about the importance of going abroad without ever talking about the dangers of doing so. Amanda Knox wasted four years of her life in an Italian jail, while Andrew Pochter lost his life entirely. I know a Kenyon alumna who was in Bahrain when the Arab spring broke out, and for her own protection she was locked into a college campus there for three weeks before being airlifted out. Indeed, as American power weakens, it is entirely possible that someday a group of American students sent abroad will find themselves stuck in some hellhole for the rest of their lives, as shifting power alignments make it impossible to get them home. But the idealists will not take the blame and will instead say it was done with good intentions.
See here for another view of him. My view may seem overly harsh, but I see a young life wasted.