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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Heroes
August 22, 2007

      “We could be heroes, just for one day.” – David Bowie, rock singer

      I was walking along the mile-and-a-half-long sidewalk at Bagram Airfield that they call Disney Drive, when I looked into the fenced-off compound for the South Korean Engineering Company, and I saw signs hand-painted onto the concrete barriers protecting their living space.  One of the signs said “Heroes” in English (most young South Koreans speak at least some English, and many are fluent).  There were other signs as well, in Korean, but what struck me was the thought that to their countrymen, these Korean Soldiers were heroes, just like many Americans call US servicemen heroes as well.

      I suppose it’s a bit chauvinistic to think that Americans are the only heroes over here, and their sign opened my eyes quite a bit.  Other nations are sending their men (primarily, some women as well) into harm’s way here in Afghanistan.  In fact, it would not be an overstatement to say it appears the world is committed to Afghanistan’s success.  We have Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from Europe, Asia and Africa; there is an Egyptian field hospital here at Bagram, treating local Afghans.  I see flags on uniforms from Sweden and Switzerland.  It is encouraging.

      Of course, none of this would have occurred if there were not a war here.  War is an unfortunate creator of heroes.  Heroes only arise in times of crisis, and all wars qualify as crises, this one included.  Wars have the unfortunate distinction of being one of the few man-made crises in the world – most floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and famines are not man-made.  Heroes arise in these crises as well, men and women who risk (and sometimes lose) their own lives to save others.

      But war is always exclusively man-made.  We have heroes who distinguish themselves in combat, who fight for their fellow Soldiers and risk their own lives, or who perform extraordinary acts on the battlefield, way above and beyond their duty.

      Why must it be so?  Why do we have to fight and kill in order to make heroes?  Isn’t there a better way to resolve human disagreements?

      Of course there is.  But throughout our history on this planet, people have fought and killed one another, sometimes for the stupidest of reasons.  War has never been logical.  It is always that state of affairs that all sane people seek to avoid.  No normal person wants war, or wants to start one.  In fact, normal people do not start wars.

      But nature also shows us that violence and death are built into the very fabric of our existence.  In the animal kingdom, some animals kill and eat others.  Animals fight and often kill others of their own species.  And we are not that different.

      In the human body, we have certain cells, leukocytes, or white blood cells, whose sole purpose is to kill any foreign living thing that manages to enter into our body.  We also have red blood cells, or corpuscles, which do not and cannot kill foreign bodies – in fact, the foreign bodies may kill the corpuscles, if the leukocytes did not do their job.  So in the body, we have some cells designed to kill, and others designed to sustain our own life.  We have this in our society, as well – we have people employed to protect our own citizenry from those who would fight us, kill us and take what they want from us.

      Just like we should be thankful for the white blood cells nature has provided for our body’s defense, we should likewise be thankful for those who volunteer to protect us from those persons who would afflict, enslave or kill us.  They come from all over the world, and they should be honored.  The rest of society, going about their daily lives, away from the war and its hardships, can go about our usual business, playing their own part in the ongoing progress of our planet and our race.

      In our own way, each of us has something to contribute, and each of us can be a hero, even if only for a small part, just for one day.

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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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.