Saturday, May 14, 2016

If I Had Known

With advanced placement tests (AP) behind us, one student in my literature class has requested we read Antoine de Saint Exupery's  "The Little Prince."

Saint Exupery was born in 1900 and was a pilot during WWII. While on reconnaissance one day, off the coast of Marseille France, he disappeared. It was presumed for many years that he encountered enemy fire or lost control of his airplane, plunged into the sea, his death a mystery--for sixty years---until, a fisherman brought in his net and tangled within was a silver necklace bearing St. Exupery's name and the name of his publisher. A curious archaeologist and diver, Luc Vanrell, had previously noted wreckage at the bottom of the sea. When he pulled part of the wreckage, including an old 1941 engine, he traced the engine to a fleet of German WWII planes. From there, he contacted the pilots, asking each one if they knew anything about St. Exupery.

After sixty years, one man was relieved to say, "Yes, I shot down Exupery. If I had known it was him, I would have never done it."

Such a sad and ironic expression, but an expression of truth.

It was July 31, 1944. The German pilot, Rippert, spied a plan below him with the French tricolor. He maneuvered himself behind the plane and shot it down. Days later, he learned French forces were looking for Exupery. His eyes filled with tears, because he suspected he was responsible for Exupery's disappearance. He had been a fan of Exupery's and the very man who had inspired him to become a pilot, was the man he had killed.

In 2003, Rippert learned Exupery's plane had been recovered. From the location, he knew it was himself who had shot down the author of The Little Prince.

The sadness is that all shot-down enemies, all young men and women killed in battle, the enemy never knew who they were, their stories, their stunted potential. Mr. Rogers said, "There isn't anyone you couldn't love if you've heard their story."

I will never fly a war plane or carry a gun into enemy territory, but for the rest of my life I will encounter possible conflict with people whose stories I have not heard.

I often think that the great armies waiting to go into battle should first be required to sit down at each others' sides and tell their stories.

Would war then, be possible?

When incited to "war" first sit down and learn your "enemy's" story.