Inspired by The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse
“He was a Feldwebel, a corporal, and was the second most senior soldier in the small unit posted in town…The Feldwebel was called Karl Dietrich, but was known, for some reason, as Ubi.” (Alexander McCall Smith, The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse, p. 101.)
What started as a wartime romance encouraged me to see how kindness, humanity (Ubuntu) and doing the right thing, even when others around you are doing the exact opposite, can have far-reaching implications that could affect your life as an individual. In other words, the actions you take today when dealing with others have the potential to determine your tomorrow.
The story is set during World War II, when Germany was one of the most hated countries in the world, thanks to Hitler's rule. In all my years that I read history, I don't remember coming across much information that portrayed Germans in a good light. Although Ubi is a fictional character, the way he was being described as an individual encouraged me to read more about WWII, for I genuinely believed the author, Alexander McCall Smith, was inspired by a few truths. My research led me to the profiling of the psychology of Hitler, his upbringing, insecurities and how he managed to rise from a position of "weakness" to be one of the world's influential leaders. I also looked at his followers and how some of them met their death when the chickens came home to roost. You see, actions designed to hurt or harm others often boomerang back to the aggressor, or the one who facilitated the offences.
My search also took me along another pathway which most people don't often talk about: the plight of the many Germans who opposed Hitler, his policies and his rule. Although many people within the country paid the price for opposing the regime, many people around the world would be quick to judge Germans according to what they know about Hitler. It made me think about a recent conversation I had with a Muslim woman who hails from a country notoriously known for wars. I'm a Christian, we'd said hello a few times before, and one day, we found ourselves chatting at length. I was surprised to learn that some of her experiences, observations, challenges and wishes were similar to mine. She then went on to say, "My sister, we as ordinary people are often judged according to our leaders, not who we are as individuals." How very true.
In The Good Pilot, we learn that Ubi was an ordinary citizen opposed to the war. When the recruiters came knocking at his door, he considered defecting, but only changed his mind after learning about the repercussions for resisting being drafted into the military. Meanwhile, in real life, I learnt more about those who thrived on being Hitler's supporters and cheerleaders. Digging deeper into WWII made me understand how seemingly ordinary people were somehow convinced to rise against each other, creating deep wounds and suffering. Being Hitler's enablers also meant basking in power at a time when life was desperate for the majority, thanks to the effects of the current and previous wars as well as the Great Depression. Those who would have been "nobodies" under normal circumstances were now running the show, flexing power in their swanky military uniforms. It's incredible what people will do to meet basic needs to survive.
Back to The Good Pilot. Ubi was stationed in The Netherlands, which was occupied by Germany. Although he lived in the barracks, he knew that there were good people - Dutch locals - who risked their lives to provide shelter for those fleeing Hitler’s onslaught in the region, including Jews. Still, he thought it was none of his business, so he never gave them grief. One day, he discovered that a local man who worked in the barracks had been brazen enough to hide an American pilot, his fellow soldier and a dog known as Peter Woodhouse. The trio’s warplane had been shot down by German forces while on a mission to take aerial photos on behalf of allied forces based in the UK. The three had been found and rescued by locals before German soldiers could locate the wreckage. They drew up an escape plan in the middle of the night and, as mad as it sounds, figured that the safest house would be right next to German barracks! No soldier would suspect that one would do such a crazy thing, they thought.
However, their act of kindness came to the attention of Ubi, who was an observant character by nature. He smoked the two allied soldiers out of hiding. Instead of dealing with them the way any other German soldier would have done, he chose to turn a blind eye, and never mentioned anything to his superiors. As the war raged on, the two men and their dog adapted to life in the attic, hoping that someday, word would get to their British base that they were alive and well. There would be another incident involving Peter Woodhouse, and Ubi again saved his life, although he’d been instructed by his boss to kill him. Despite the war, Ubi managed to preserve his human side while many others were brutal in the name of duty.
However, nothing lasts forever. Without warning, The Netherlands were freed from Germany’s invasion by allied forces. The wind of change had blown, shifting the balance of power in its wake. There was great jubilation amongst the Dutch and many others, although for Ubi and company, their nightmare was only beginning. Overnight, their lives changed from them being in control to becoming prisoners of war, subjected to horrific and embarrassing treatment. A Canadian soldier was heard saying to them, “So you see what this brings you…what goes around comes around!”
The actions you take today when dealing with others have the potential to determine your tomorrow.
For the American pilot, his fellow soldier and the dog, it was time to emerge out of hiding. But they knew that, had it not been for the kindness of the Dutch locals, and one particular German soldier, they would have perished. Now that they were free, they made it a point to let the allied soldiers know about Ubi, and what he did and didn’t do to spare their lives. The allied soldiers understood that exposing Ubi as a saviour of foreign nationals amongst his German counterparts would prove to be dangerous for him. As every captured soldier marched towards the prison, Ubi was removed from the line-up without making it obvious and found himself on his way back to Germany. Although the allied forces were giving every captured German soldier a difficult time, they made sure that Ubi was safe, and facilitated his return back home as a civilian, not a former soldier. It allowed Ubi to quickly start rebuilding his life and put the memories of the war behind him.
Yes, Ubi was a fictional character, but the more you read into WWI and WWII, the more you realise that history tends to repeat itself. So, we see a repeat of suffering around the world at the hands of a few, but they always have support from others who benefit from broken lives and broken systems and would do anything to keep the status quo. I'd encourage anyone interested in history to look into the likes of Hermann Wilhelm Goring and how wealthy and arrogant he was, and how, with many others, made millions suffer while looting and fighting wars, to further personal gains. Even when they were losing against allied forces, the looting didn't stop. As the German military crumbled, Goring and others lost sight of reality, refusing to accept that Hitler's power was coming to an end.
Leaders such as Hitler and Hermann Wilhelm Goring didn’t act alone, and yes, they didn’t like each other much and refused to listen to the advice of those close to them that they were losing the war. Somehow, they continued to advance, their mistakes becoming worse by each day. Still, others followed, even though they knew that their leaders were wrong. Ubi served as a soldier against his wishes but still drew a line to declare, “this I won’t do?”
What would you do if you were asked to commit crimes or go against your morals by someone in charge? We've briefly discussed the importance of leadership and teamwork before under The Thoughtful Pilot series and highlighted how people in power often lose sight of the real issues they’re facing because there are other factors at play, usually ego.
Here are a few inspirational lessons for people like you and me for when you have to make difficult choices.
1. You have the power to make ethical and informed choices.
It can be challenging to assess how we would have responded to calls to brutalise others in the call of duty (war). Being humane doesn’t stop because we are at war or don’t agree with each other, yet, many continue to be punished for not conforming to other people’s agendas. There will always be different types of leaders such as presidents, church leaders, parents, CEOs, managers and group leaders with the power to influence others. However, just because someone is in a position of authority doesn’t necessarily mean that they are right or know what they are doing. I remember coming across a driver who’d placed a sticker at the back of his car which read, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too!” How many of us are merely following the lost?
Although Ubi followed top orders by joining the armed forces as a civilian, he took it upon himself to save lives simply because he didn’t believe in the doctrine of the war. He didn't have much choice, but when he found himself in a position of power through his military post, he didn’t let the humanity within him disappear because of what his leaders asked him to do. You see, the choice is always yours. The same principle applies in our workplaces, communities or families. Leaders with bullying or narcissist tendencies tend to surround themselves with people who follow orders without asking questions. These people are known as “flying monkeys” in the psychology world. A flying monkey is someone who acts on behalf of a narcissist to enable emotional, spiritual or physical abuse. They are found everywhere: in the Bible, within families, organisations, amongst friends or the highest offices of power.
The term flying monkey is harsh, but many people in this situation don’t have the awareness to realise that they are being taken for a ride to inflict pain on others. These minions will fight on behalf of their leader, spread rumours on their behalf, spy on others on social media to keep the leader up to date, harm or hurt others, all in the name of loyalty! A flying monkey, with or without their knowledge, enables the abuse and suffering of a person, having been targeted by the narcissist to do their dirty work; such leaders typically tend to keep their own hands clean. A flying monkey is also a victim and can be discarded by the narcissist when they've served their purpose. As you look at Germany's WWI and WWII history, you will learn that all the leaders cared about was their own skin and ambitions, managing to recruit the weak to advance their agendas, even if it meant sacrificing them.
Why? Because a narcissist leader doesn’t care about anybody except being the most important person and centre of attention, whatever it takes. As you read this, take a moment to think about all you’ve done for certain people, the number of times you’ve been recruited to fight wars that THEY started. Think about how this person generally treats you and makes you feel? Do they value you? Do they listen to you when you’re in trouble or is it always about them? Do they see you as a true friend or just someone to reach out to when they’re having a bad day and need rescuing (especially when being attacked by their demons)? Do they love you, or is it about you giving a part of yourself, hoping that one day they will truly love you back and value you as someone worthy?
These questions might help you find out if you're being enlisted to fight in wars that have absolutely nothing to do with your well-being, except perpetuating someone else's position. I believe in the power of helping one another, that's how we can move forward, but know that certain people will abuse other people's goodness and ignorance in the name of unity. You could be a pawn in someone's hidden agenda. You were created in God's perfect image, to serve HIS purpose and live according to HIS will, not get morsels of recognition after being used to inflict harm on God's children. YOU were created to charter your destiny, not to be a spare wheel to someone's conflicted existence. I pray for a discerning spirit that you may have eyes that see, and dare to listen to your heart, not simply follow instructions from someone. The truth is, without assistance from ordinary people, most evil practices will stop. Those who see the abuse for what it is and do nothing are equally guilty.
Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." Yehuda Bauer also had something to say about people in the face of morally deficient leaders, “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”
I hope that every person reading this will find it in their heart to always do the right thing, even if it means standing alone. May Ubi’s actions help you realise that you too can intervene and stop any abuse or miscarriage of justice, even as an ordinary citizen.
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