Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is It Ever Okay To Murder Someone?: The Story Of Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown Will Make You Reevaluate The Value Of Human Life

I recently discovered a story that I found very touching. And I'm no big softie. You can ask anyone who knows me well. I'm not sentimental or overly emotional. That having been said, I'm not made of stone.

When this story was related to me, it reinforced that human beings are social creatures and need to behave accordingly. It's in our best interests to look out for one another. The story illustrates how a simple decision by any one of us can change the course of history whether on a grand or individual scale.

Franz Stigler was a fighter pilot, a German fighter pilot, in WWII. He flew 400+ combat missions and shot down dozens of Allied aircraft. This was a man who didn't shy away from battle. Obviously you know what kind of killer Nazi we're dealing with, or at least you think so.

In 1943, Franz Stigler was flying a mission in which he'd already shot down two Allied aircraft and was closing in on his third for the day. It was a B-17 bomber piloted by an American named Charles Brown. According to accounts, this B-17 was shot all up to Hell and back.

The tailgunner was dead. The pilot, Charlie Brown, was wounded. One engine was dead, the other dying. The plane was practically at ground level.

There was no way this crippled aircraft could defend itself against Stigler. Easy pickings. Here's where the story diverges from what most Call of Duty players would do.

Instead of taking advantage, Stigler drew Charles Brown's attention and actually flew escort with the damaged aircraft back to the North Sea. Then Franz Stigler turned his plane around and flew home. He spared the lives of the rest of the crew even though they were there for the taking.

Now Franz Stigler didn't go home thumping his chest over what a good Samaritan he was. He couldn't. He would have been charged with treason.

So, he kept quiet about it, maybe even saying that he had shot down the bomber. The pilot Charles Brown upon returning to England had to keep the day's events under wraps as well. He was likely told by his superiors that revealing this instance of mercy would make the enemy look too good. Can't have that.

It's harder to kill a fellow human being if you think of him as a fellow human being. No, better to just keep him as a faceless, nameless antagonist. Gotta' keep that "killer instinct" up!

A Higher Call, Charlie Brown, Franz Stigler, B-17
"A Higher Call" by John D. Shaw
 Fast forward. Both men survive the war. Franz Stigler moves to Canada not even knowing whether the crew he spared on that bomber survived or not. The story of Charlie Brown and his crew makes its way to a newsletter for German pilots.

Long story short, Stigler writes to Brown. They eventually meet and become good friends. How good? When Franz Stigler died in 2008 at the age of 94, his obituary read that he was survived by not only the members of his family but by his "special brother Charlie Brown."

I hope you see why this touched me. It's not just fluff. It's real men facing life and death and choosing life.

It's a fascinating true story which is a reminder that when you walk in the world, it's your job to preserve life, not take it.


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