Dear Bana Alabed,
An open letter to all kids who have nurtured a hate of airplanes.
I’ve been one of those millions who have followed how you’ve witnessed the carnage. Lived the bombs raining down from the sky like fat grapes. The planes whooshing past loudly one second and gone the next. The neighbor’s house who was there-then was not.
Welcome to the modern age. Don’t loathe the airplanes flying overhead. Or the pilots doing their jobs. They are not the ones to blame. Both of them are just machines.
Sadly, if by some impossible way I spark an interest in aviation in you with this article, then don’t bother reading about the long-gone duels of the first world war. Or the honor the aviators felt defending their country in a Spitfire (one of the most iconic fighters in human history).
Because now, pilots and planes are no longer what they used to be.
What is gone is gone, and what is behind shall remain so.
Life is hard to understand. But maybe you’ve understood. I know you can’t explain it. Because it was there. And then it was not. It’s like a switch, you see. And like a light bulb, it goes out so fast you don’t even have the chance of closing your eyes.
Because it’s a quick, disgraceful and humiliating way to die. Death by a bomb.
But it has never been like that.
World War One. Flying warplanes was a new adventure. It may have been fighting, but there were rules. There was pride. And dignity. People fought like gentlemen. The best fliers were those who fought with immense courage. Knowing that a failure would mean a life defying jump to death.
Then there was World War Two. Where men enlisted to serve their country. Defend values. Stories of dogfights so thrilling stories became legends. Spitfires and Mustangs graced the skies, to take to them again and again; the perfect iteration of beauty firghting against the beast.
And then there is the modern age. Where there is no dignity. No pride in what you do. Progress and technology now is all about inventing the most badass missiles. Bombs killing more people than ever.
The terror Hitler inflicted with the V2 was taken by the friendly forces, then developed and matured to perfection.
Pilots are reduced to programming and pushing buttons around the cockpit. Computers control the aircraft-the pilot has to sit in his cockpit with tears in his eyes. Send a missile away- seeing it surge from under your wing and knowing that- at the receiving end- live will we wiped from the surface of the Earth.
The lesser man can get away with his life. Because his plane was better. Or his bomb. Or his stealth. Or his electronics.
I’m not saying fighter pilots are untrained jerks who geek around in cockpits and smile cynically when they let little joe go (those who may wish to criticize me please read this first).
They are trained professionals, the best of the best, the cream of the crop. They fly like a doctor would pilot his scalpels-with surgical precision and speed. They obey rules and they obey them effortlessly.
And I sometimes wonder what they are like to you. To you, to your family, to all those souls on the receiving end. How they are nothing else but trained assassins. Men with no soul. No mercy. Men with unforgiving and unforgiven hearts of steel.
A fighter-bomber is really just a big gun with wings after all.
You see, I wanted to become a fighter pilot. I wanted to get all the masculinity and all the girls. I wanted to become one of the best. I wanted to fly fast jet fighters and blast terrorists to bits.
But then I realized something. Fighter pilots are not what they used to be. Beneath them are normal people who lead normal lives. Who have a family. A woman they love. Kids they have seen grow.
But for what they do, they become living machines.
So, because of you, Bana (I hope you don’t mind me calling you that), I reconsidered.
Like all other things, planes are tools. Like guns, it’s the user that is to be blamed. But when the pilot becomes a tool himself, he becomes a machine.
And I don’t want to become a machine.
When innocent people are dying under the continuos airstrikes, there is no doubt to which direction the wind is blowing. When pilots have to obey rules knowing they are wrong, there is no doubt where the problem lies.
An airplane should be used to save lives at stake. For that last-second help you’ve always wanted. For search and rescue-when you’ve thought you’ve taken your last breath and wake up safe. For the accidents that should not have happened, when you make a blunder and get saved by the pilot who walks away without a thanks.
There is no better underdog than a pilot.
To the poor and the needy, the unlucky and the victims, airplanes are there to save their lives. They are there for humanitarian purposes. Disaster relief. To distribute food. Medicine. Tools. A new future. Spread hope. To inject a warm feeling into your heart, thick like honey, warm and comforting.
Aircraft should be the lifeline of a population. Something that you can depend on. Something that makes a smile come to your face.
A plane is that something. A pilot is that someone who makes it possible.
We all shall leave the drones and technology to the killing for the surgical operations. Kill the problem. Don’t kill the victims.
But leave drones and power, death and honor far away from those who get an accomplishment helping others.
Because unlike a drone, a pilot has a heart. A pilot can feel sadness, sorrow, pride, guilt, happiness- all that you can feel.
And saving lives is not the same as blasting them up.
Because flying should help the world.
Not destroy it.
Originally written during the Aleppo airstrikes. Follow the little girl @AlabedBana