Friday, July 13, 2012

The definition of moxie

During the early stages of World War II, Nazi Germany attempted to use its Luftwaffe to decimate the Royal Air Force (RAF) -- especially Fighter Command -- as a prelude to an amphibious and airborne invasion of the UK. The campaign is famously known as the Battle of Britain. Herr Hitler, however, underestimated Britain's will to resist. Historian Michael Korda (The Untold Story of the Battle of Britain, 2010) writes: "At all times, new pilots had 'almost no chance at all' of surviving their first five sorties because of inexperience, because they received the most-damaged and least-reliable planes, and because they were likely to be their formations' tail-end charlie and thus most vulnerable. For the survivors, the odds of survival rose during the next 15 sorties as their skill and confidence grew. After 20, however, the odds again decreased to zero." Those are frightening odds. And yet, they kept flying. To be sure, patriotism, duty, a fierce determination to defend one's homeland, and sheer moxie were the main factors motivating these brave pilots. But without putting too fine a point on it, there was also the saving grace of youth. The average age of RAF pilots was 20 -- a time when we are utterly convinced of our own immortality. During the Battle of Britain, of course, this mistaken presumption was godsend.

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