THE RED BARON
October 25, 2007
I'm currently reading the Red Baron, edited by Stanley M. Ulanoff. I recommend that particular version over previous editions, on account of the great job Ulanoff does in patching up the rather disjointed journal-style writing of Manfred Von Richthofen.
I'm only about half-way into it, but I'm really enjoy it. I've never read a book about war before, and while I'm generally opposed to war, the way in which the book describes the mutual respect between WW1 fighter pilots is fascinating. Throughout the book, Richthofen refers to the enemy English pilots as "friends," and describes the air fights in the way you might describe a fight between two boxers who can shake hands after a fight. The death of the enemy isn't the objective; simply downing a plane suffices, which counts as a victory for the pilot who is still in the air.
It's a breath of fresh air, really -- to read of people who are engaged in war respecting their enemies... and not "respect" in the way one is expected to respect a formidable opponant, but respect in the way that, after a good air fight, two enemies can chat in mutual respect.
... One of the Englishmen we had shot down was taken prisoner, and we went over to talk to him. He, too, inquired about the red machine. It was not unknown to the troops in the trenches, who called it "Le diable rouge." The rumor had spread in his squadron that a girl piloted the red machine, somewhat like a Joan of Arc. He was very surprised when I assured him that the alleged "girl" stood before him at the time. He was not trying to make a joke; rather he was convinced that only a maiden would actually sit in the garishly painted crate.
In another event, the Red Baron downs a plane, and in the process, crashes his own. It seems that the Germans were generally more honorable than their English enemies.
I felt a deep compassion for my opponent and decided not to send him plunging down. I wanted to force him to land, for I had the feeling that was already wounded. He did not fire a shot.
At about five-hundred-meter altitude, a malfunction in my machine during a normal glide also forced me to land before making another turn. Now something quite comical happened. My enemy in his burning machine landed smoothly, while I, the victor, turned over right near him on the barbed wire of the trenches of a reserve emplacement.
A sporting reception followed with both Englishmen, who were more than a little surprised by my crash, for, as I mentioned, they had not fired a shot at me and they could not imagine why I had made a forced landing.
Then came what was, in my view, a typically English dirty trick. He asked me why I had acted so carelessly in landing. I told him the reason was that I could not do anything else. Then the scoundrel said that in the last three hundred meters he had attempted to shoot at me, but his guns had jammed. I had given him a gift of his life. He took it and subsequently repaid me with an insidious personal attack.
It's been a fun read so far. I look forward to getting through it to read more of his adventures. It kind of makes me wish I had stuck with my local Civil Air Patrol unit when I was a kid; I'd be a pilot right now.