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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Forgiveness
August 26, 2007

      It’s not a word we commonly associate with the military, or particularly military leadership.  In fact, of all organizations we may think of asking for forgiveness, the military may be last on our list.  It’s hard to imagine generals asking for forgiveness, particularly from those they command.

      Our political leaders make every effort imaginable to not have to ask their constituents for forgiveness – it is suicidal for their careers.  It means a mistake has been made, and the politician is the one who made it.

      Yet military leaders and politicians create the policies which Soldiers carry out, and for which Soldiers suffer.  Soldiers do not ask for an apology, because they realize that rarely will one be given.  This is part of the facts of life for those in uniform.

      But I have realized that I have needed to forgive the politicians and military leaders whose shortsightedness affects our mission here – it may sound unseemly, but officers and commanders are human, like everyone else, and often make mistakes.  They may be sins of omission, or even sometimes sins of commission, with full knowledge of the consequences of their orders, but regardless, as a Christian I am called to realize they are like me, imperfect, and when they cannot live up to the values I hold dear, I am to forgive them, and not judge them.

      This realization has unloaded a lot of unpleasantness from my life – I no longer expect the Army to live up to everything I want it to be, because it cannot.  The Army is a human institution (in fact, if this were a better world, the Army would not be necessary at all!), filled with human beings that make human errors.  The Army strives to do good for all its Soldiers, and on an individual level, I have yet to meet anyone in uniform here who does not genuinely care about the welfare of every Soldier here.  However, like all large bureaucracies, information that should be well known isn’t well known – it’s almost impossible to get the word out to those who need it.

      While here at Bagram, I have discovered people who can help us get supplies we need.  No one knew these people where I have been staying, down in Do China, and these supply people did not know we needed their supplies.  I can’t fault them, any more than I should fault myself, but up until recently, I have faulted Army leadership for holes in the system like this.  Now I think I am learning to be a bit more tolerant; the Army is doing the best it can.

      I went to church service today, and was encouraged by the singing and worship.  It was a contemporary service, with guitars and drums, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The last song we sang was a rock version of the old hymn, “Amazing Grace.”  I thought about the word “grace” and what it means for a long time, and realized that our success here in Afghanistan does not depend on us – it depends on God to bring God’s righteousness to bear on this conflict.  For all our might, the US can only hope for victory, in my opinion, by continuing to do what is right, and fighting for the right cause.

      Wars in this modern era are fought primarily over ideas.  Ideas matter.  They give meaning to our lives, and motivate actions.  We have ideas which have given us values, values such as truth, justice, and mercy.  We fight for these ideas because we believe them to be right.

      Today, a Soldier from the Kentucky National Guard paid for these ideas with his life.  May God forgive those who killed him, and may his life be part of the transformation of this country to one which embraces those truths and values we all hold dear.

-- 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.