A former World War II Luftwaffe pilot from Germany asked for forgiveness Monday during an emotional return to the English village which he had bombed during the six-year conflict.It's normal, and quite accepted, that if a plane is damaged, it jettisons its load. If the pilot has time, then yes, they should be jettisoned over a 'military target', the countryside, or the sea, but in extremis, getting rid of them immediately is reasonable. Given the circumstances - at night, and deep over enemy territory, no-one could have blamed him if he'd just let them go immediately. Instead, and at considerable risk to himself and his crew, he attempted to hit a military target. That took guts.
"I want to see the people in Bolam from that time and explain what I was doing and say sorry for the damage that was caused," 82-year-old Willie Schludecker said of the 1942 raid on Sunderland in the northeast of England. Schludecker had been flying a Dornier 217 as part of a KG2 raid.
"I was attacked by night fighters and went into a steep dive and then recovered the plane," he told villagers.
"I wanted to jettison the bombs on the railway line, because the plane was damaged and I wanted to get rid of the bombs so I could fly back home."
Here's someone who fought for one of the most abominable causes of all time, yet has acted with rationality, courage, and honour.
War has many horrors: widows and orphans created, toddlers rendered limbless, death, destruction and massive waste, but one of the very worst ones is that it often pits decent human beings in contests to kill each other. Herr Schludecker - no doubt like the pilot of the Night Fighter that nearly shot him down - is a decent man. He's unusual in that, over 50 years after the event, he wanted to make sure that he hadn't inadvertantly caused a tragedy - and apologised for the damage he was forced to do.
So I have a lot of time for those who were, and are, against the war in Iraq. They too are conscious of the eternal verity uttered by the US General Sherman, 'War is Hell'.
A Lot of Time. But I've given that, and more, and still many don't see something equally obvious: there are worse things than War. Like this.