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Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler Incident (wikipedia.org)
103 points by marvindanig on June 5, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments

Stiegler (the German pilot) was exactly one shot down enemy machine away from getting the Knight's Cross. So that machine would have been easy prey - maybe too easy for his sense of honor?

I think it's interesting that he justified his action with his commander telling his men that shooting enemy pilots that have parachuted out of their machines is dishonorable, and that he essentially saw the almost defenseless machine with most of the crew killed in a comparable position.

There's a sense that technological abstraction makes warfare more evil, because people don't see each other anymore, and killing becomes even more abstract. That's even noticeable in non-war situations like car traffic, where people can become pretty aggressive behind the glass windows of their metal boxes. Even more obvious with drone strikes from a safe place halfway around the world. But for some reason those early days of airfight (probably more so in WW1 and less in WW2 though) convey this notion of "chivalry", which is somewhat counter-intuitive.

Maybe the common shared experience of having to deal with these complicated flying machines created this kind of respect for the other side?

The term "chivalry" originates from medieval knights, who had been operators of devastating war machines of the time. And sure, they were warmongers, sexist, oppressors of working class etc. etc. but there is historical record of honorable behavior.

I don't see anything counterintuitive in modern operators of devastating war machines behaving in similar way. Not every warrior is a murderous psychopath. In fact, I have never seen one so they are probably quite rare. While an infantryman, for example, could go through wars for years without ever killing anybody, a pilot is likely to be killing people regularly, just like knights of the past. I imagine the chivalry is the way to cope with killing.

People in traffic don't need to develop it because they are not really killing each other (except for rare road rage incidents). On the other hand, samurais, the warrior caste in Japan developed similar behavior, bushido. Likewise, Vedic tradition also speaks of strict warrior code for khatriya, Indian warrior caste.

"Brown went on to complete a combat tour."

Traditionally the reason for not allowing enemies to escape is that they will regroup and fight you again (accepting surrender, or allowing parachutists to land & become POWs, is a different matter). In this case, the escaped crew was able to return to bomb German civilians.

No good deed goes unpunished.

How unfashionable by today's standards of shooting a guy in rags from IR vision enabled, high calibre helicopter gun because he has old rifle and some ammo so might pose a problem to somebody at some point in the future.

At least your scenario has a guy with a gun in his sights. "We don't do body counts" type attitudes seem to reign supreme.

Pose a problem — as in killing your comrades in arms? Because many "old rifles" are quite capable of that, despite the age.

> No good deed goes unpunished.

Good is good. Evil is evil. The only way for there to be more good is to do more good. If you do good and others do evil, you have still done good. If you do not do good and others do evil, there will be more evil than good. If you do good and others do not do evil, there will be only good done.

As a German in WWII, Stigler was a modern Samaritan- spit on for their acts, Nazis acts were and are despicable- just like the Samaritans were to the Jews 2000 years ago.

Wouldn't war be so much better if you could rely on the spared enemy effectively "retiring"? That way you could safely spare people's lives, and it would be very sportsmanlike.

I guess in today's kind of warfare you would have to send them a letter that they have been spared from a strike.

"The United States does not authorize any Military Service member to sign or enter into any such parole agreement."

Is there any reason for that?

My grandfather who fought in WWII (British) developed a close friendship with a German veteran in his later years. I think they met in southern Spain where they both spent a lot of time in their retirement in the 1980s. I doubt their story was as spectacular as this, but there was clearly some experience they both shared that led to the friendship. I'm not suggesting they knew each other in the war (but who knows?), but the fact they both went through similar experiences allowed them to develop a bond.

I wonder how common this is?

I would guess it is not something difficult to do in this scenario. We are talking about a war where young men get drafted and sent to the carnage, most of them don't go there voluntarily out of some ideology.

So it's easy to see some years later that you were just being used and form a bond with someone that was exactly in the same situation as you were but using different colors.

All in all, those two men had more in common with each other than with the men from their own country that were waging war from whiting their palaces and sending them to their deaths.

I was an anti-aircraft missile gunner in the US Army in a previous career, and I've got a good friend who used to be an officer in the Soviet air force. When you get down to it, we both spent years training on how to murder each other dead, for reals, but when our families get together for a barbecue it's just a running joke.

The Swedish power metal band Sabaton told the story of this incident in their song "No Bullets Fly"


>> Stigler recalled the words of one of his commanding officers from Jagdgeschwader 27, Gustav Rödel, during his time fighting in North Africa, “ If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you down myself."

At first I thought this was somehow in response to the battle of Crete and the civilians attacking the parachuting Germans, and I was preparing to offer a few choice words about the "honour" of the esteemed commander.

But then I read a bit further into the link from that quote:


And it seems Stigler's act was not isolated, and German pilots did let bomber crews at least jump out of their damaged planes.

I was reminded of something I've heard before, that the air forces of the European powers in WWII were carrying over a tradition of gallantry from WWI- or at least they did so at the start of the new war.

I also remember something about the war in Africa not being as vicious (or at least the troops not being as cruel) as the one in Europe, but again, no sources for that.

Edit: I should say that I find the whole idea of honour and gallantry at war completely pants. The same people who found it dishonourable to shoot at parachuting enemies had no compunction in bombing the shit out of peoples' houses, farms, factories and generally livelihood, on the ground, not to mention not giving a flying pig about the same people and what their bombs would do to them.

Somebody mentioned the knights below, and how they had a code of honour also (and sometimes, even lived by it). Well the knights are a great example. They were honourable and gallant to each other when they remembered it (unless they were drunk out of their basinets) but the way they treated mere peasants... well, I don't have to say anything, we've all read Game of Thrones, so.

Case in point (for Germans in WWII):

Massacre of Cretan civilians at Kondomari, Crete, 1941


War is terrible. Average citizen doesn't realize it until there's a draft or until after they're a veteran.

I hope one day we'll reach critical mass of war awareness and stand up against it. For now, we're building "modern" smaller target nuclear weapons.

I have just read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_bombing_during_World... that was very different from what my teacher said. For him, germans were far more effective than uk in bombing war production factories and uk was getting short of airplanes. Churchill has decided to focus more on german towns, causing the retaliation on London bombing. According to him, this plan has been a total success, uk was able to rebuild its war production factories and to catch up with Germany.

As history is always rewrote by winner, I was not able to confirm this story.

I recommend "Britain's War Machine" by David Edgerton. Prior to hostilities Britain had an inferior military in many regards (but many superior tanks, ships and planes) but her manufacturing and resources available from Empire far exceeded those of Germany. It didn't take that long to get war production going, and by most measures of armament production Britain had overtaken Germany by 1941. It's a while since I read the book but it was quite eye opening to me too see the stats on how powerful Britain was when going into the Second World War. The story of the plucky underdog is a myth.

The bomber did not surrender. It did not land and/or seek sanctuary with a neutral party, even though both options were the more humane. It was not a wounded soldier trying to stay alive: it was still fighting and showed no intention of surrender. Today, the German pilot should have shot it down or be punished for allowing a combatant to so escape.

Chivalry is all well and good but, like so many other stories from that war, this reminds me of the speech in Remains of the Day where the American congressman calls all the old powers amateurs, that the coming war (WWII) wouldn't be prevented by a agreement between gentlemen over dinner. Imagine the outrage today if a US soldier allowed a wounded ISIS fighter to limp home with his weapon rather than capture him. Conversely, imagine what would happen to that wounded ISIS fighter should his compatriots see him fail to kill the hesitant US soldier. War has moved on.

Until you've had to kill people yourself, seen the results, and lived with yourself afterwards, I don't think you have anything to say about what someone else has been in that situation and decided not to kill that day.

Which is why civilians have laws and soldiers have their orders: to overcome personal morality. That bomber pilot came back, so did the german fighter pilot, as would the ISIS fighter. Orders and laws recognize the bigger picture.

The structure operates both ways. We punish soldiers for applying their morality above orders because often that morality tells them to kill where their commanders don't want them too. In this case the soldier's moral code told him to disobey orders by not killing, but what about those situations where the soldier's moral code tells to disobey orders by killing? That leads to revenge, torture and all manner of illegal horrors ... which is why after WWII we setup a host of laws meant specifically to further usurp such decisions. The lesson was that, despite some noble stories, the decisions of gentlemen could no longer be trusted.

I read an account of this incident and its aftermath - including the meet between the two pilots decades after the war.

Absorbing read, quite different from your average WWII literature - investigating Stigler's background in some detail to look for motivation for this act, &c.

It was titled 'A higher call' IIRC. Most recommended.

Am I the only one that see Stigler as clearly the better man in all this story?

All Brown did (not counting the his bravery and the bravery of his crew, but looking just at the interaction Brown Stigler) was to spare the German plane after he helped him get out of that mess and send him away with a pointed gun warning and then shut up about the gesture and keep bombing German civilians until the end of the war.

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