Happy Birthday to my youngest daughter! She turns 12 today.
I got a chance to call her today on a satellite phone I borrowed. Things seem to be going well at home for everyone – life in suburban Chicago remains normal. My family misses me, of course, and I miss them as well. I will be able to see them in a month.
Things around here have settled down a bit since our mission – the OPTEMPO (Operations tempo, or pace of activity) has slowed down considerably after our firefight. We have been focusing on a response to being attacked; we now know where the bad guys are hiding, but it’s difficult to get to them. They use camels to get supplies to the mountain passes where they hide and live, but we don’t have camels, and the area is hard to reach by helicopter. So we’re looking at alternatives.
In the meantime, a group went back to Waza Khwa, including most of our team. I decided to remain in Do China, rather than have someone miss a chance to get back to something that resembles civilization. I’ll be home visiting before long, anyway.
I have had some time on my hands, since many ABP and the better part of our team is away in Waza Khwa, so I have been reading – I just finished Tolstoy’s War and Peace (a paperback abridged version, but still over 500 pages long). I found a copy in a pile of books sent to us from people back home. I’ve never read it before, and I knew it was a classic, and considering my environment, I thought it might be a good read.
War and Peace is one of the most amazing books I have read. Tolstoy seems to understand the psychological, emotional and even spiritual aspects of war. I don’t know how he came to his understanding, but his vivid descriptions of what the Russian soldiers were feeling and how they were acting during the War of 1812 with Napoleon’s French troops were so close to what I have felt at times here, it left me speechless. His conclusions about what matters in life, as well, were very much on target to me.
Tolstoy writes from a Russian Orthodox Catholic’s perspective, and his novel has many references to the practices and beliefs of their faith. Nevertheless, his observations transcend the particular religious beliefs, as all great books do, and he finds the simple truths that make for meaning in this often tragic world: love makes life worth living, life is meant to be lived fully, and God is somehow in control of the destiny of everyone, even in the chaos of war. Tolstoy makes a point of claiming that while we are individually choosers of our particular path, corporately we create a history which was destined to come into being.
I don’t mean to make this piece an article about Tolstoy or his book, but it affected me – I can see the hand of God moving humanity forward, even here, even now, even through conflict. I pause to think about the recent conflicts of the modern era: World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam – each in its own way helped move humanity forward. Obviously, we are not yet what we should be or what we might be able to become, but these conflicts have changed the world, and human behaviors that were once considered acceptable are no longer tolerated.
Borrowing a bit of philosophy from Hegel (who inspired much of the philosophy of Karl Marx), when thesis meets antithesis, a new synthesis results. Whenever there is a clash of ideas, of civilizations, of humanity, it creates a new understanding of the world for everyone involved. We all move forward, inevitably. Russia is no longer the great socialist experiment; half of Korea is now a world economic power, and even Vietnam is embracing new freedoms it had rejected earlier.
Wherever Americans have fought, they have introduced American ideas and values. These leave an impact on the countries we have fought in: Germany is nothing like the Nazi empire Hitler built; Japan likewise has morphed from its Emperor worship to a culture of business leadership; South Korea is right next to Japan in productivity, and Vietnam is changing, despite our retreat from there.
I predict that no matter what America chooses to do militarily in the Middle East, we have already brought change to this area of the world. Our culture has affected the people here, and they are responding, particularly the younger generation. Younger Afghans now see choices their parents did not have. They see another way of living, and they are not willing to be denied what they have experienced – they want more freedom, more modern conveniences and technology, and less of the rigid restrictions of earlier generations. They like a lot of what we Americans have, and they want it.
I can’t remember who said it, and I can’t quote it exactly (pardon my paraphrasing here – there is no way I can research this quote at present), but someone famous once said something to the effect that a mind, once stretched beyond its previous limitations, can never go back to its previous mold. It means that once we have been exposed and illuminated to other, bigger ideas, we cannot shrink back into our previous way of thinking. We are forever changed.
In similar fashion, Afghanistan, and perhaps even most of the Middle East (I hope!) is being changed by its exposure to American culture – American ways of thinking, American ideals, American dreams. We are changing Afghanistan by letting the Afghan people meet real, honest Americans – American Soldiers, who usually represent the truest, best image of our country. By our actions here, by our simply being here in such large numbers, by our helping the people create something new for themselves, we are changing this part of the world.
I suppose I agree with Tolstoy’s thesis that God is ultimately in charge of the destiny of the world. I also agree with Tolstoy’s feeling that faith in God is absolutely necessary: faith in the goodness of God and His providential guidance forward, in the direction of progress, taking us “from glory to glory,” as St. Paul put it. For those who believe, it cannot be otherwise.
I look forward to whatever improvements we might make in the world for my daughter. Our children deserve no less than our best efforts towards this.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
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,
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.