Courage can be cultivated

This is our translation of an excerpt of the second part of Greceanu’s memoirs: his thoughts on courage according to several interviews he gave.

Fearing is human. “Fearless pilot” is a common expression, but people are afraid. The bravest people, as well as the least brave, experience fear at some point in their lives, but what counts is to not give in to fear, not act on panic. Some gave in to fear and were excluded, they were either killed or they fell or withdrew. As far as I’m concerned, during the four and half years of war on both fronts and thousands of flight hours on all types of aircraft of those times, I managed to not give in to fear.

Courage can be educated, in my opinion….. Psychologists may disagree. A special kind of courage, the courage needed when facing the unknown, can be cultivated. Many people wouldn’t walk through a cemetery at night while others wouldn’t enter a deserted church at night… The feeling of a transcendent presence is unsettling, metaphysical realm inspires fear. Our timidity in front of the unknown relegates us to a position where we can no longer use the human means to react to danger. Why do we feel threatened by parapsychological phenomena? Because we don’t know them. Why do we feel threatened by an enemy surprise attack? Because we would not be able to defend ourselves. Why have many resorted to some sort of bigotry while in prison? Because all they had left to defend them was transcendent intervention. Even the fiercest nonbelievers had come to say: “God, please help me!” But why should God help me? Why not try to help myself? When you find yourself behind a 10 cm steel door and behind arm thick bars what else is left than the hope for an outside intervention?

My father had served in the war and since childhood we, the three brothers, were raised to not be afraid of things we did not know…. [still]

During war, when walking through a cemetery at night, although I was armed, I felt an ancestral fear. The shortest road from town to the airfield where we were stationed went through a cemetery. As I was walking along the main cemetery alley I saw a white shadow that seemed to advance at the same pace. I knew there were very well trained teams of what we called “partisans”. I pulled out my gun and kept on walking. At a certain moment I stopped at the intersection of two alleys. Then the white shadow stepped into the alley: it was a dog, it belonged to the family where I was lodged and he accompanied me to the airfield.

“A man with God fear” – what is the origin of this phrase? One either loves God or fears Him. “Fear” because He is more powerful and can annihilate us. Does this mean that our good deeds are triggered by fear and not by instinct or by the divine seed inside us? Is this a “quality”, to be “a man with God fear”?

Since it is impossible to not fear (pathological cases not considered), one can either act on fear or try to control it. Courage can therefore be cultivated. During war, one can either desert the front lines or say to himself that, no matter what happens, the highest price to pay is life. One has to love life less or be ready to give it, irrespective of the price.

Another thing that is normally underestimated is the spirit of sport competition. If I fight another fighter aircraft, either one of us can fall, but I want to prove that I am better. When engaged in such a sport competition, fear vanishes. We, pilots, have some specific psychological traits. When we fought the Americans, eight hundred bombers escorted by five hundred fighter aircraft attacked us, all comparable with our aircraft in terms of quality. We took off with 10 planes. What were our chances? Zero. Şerbănescu[1] used to say, and we all followed his words, that no one should be able to enter Romania as if it were an unguarded territory even if we should all have to die for it. It was a matter of pride; we were proud of our uniforms and of the oath of allegiance to our King and to our commanders and it was a matter of personal dignity and education. This is why I did not leave Romania after August 23[2], despite the fact that I had the fastest aircraft in the world and I could have left anytime. I did not want to flee in front of the enemy, but not because I considered  myself a hero or some Don Quixote…..

I was of no use here, as I would have been of no use elsewhere. Or maybe I would have been more useful elsewhere, who knows…..


[1] Cpt. Av. Alexandru Serbănescu – Romanian fighter ace who died during mission on August 18, 1944.

[2] On August 23, 1944 King Michael removes Mareşal Ion Antonescu from power and Romania joins the Allies.

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