Facebook doesn’t care about your community: why local newspapers still matter

If you live in a small town like I do, Facebook may be the de facto source of information for everything that’s going on. It’s how you see what’s happening at your kids’ schools. It’s how you learn about community events. It’s how you stalk friends and family to satisfy morbid curiosity. I mean, if you really cared, you’d call text or call them, or heaven forbid, actually visit with them in person. We think that Facebook is a valuable resource in the affairs of the community.

Have you stopped to really think about how Facebook gets all that information? It’s not because it is generating valuable content by sending reporters into your community. It’s because well intentioned folks like us feed the beast with all the things that we care about and the algorithms regurgitate that content back at us based on our browsing habits, whether on the Facebook platform itself, or other websites, apps, and so-forth, that share your data with Facebook.

Think about this: Facebook lets you use its services for free because you are the product. They make their money from selling ads that you see based on your interests. They’ve been building this profile on your for quite some time, not only from what you do on their platforms, but also data from other websites that is shared/sold to Facebook. This is why you get ads for things you’ve never looked for on Facebook while you’re using Facebook. All this information about you and your habits gets aggregated into a massive profile. Facebook, Google, and the other large social media companies know you better than your family does. They know the vices and predilections that you try to hide from everyone else but give away free to them.

[I]t makes billions via digital advertising, as Facebook has something that companies really want – access to billions of people around the globe who might buy their products or services. In fact, so many companies advertise on Facebook that in 2017, Facebook earned $39.9 billion from advertising revenue. All in all, the company earns about 85% of its money from advertising.

(O’Connell, 2018)

Let’s not just beat up on Facebook for a moment; let’s talk about those third parties who share data with it. How do they know which refrigerator it was that you were looking at at the store the other day? Maybe you stopped too long in front of it and that data was shared with Facebook? CIO Magazine published an article that explains how that can occur all the way back in 2013. Titled 5 Ways to Track In-Store Customer Behavior, it lists them as: (1) Wi-Fi Fingerprinting: Track Strength of a Signal, (2) MEMS: Create a Heat Map of Customer Activity, (3) LED Lighting: Use Frequency Emissions to Determine Customer Location, (4) Bluetooth 4.0: Use Smartphone Signals to Send Deals to Customers, and (5) Loyalty Programs: Track What Customers Buy (Brandon, 2013). That last one is a particular stab in the back, but its simple quid pro quo: in exchange for deals, the business gets to know your spending habits. When you aggregate that data together (I’ve said aggregate quite a few times already; there’s a reason) with data from other vendors, Facebook and others get that really clear picture of who you are and what you like.

As a Christian, I don’t have a problem with an omnipotent, all-seeing God knowing everything about me, because He is just. I do have a problem with companies like Facebook who are running in god-mode seeing all we do online (and in the real world) and aggregating that data for their own purposes. Herein lies the problem of modern, information-based technologies: they are neither good nor evil, but the humans involved in the process may indeed be evil. We’d never know, because they are like the great and powerful Oz: hiding behind a veil pulling the levers to make the machines work. We know from law enforcement, that “anything you say can and will be used against you…”, so think about this: how will what you’ve said, searched, or visited be used against you? You’ve given it away freely and probably didn’t even read the terms and conditions of how it can be used.

I could go on and on with other examples, but I hope you are getting the point. You are the product, and anything that Facebook does, or allows you to do, on its platforms is in furtherance of generating revenue. It’s what a business does. So without animosity, I restate my original point: Facebook, as a business and an amalgamation of machines, coders, and artificial intelligence, doesn’t care about your community. Facebook will continue to exist if nothing whatsoever is posted about you or your community.

Here’s another headline that should open your eyes: FTC investigates whether ISPs sell your browsing history and location data.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the privacy practices of major Internet service providers, and it has ordered top ISPs to disclose whether they share user Web browsing histories, device location information, and other sensitive data with third parties. ISPs also have to provide details on how they collect and use personal information to target advertisements at consumers.

(Brodkin, 2019)

Before I move on to the second-half of what I’d like to impart, I want to share a faint glimmer of hope. Facebook does provide a tool that allows you to see what information they have on you, and provides a way to turn it off. You can find out more about how to do that here.

Now that I’ve shown you some of the ways that Facebook and other platforms are tracking you, and not for your benefit, I’m sure you’re going to immediately delete your Facebook account and take control of all your personal data. Who’s with me? Bueller??? Bueller??? Bueller???

We’ve become so addicted to immediate access to information, we find it hard to walk away from it. Our brains have been re-wired for instant gratification in all aspects of life.

Getting back to the second half of the title, what does the local paper have to do with any of this? Here’s my take: the local paper helps keep us tethered to humanity and our local communities. Large papers in major urban areas may not share this same phenomenon; I want to focus on the small town newspaper.

In rural America, and I’d imagine other countries, many of the small papers are still locally owned. The local paper for my community is the Northwest Alabamian, which is ironically owned by the local sheriff (Taylor, 2019). In rural America, this isn’t necessarily cause for controversy. When you take a look at the Northwest Alabamian’s website, you see near the bottom of the “About” page that Sheriff Moore has been the publisher of the paper since 1983 (Mid-South Newpapers, Inc., 2021). Much of what is published in the paper is pro- law enforcement, pro- Veteran, and pro- America. From my casual observations in the community, I’d say this reflects the majority opinion of the community rather well.

If you’re looking for instant information, you’re not getting it with the local paper, which, in my case, is printed weekly. That’s old news, you may say. Tell me this, of what you read on Facebook, how much do you retain two hours later? We read it on our screens and then immediately purge. We ingest so much information so rapidly, that we (or at least, I) seldom retain any of it. We value it less because there is so much of it; it becomes debased.

When I sit down with my weekly copy of the paper, I am first forced to unfold it to gain full access to its contents. I am greeted with ostentatious headlines such as “Outraged citizens bombard County Commission”. I have to turn to page 11 to finish reading “Outraged”. I’ve sat in on a couple of these County Commission meetings, so I find that headline particularly amusing.

Several years back the road I lived on at the time was washed out by a freak storm. This happened while my family and I were away on vacation and we were frantically looking online for a backroad to just to get home (which, by the way, did not exist). Fortunately, a kind neighbor had a dirt path along the edge of his pasture that connected to an adjoining road that he allowed the neighborhood to use for some time while the County repaired the large gully that had washed out. They weren’t moving along quite as fast as I would have liked, so I sat in on a County Commission meeting one week to see what was going on. I was frustrated at the meeting and expressed that frustration politely and professionally to the commissioners. Imagine my surprise in the next week’s paper to see my frustrated face in a photo squared off against one of the commissioners. The article was well executed, but those two photos were a great example of visual hyperbole. Facebook never takes the time to do that, does it? I thought the article was great, and it had the community talking about the washed out road, which after about six months, finally got fixed.

Lets talk about the ads in the local paper. They are targeted too, but they are targeted to the community and not the individual. The local paper isn’t data mining your intimate details. It’s selling ad spaces to businesses with a stake in the community. It’s amusing to me that the ads running across the top of the paper from 2017 is unchanged from the paper I got in the mail this week, with two major exceptions: Traders and Farmer’s Bank is now BankFirst, and the financial advisor looks a little older in the picture posted in his ad. That reflects the zeitgeist of my community rather well. We are a little slower to embrace change, which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. It’s one of the reasons I moved here in the first place.

When I flip to the second page of the paper, vanity of vanities, there I am in a group photo in an article discussing the new park that we are planning in town. There’s a picture of the proposed design from a nonprofit organization called Design Alabama that sat down with us for the day to help us work on ideas for what to do with the vacant lot that was to be repurposed into a park. The local reporter was there, not only documenting the discussion, but taking part it in, because he is an embedded and valuable member of the community.

I can read about other activities going on in the community. On the front page, I read about one of the local towns working with its American Legion Post to build a new Veterans memorial. As I flip further back I see where another local Legion Post helped our a needy Veteran who was passing through. I can read about the dearly departed from the community. I can read about the local felony and misdemeanor arrests; the public naming-and-shaming. The local paper tells of the good and the ill that goes on in the community.

That brings us to the irony of the matter: paying for old information that we’ve probably already seen on Facebook for free. Why would a rational person do that? I can only tell you why I do that. I do it as an investment back into my community. I bought my subscription from one of the local high school Juniors who was selling them as a fundraiser. Yes, the paper got most of that money, but part of it helped out a local kid. My subscription helps pay salaries of newspaper staff who are part of the community. They shop at the stores in town and, in turn, put money back into the community. My subscription ensures that a (hopefully) unbiased recounting of events was presented to the community, as opposed to an emotional, and often irrational, rant being posted in haste on Facebook. I can focus on the text and images of the paper sitting in front of me as opposed to rapidly scrolling down my screen. It makes me slow down. These things are worth the subscription cost to me.

So the next time you’re scrolling through Facebook for some self-affirmation and a dopamine hit (Weinschenk, 2012), remember that you are the product. What you see is what Facebook thinks you are interested in seeing (or wants you to see). It makes money off what you see and what you click on. Maybe that will lead to some local business making some money. Your local paper, relic of a by-gone era that it is, actually employs folks from your community and advertises for businesses in your community. They don’t have some algorithm telling them what you want (or need) to see. They have reporters who are a part of your community reporting on things of interest in your community. Your local paper is focused on your community and surrounding communities. What is Facebook focused on?

References:

The Intergalactic Presence of the Blevins Clan

Often on my commute I listen to audio books. I bounce between books on history and religion, but occasionally I’ll listen to fiction. The fiction book I am currently listening to is Star Wars: Aftermath. I’m not here to write a book review, but to notice one passing reference that 99.999% of the world will pay no attention to: Captain Blevins. His only reference in the story is when a character named Sinjir Rath Velus recounts seeing Blevins dead on the moon of Endor during the battle that took place there in The Return of the Jedi. According to Velus, Blevins was a “bully and a braggart who had truly believed in the Empire’s ideals”[1].

While that may be sad for Blevinses who pulled for the Rebel Alliance, over the years, I’ve come to realize that the Empire were the good guys, but the victors get to write the history books. Captain Blevins died an unsung hero of the Empire’s effort to maintain order against the rising chaos. But I digress…

So where did author Chuck Wendig get the inspiration for Captain Blevins? I don’t know for certain, but my guess is Bret Blevins, a comic book artist, story board artist, and fine art painter[2]. According to Wookiepedia, Mr. Blevins has done art for some Star Wars comics[3]. In fact, Mr. Blevins has drawn quite a few recognizable comic characters in his career. He has some excellent examples of his art posted to his website.

We may never know if Bret Blevins is the namesake of the ill-fated Captain Blevins, but we can be certain that if there are Blevinses in a galaxy far away, then the name lives on.

References:

  1. https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Blevins
  2. http://www.bretblevins.com/
  3. https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Bret_Blevins

Nothing New Under the Sun

[N.B. I originally posted this article on the Society of Southern Gentlemen blog. I don’t plan to maintain that site, so I am merging all the posts there onto this site, but keeping the original timestamps.]

That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 (ASV)

We’re often told how irrelevant the Bible is in modern times, and while I hold the Bible to be truth, I think there are threads that run through it that are common to all mankind. The Founding Fathers referred to those threads as Natural Law. I hold firmly to the fact that there is an Intelligent Designer of the Universe, who is known imperfectly by various names throughout the history of humanity, such as EL, Brahma, Ahura Mazda, the Great Architect of the Universe, and so forth. I’m not advocating that all faiths lead to Heaven, just that there are hints of truth in some of their early teachings. I’m off on a tangent, but I say all this to lead into an interesting article published in the MIT Technology Review.The text begins thus:

Back in 1995, Kurt Vonnegut gave a lecture in which he described his theory about the shapes of stories. In the process, he plotted several examples on a blackboard. “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers,” he said. “They are beautiful shapes.” The video is available on YouTube.

Vonnegut was representing in graphical form an idea that writers have explored for centuries—that stories follow emotional arcs, that these arcs can have different shapes, and that some shapes are better suited to storytelling than others.

Vonnegut mapped out several arcs in his lecture. These include the simple arc encapsulating “man falls into hole, man gets out of hole” and the more complex one of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.”

Vonnegut is not alone in attempting to categorize stories into types, although he was probably the first to do it in graphical form. Aristotle was at it over 2,000 years before him, and many others have followed in his footsteps.

However, there is little agreement on the number of different emotional arcs that arise in stories or their shape. Estimates vary from three basic patterns to more than 30. But there is little in the way of scientific evidence to favor one number over another.

Today, that changes thanks to the work of Andrew Reagan at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a few pals. These guys have used sentiment analysis to map the emotional arcs of over 1,700 stories and then used data-mining techniques to reveal the most common arcs. “We find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives,” they say.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601848/data-mining-reveals-the-six-basic-emotional-arcs-of-storytelling/?utm_campaign=add_this&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post

As many of us who’ve watched movies in the last couple decades can attest, this seems like a pretty reasonable statement. We can recognize this. It is formulaic.

Also, there are examples of lost technology that is more advanced than anything that we had up until the past 100 years. A perfect and recent example of this is the Antikythera Mechanism:

More than a hundred years ago an extraordinary mechanism was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera. It astonished the whole international community of experts on the ancient world. Was it an astrolabe? Was it an orrery or an astronomical clock? Or something else?

For decades, scientific investigation failed to yield much light and relied more on imagination than the facts. However research over the last half century has begun to reveal its secrets. The machine dates from around the end of the 2nd century B.C. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world. Nothing as complex is known for the next thousand years. The Antikythera Mechanism is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical “computer” which tracks the cycles of the Solar System.

http://antikythera-mechanism.gr/project/overview

To give an idea of how complex this machine was, take a look at this video:

My point is this: it has taken us quantum leaps in scientific advances to recognize we’re not as much smarter than our ancestors than we believe we are. For those of us who allow ourselves a modicum of humility (which I am often accused of not having), we understand from Ecclesiastes (written thousands of years ago) that there is “nothing new under the sun”. No, Solomon didn’t have a rocket ship to Mars, our ancestors were as intelligent as we are, they just didn’t have the sum of technology to build upon that we do… or did they, and we just haven’t found record of it yet?

Blazon of William Blethyn’s Armorial Achievements

Arms emblazoned on William Blethyn’s Pedigree Roll

[Edited December 23, 2020 to correct inaccuracies in the blazons.]

A couple years ago I posted the William Blethyn pedigree roll with the promise of transcribing it. I’m a little behind schedule in following through with that, but I would like to make an attempt to blazon the arms attributed to him.

  • Arms: Quarterly, 1st and 4th, Gules, three chevronnels argent (Corenny hir Lydanwyn), 2nd, Azure, a chevron between three cocks combed, armed, and wattled gules (Meuric ap Tewdric), 3rd, Or, three lions passant guardant gules armed and langued azure, a crescent dexter chief for difference gules.
  • Crest: Upon a wreath of gules and argent, on a mound a Paschal Lamb proper, holding between its fore hooves a long cross argent from which flies a banner of the Cross of St. George.”
  • Motto: Et Mica Mihi (And a grain for me)


Ten Commandments of Chivalry

If you follow any of the major blogs in the “Manosphere“, you might have noticed recently a bit of back and forth over the concept of Chivalry in the modern world. I’ll stay neutral on that discussion, but I want to take a moment to comment on the ten commandments of Chivalry:

  1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and shalt observe all its directions.
    Claiming no creed nor doctrine outside that practiced by the first century Christians, I believe in the Gospel and the epistles, with their “primitive” form of Christianity that can be seen from the examples as recorded in the books that have been passed to us as the New Testament. I strive to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent“.
  2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
    The church to which I belong claims no central authority other than Christ, thus the simple naming convention of claiming to be His church in a particular locale. Since my faith is spiritual, my battle is likewise, though I may face adversaries on the physical plane. This doesn’t mean that one sits idly by to allow others to slander the Christian faith, but it also doesn’t necessitate physical violence against the offender. Paul details our weapons as :

    10
    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)

    These are the weapons with which I defend Christ’s church.

  3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
    I must be understanding of others’ shortcomings, as I hope they will be of mine.
  4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
    This one is not very difficult for me. I have served in my Nation’s military and I uphold the principles of its Constitution. No matter where I may find myself in life, I will always love my homeland, where the Lord has blessed me so richly.
  5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
    Looking back to verse 12 above, I see that my enemy is Satan. I must stand firm against him and those who serve him.
  6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
    I see no call to a physical holy war in the teaching of Christ, though I find many examples of it in the conquest of Caanan in the Torah. YHWH commanded His people to commit violence against a people He had proscribed for their sins, and when the Israelites carried this out as commanded, they were blessed. When they showed mercy upon those to whom no mercy had been commanded, they were punished. Bearing in mind the historical context of the Crusades, I know where this command was directed, but there are may “infidels” that a Christian faces today. Given the spiritual nature of Christianity, this means, to me, engaging in intellectual warfare against doctrines contrary to those I hold as matters of faith. Following the physical example from the Old Testament, I cannot show mercy to a doctrine that is not of the Lord.
  7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
    My circumstances do not place me as a vassal with feudal duties, but as a free citizen. Even so, I have certain obligations I must meet. I registered for the draft at eighteen. I pay my taxes. I obey the laws passed by those elected to office. I do not pledge featly to a president, but I uphold the portion of my oath of enlistment that still applies to me: that I affirmed “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same… So help me God.” As long as my Country does not require me to do that which is against the will of the Lord, I will obey.
  8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
    This one is simple to understand, yet so difficult sometimes to follow. We live in a time of low expectations, where one’s word often doesn’t mean a whole lot, and pages and pages of contracts have to be spelled out to do what a spoken word or handshake used to seal.
  9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
    This is one that I, and I suppose many in the western world struggle with. It is very easy to pass this responsibility off to the “government” since we are taxed to pay for social programs. The scriptures are clear that each of us has some responsibility to care for the less fortunate.
  10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.
    In our world of moral relativism, this one might be the most maligned. No good deed goes unpunished. One must reject this abomination. A Parable of Christ makes this clear:
    24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27 (ESV)
This is what the ten commandments of chivalry mean to me. It’s not holding doors for ladies, though if a lady is to be found, that would be in line with the type of kindness that a chivalrous gentleman would do. Bear in mind that a female is not always a lady, nor is a male always a gentleman. Those designations are earned and should not be flouted about willy-nilly based on some egalitarian claptrap that passes for civility nowadays. Chivalry is an honor code to be followed by those who act honorably, and extended to those worthy of honor.

Honor amongst adversaries

This is a great story of honor amongst adversaries:

Why A German Pilot Escorted An American Bomber To Safety During World War II:

I learned of the following article through a link posted on the Western PA Dieselpunks Facebook page. It’s an article posted at the web site Jalopnik.com titled, “Why A German Pilot Escorted An American Bomber To Safety During World War II” by Benjamin Preston.

As we begin 2013, let’s remember this story of universal brotherhood during this war that so defined the Diesel Era and the genre of Dieselpunk. May it serve as a beacon of hope for a peaceful new year. – Larry Amyett, Jr.

Once in a while, you hear an old war story that restores your faith in humanity. Usually it involves a moment of quiet in the midst of chaos; some singing or the sharing of a few condiments. But how many of them take place in mid air?

This is the remarkable story of a crippled American bomber spared by a German fighter pilot. After the two planes’ pilots had a mid-air moment of understanding, it didn’t seem likely that they’d ever see one another again. Only they did, and became closer than brothers.

Here’s how it all went down.

It was a few days before Christmas in 1943, and the Allied bombing campaign in Germany was going at full tilt. Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown was a freshly minted bomber pilot, and he and his crew were about to embark upon their first mission — to hit an aircraft factory in northern Germany.

Brown’s B-17F Flying Fortress, dubbed Ye Olde Pub, was typical of American heavy bombers of the time. Along with an 8,000-pound bomb capacity, the four-engine plane was armed with 11 machine guns and strategically placed armor plating. B-17s cruised at about 27,000 feet, but weren’t pressurized. At that altitude, the air is thin and cold — 60 degrees below zero. Pilots and crew relied upon an onboard oxygen system and really warm flight suits with heated shoes.

As Ye Old Pub approached Bremen, Germany, German anti-aircraft batteries opened up on the formation. Unfortunately for the pilots and crew of Ye Olde Pub, one of the anti-aircraft rounds exploded right in front of their plane, destroying the number two engine and damaging number four. Missing one engine and with another throttled back due to damage, Ye Olde Pub could no longer keep up with the formation.

B-17s were known for being able to soak up a lot of bullets and anti-aircraft flak and still make it home, but that came at a cost. The armor plating protecting crew and vital areas of the plane was heavy and affected cruise speed. Although armed with a number of heavy machine gun turrets, there were still areas of the aircraft that were vulnerable to attack by enemy fighter planes. The U.S. Army Air Corps addressed this problem by placing many planes in staggered formation that allowed bombs to be dropped while multiple planes could cover the defensive gaps of other planes in the formation with overlapping fields of fire.

The drawback to this arrangement was that individual planes couldn’t take evasive maneuvers (they’d risk damage from friendly bombs or machine gun fire), and stragglers were completely open to attack by enemy aircraft. Think about a small group of quick, agile cowboys chasing a herd of buffalo. They’re both dangerous to one another, but if one lumbering buffalo leaves the safety of the group, there’s not much hope for it.

Things went from bad to worse for Brown and his crew. Falling behind the formation, Ye Olde Pub weathered merciless attacks from 15 German fighters. The bomber’s machine guns got one of them, but the damage they sustained was immense. The tail gunner was killed and four were injured, including Brown, who caught a bullet fragment in his right shoulder. The only defensive guns left in service were the top turret and the nose gun, and the bomber’s hydraulics and oxygen systems had also been knocked out. The plane went into a spiral, plummeting earthward.

What happened next is according to the memory of Brown, who told interviewers years later that his mind was a bit hazy at the time; his shoulder was bleeding and he needed oxygen.

I either spiraled or spun and came out of the spin just above the ground. My only conscience memory was of dodging trees but I had nightmares for years and years about dodging buildings and then trees. I think the Germans thought that we had spun in and crashed.

Ye Olde Pub was spared further harassment by enemy fighters. Somehow, he and the co-pilot managed to get the plane flying level again at about 1,000 feet of elevation.

On the way out to the sea, Ye Olde Pub passed a German airfield. Lt. Franz Stigler, a Luftwaffe fighter pilot just in from shooting down two B-17s, saw Ye Olde Pub limp by. Naturally, he scrambled to give chase. But what he saw arrested any aggression he may have had. As he told interviewers in 1991, he was aghast at the amount of damage the bomber had sustained. Its nose cone was missing, it had several gaping holes in the fuselage. He could see crew members giving first aid to the wounded, and most of the plane’s guns hung limp, unmanned as they were.

I saw his gunner lying in the back profusely bleeding….. so, I couldn’t shoot. I tried to get him to land in Germany and he didn’t react at all. So, I figured, well, turn him to Sweden, because his airplane was so shot up; I never saw anything flying so shot up.

Stigler kept his distance, always staying out of the line of fire of the two guns still in service, but managed to fly within 20 feet of the bullet riddled B-17. He tried to contact Brown with hand signals. His message was simple: Land your plane in Germany and surrender or fly to Sweden. That heap will never make it back to England.

A bewildered Brown stared back through his side window, not believing what he was seeing. He had already counted himself as a casualty numerous times. But this strange German pilot kept gesturing at him. There was no way he was going to land the plane, but the pilot stayed with him, keeping other attackers off until they reached the North Sea. When it was clear that Brown wasn’t staying in Germany, Stigler saluted, peeled off, and flew out of Ye Olde Pub’s nightmarish day.

When Franz tried to get me to surrender, my mind just wouldn’t accept that. It wasn’t chivalry, it wasn’t bravery, it was probably stupidity. My mind just didn’t function in a clear manner. So his choice then was to kill us or try to get us to go to Sweden, since we wouldn’t land.

The bomber made it back to England, scarcely able to keep 250 feet between itself and the ground by the time it landed in a smoking pile of exhausted men and shredded aluminum. Years later, Brown would say that if Stigler had been able to talk to him, offering the land in Germany or fly to Sweden ultimatum, he probably would have gone to Sweden. But Ye Olde Pub did make it, and Brown got a much needed stiff drink handed to him when he got off the plane.

The incredulous debriefing officer, wowed by Brown’s story, went off to tell the brass what had happened. He recommended Brown’s crew for citation, but the glory was short-lived. Brass quickly decided that word getting out about a chivalrous German fighter pilot could endanger the lives of other crews if it caused them to let their guard down. All details of Ye Olde Pub’s first mission were classified Secret.

Stigler was never able to speak of his actions that day, as it would have meant certain court martial. He flew many more missions, though, becoming one of the world’s first fighter jet pilots. By the war’s end, he was one of only about 1,300 surviving Luftwaffe pilots. Some 28,000 had served.

After the war, Charlie Brown returned home to West Virginia and went to college, returning to the Air Force in 1949 and serving until 1965. Later, as a State Department Foreign Service Officer, he made numerous trips to Laos and Vietnam. But in 1972, he hung up his government service hat and moved to Miami to become an inventor.

Stigler finished the war amidst ruin. Anti-Third Reich post-war authorities in Germany were unimpressed with his exemplary service record, and the economy was wrecked. He subsisted on food stamps and work as a bricklayer’s helper for a while, but moved to Canada in 1953. There, he enjoyed success as a businessman.

Many years went by without either man ever thinking much about what had happened on that day in 1943. But in 1986, then retired Colonel Charlie Brown was asked to speak at a big combat pilot reunion event called Gathering of the Eagles. Someone asked him if he had any memorable missions during World War II. Brown thought a minute, then dredged up the story of Stigler’s salute which had been buried somewhere in the dirty corners of his mind for decades. Jaws dropped. Brown knew he would have to try to find the man who had spared his life.

After four years of searching vainly for U.S. and West German Air Force records that might shed some light on who the pilot was, Brown hadn’t come up with much. So he wrote a letter in a combat pilot association newsletter. A few months later, Brown received a letter from Canada. It was from Stigler. “I was the one,” it said. When they spoke on the phone, Stigler described his plane, the salute; everything Brown needed to hear to know it wasn’t a hoax.

From 1990 to 2008, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler became like brothers. Introduced by the bond of that first powerful meeting, their friendship was cemented over the years. The two men remained close throughout the rest of their lives, dying within several months of each other in 2008.

There are so many parts of that beautiful story that could have turned out differently. In any event, Stigler probably wouldn’t have shot Brown’s crippled plane. He was a veteran pilot with an iron sense of right and wrong; a man who would never kick another while he’s down.

But what if Stigler had been executed for his disloyalty? What if Brown had landed in Germany or hadn’t made it across the North Sea? What if Stigler had stayed in Germany and never learned how to speak English? Yes, things could have been different, but that chance encounter in 1943 was destined to become a chance encounter again in 1990. But more importantly, it’s proof to the rest of us that something great done now can change your life much, much later.

Adam Makos just wrote a book about the Brown-Stigler rendezvous — A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story Of Combat And Chivalry In The War-Torn Skies Of World War II — which goes into much greater detail about the two men behind an amazing occurrence.

At moments in history we have seen this type of honor for ones enemy displayed. The accounts of Knights Templar and Saladin come to mind. The warrior ethos seems to have the ability to transcend cultural barriers. Christians are commanded to love their enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

Along with:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 (ESV)

And:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)

True Nobility

At the Art of Manliness, the McKays have published great post on the Stoic-Christian Code of Honor, which I encourage you to read, and the poem at the end by Robert Nicoll is particularly wonderful: 

True Nobility
“I ask not for his lineage,
I ask not for his name;
If manliness be in his heart,
He noble birth may claim.

I care not though of world’s wealth
But slender be his part,
If yes you answer when I ask,
‘Hath he a true-man’s heart?’

I ask not from what land he came,
Nor where his youth was nursed;
If pure the spring, it matters not
The spot from whence it burst.

The palace or the hovel
Where first his life began,
I seek not of; but answer this—
‘Is he an honest man?’

Nay, blush not now; what matters it
Where first he drew his breath?
A manger was the cradle-bed
Of Him of Nazareth.

Be nought, be any, everything,
I care not what you be,
If yes you answer, when I ask
‘Art thou pure, true, and free?”