photo by EfrankE

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Heroic and the Honorable

Thoughts running through my head today…

Today, Friday, is nearly over. Today was King Kamehemeha Day in Hawaii, a state holiday commemorating the king who conquered all other Hawaiian kings and united the Hawaiian Islands as one nation.

King Kamehameha

Tomorrow morning, Hawaiian Standard Time, is the World Cup Football (soccer) match between England and the USA. It will be the first time in 60 years the two national teams have played each other in the World Cup. The host country for the quadrennial World Cup games this time is South Africa, a nation a half a world of time zones away from here.

Some of us in the family watched the movie, “Invictus” a couple of weeks ago. It is a very sanitized version of the story of how the South African national rugby team began to reconcile blacks and whites and unite the Rugby Championships host nation of South Africa during a time of great tension, shortly after Nelson Mandela became president.

History, as written by winners of wars, identifies as heroes, those who, often violently and through persistent use of bloody force, conquer their enemies and establish their subjugation. Sometimes this appears to work out for the better, sometimes for the worse. Sometimes it seems the jury is still out on the effects of the outcome.

King Kamehameha accomplished an extraordinary goal and is honored as a hero today. Warfare during his reign was up close and personal. The defeat of foes was accomplished through stabbing, slicing, bludgeoning and crushing with low-tech, handmade, though very lethal, weapons in a style of fighting not much different from warfare from ancient times in Asia and Europe. Kamehameha’s achievement was accomplished by killing a lot of people.

“The Battle of Nu’uanu”, painting by Hawaiian artist, Herb Kane

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years on charges of sabotage. He was leader of the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC). Violence was considered a necessary tool to overcome the established government’s policies and practices of apartheid, a system that precluded the black majority of South Africa from freely participating in the political, economic and social spheres of the nation.

Nelson Mandela

One tool of the ANC was necklacing. I remember seeing this atrocity on a cable TV news program in the 1980’s. The ANC would tie up anyone they felt was an enemy collaborator, lay him (or her) on the ground, put a car tire around his neck, fill it with gasoline and light it on fire which produced a horrifically slow and painful death. Winnie Mandela, Nelson’s wife, affirmed this as a necessary and defendable practice. I don’t know for sure whether Nelson gave public assent to its use or not, but his followers must have believed they had his tacit approval to do this. Eventually, the ANC and its allied organizations became victorious in their goal of ending apartheid and assuming political control of the nation as Nelson Mandela was elected president. He worked as president to achieve a multi-racial democratic government.

Tomorrow, if the US wins against England, the victorious players will be acclaimed, no doubt by some, as heroes of the game.

Team USA, 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa

If you were to ask a group of parents if they would wish their children to be courageous, chances are most would say yes. If however, you were to ask these same parents if they would wish for their children to be acclaimed as heroes by killing a lot of people, many might decline. Most would probably be quite happy if their children became “heroes” by winning an international competition as representatives of their nations.

We live in an imperfect world. Heroism can be an imperfect designation. Many of history’s heroes carried with them a lot of bloodguilt of the innocent to their graves. There is only One who is capable of judging them with perfect justice and mercy. Heroes win victories for their nations. True honor, though, can be hidden from human eyes, and might only be seen by the Lord.

I realize that my life benefits from the heroic actions of many people who have gone before me and that I am blessed to live in a country that still enjoys a lot of freedoms many others don't have. Still, I would rather have as my closest friends the honorable, than merely the heroic.

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