The pilot glanced outside his cockpit and froze. He blinked hard and looked again, hoping it was just a mirage. But his co-pilot stared at the same horrible vision.
“My God, this is a nightmare,” the co-pilot said.
“He’s going to destroy us,” the pilot agreed.
The men were looking at a gray German Messerschmitt fighter hovering just three feet off their wingtip. It was five days before Christmas 1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled American B-17 bomber for the kill.
The B-17 pilot, Charles Brown, was a 21-year-old West Virginia farm boy on his first combat mission. His bomber had been shot to pieces by swarming fighters, and his plane was alone in the skies above Germany. Half his crew was wounded, and the tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in icicles over the machine guns.
But when Brown and his co-pilot, Spencer “Pinky” Luke, looked at the fighter pilot again, something odd happened. The German didn’t pull the trigger. He nodded at Brown instead. What happened next was one of the most remarkable acts of chivalry recorded during World War II. Years later, Brown would track down his would-be executioner for a reunion that reduced both men to tears.
As I read this, I am engaged in a conversation with a Faithful Conservative Catholic[TM] on Facebook who is insisting on the great goodness of the nuclear slaughter of children at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He uses all the classic lies: We deliberately mass murdered children and incinerated the Eucharist for the Greater Good. “There are no civilians in war” (exactly the rationale the Nazis used for the Holocaust and bin Laden used on 9/11). All war is murder so you just have to choose which grave sins you are going to commit (in other words, God is the author of evil, forcing us to commit grave sin).
Listening to yet another in a long decade of Catholic rationalizing on behalf of war crimes and murder while reading this story of a German pilot who showed humanity and mercy is strangely disorienting and tragic. It is amazing to me how cowardly, how blasphemous against God, how deeply untrusting of him, are these postmodern Catholic rationalizations for the mass murder of innocents in order to save our skins.