The Alchemy of Heroes

I started writing this shortly after John McCain died in late August of 2018, in a rough attempt at creative writing. I shared it with a few friends, but chose not to publish it so shortly after his death. Jewish ethics demand we honor the dead, including those we may not deem honorable. Today marks the one-year anniversary of McCain’s death. It felt right to share it now.

From its sins, its lies, and the pain of others the Nation fashions Its heroes. Twenty-three. Twenty-three times, the Soldier climbed into His aircraft with orders to drop bombs on behalf of His Nation. Twenty-three times, the Soldier dropped the Nation’s bombs on to men, women, and children that did not ask to be bombed. The War was Unjust, but the Soldier was dutiful. And so the Soldier required His Nation’s praise.

On His twenty-third mission to deliver the Nation’s bombs upon men, women, and children who did not ask to be bombed, the Soldier’s plane was shot down and the Soldier was captured. The Nation was split. How should It consider Its Soldier and others like Him, who dropped bombs on those who did not ask to die? For five years, the Nation agonized over this question. Until one day the Soldier was set free. And the Nation was relieved. The Nation had Its Soldier, and no longer needed to drop bombs onto those who did not ask to die.

The Nation summoned Its Alchemists to do what has been done since the Nation’s founding. The Alchemists gathered the Nation’s sins, Its lies, and the pain of others, and from them fashioned a Hero. The torn limbs and charred flesh of the men, women, and children who did not ask to be bombed were rendered ash. The details of their lives made dust, and to dust they returned.

But the Alchemists were not finished. From the Soldier-turned-Hero’s military career and captivity, they wrote an Odyssey. From ashes of the men, women, and children who did not ask to be bombed, the Alchemists fashioned steppingstones. The Alchemists laid these stones before the Hero, so that he could ascend into the Great Hall where other Heroes like Him awaited.

Once in the Great Hall, the Hero and others like Him built the Nation’s Great War Machine. The Hero and others like him demanded bigger and better bombs that could kill many more men, women, and children who did not look or think like Him.

A time came for the Nation to weep for its own Martyr. Yet the Hero could shed no tears. Nothing was more important for the Hero than His Great War Machine. Though the Hero would regret having shed no tears, He never regretted His Great War Machine. To be sure, His Great War Machine made Martyrs of many more men, women, and children who did not look and think like him. But they also made many more Heroes in His own image.

The Nation’s Alchemists watched this all, and were still not satisfied. So they gathered Dissent, Death, and Destruction, and to their Hero added Maverick, Straight-Talker, and Statesman. From the Nation’s most essential Truths – Imperialism, War, and Greed – the Alchemists fashioned a Man of Principle. For more than four decades, the Soldier-turned-Hero-turned-Maverick served in the Great Hall alongside other Men of Principle just like Him.

And when the Hero’s time on this Earth finally came to pass, the Nation mourned the loss of one of its Men of Principle. And when the Hero’s body was laid to rest, the Nation once again called upon its Alchemists to conjure a Symbol from Him that would be wholly recognizable to the Nation, yet wholly irreconcilable with whom the Nation buried. The Alchemists took their Symbol and placed it within the Heavens for all time. Then the Nation returned to its work, gathering its sins, its lies, and the pain of others. And from these things the Alchemists fashioned for the Nation its next Savior from itself. For the Alchemy of Heroes forever requires the words and deeds of Broken Men, and the gulf between.


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