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Jeff's Afghan Diary: I Am Become Death
December 13, 2006

      Tomorrow I am scheduled to go to the rifle range and practice firing the M-19, a high-velocity weapon which fires small grenades up to almost 2200 feet.  It produces a rain of death and destruction in whatever direction it is fired.  It is deadly, and fairly accurate in properly trained hands.

      Today I learned that the Taliban has reportedly recruited 500 to 600 suicide bombers for their campaign in Afghanistan.  Their weapons are just as deadly as ours.  Also, their targets are more general, and may include non-military personnel. 

      War is scary.  This may seem to be absurdly obvious, but for those who are participants, it never escapes our notice.  Whenever there is a break in our focus and a minute or two to relax and enjoy our lives, the reality of war pokes its head back into our brains, unsettling us.

      Soldiers are somewhat like baseball players - they have rituals and superstitions, especially in war zones.  While we are not yet in the war zone, some of the prescribed superstitions are already in operation.

      Perhaps the biggest of all is the fact that Soldiers do not discuss the potential of anyone they know dying.  It’s an unnamed fear.  Naming it and giving reality to the possibility is forbidden - whenever Soldiers speak, they always say that everyone will come home safe.  To say anything to the contrary marks you as almost a traitor.  It’s as if the positive confidence that all will go well is necessary and sufficient to keep everyone safe.

      I hope we all come home safe.  I do not talk about any other possibility.  I do not say that any of us may die.  This is understood by all of us, but we need to remain confident to do our jobs.  We need to focus on the probability that we will not be blown to bits by some crazed bomber, or some cleverly camouflaged explosive device lurking along the road.  We need to feel strong, for ourselves and our teammates.

      We still don’t know specifically where we will go or what we will be doing when we get to Afghanistan.  We may not know until we get there.  Even if we’re told, it may change.  And we wouldn’t be allowed to tell anybody, anyway.  We’ll find out soon enough.

      Thinking about war, weapons and death, I am reminded of what Robert Oppenheimer, one of the inventors of the atomic bomb, said when he saw the first  atomic explosion.  Quoting from the Hindu Bhagavad-Ghita, he said, “I am become death.”  Unfortunately, in war, either the enemy dies, or you do.

      In the same Hindu scripture, the warrior Aruna is urged by the god Vishnu to go into battle, killing the enemy.  The enemy was evil, and Aruna prevailed.

      May it always be so.

-- Jeff Courter

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.