Friday, November 15, 2002

Courage or stupidity...?

What is the heights of stupidity? What is the heights of courage? Are they one and the same? I wonder if some one can be termed as stupid, if he courageously ventured to do something without analysing risks. I ask this because while reading about the World War II fighter pilots this distinction is hard to make. Fighter planes in WW2 were hastily put together for war purposes. In fact when WW2 started America didn't have a proper fighter. They did have a few but German ones were far superior. Now coming back to the stupidity question... would any sane person take on five fighters at the same time?

Remember in those days there were no laser guided missiles that would lock on to the target and do the damage. Instead the fighter had to get behind the enemy plane and fire the heavy machine guns that were fixed on either side of the wings. The range of these guns were about 500m max. There would only be a small supply of ammo in the planes. The aircraft could fly at 300km / hr max and wings would get ripped if they crossed 400km / hr when they dived. So fighter combat in those times was extremely difficult even on a one on one basis. So to take on more than one at a time would be stupidity. But during WW2 many people took on 4-10 enemy fighters at a time to show their courage (and of course many never lived to tell the tale).

Ok let me move away from fighters. Here is something totally different and its a true story which happened a few decades back. It takes lot of hard work to be admitted to do a Masters degree at Oxford - and that too if it happens to be English. During the year you go through rigorous course material etc and there is one final exam which will decide your fate. In one such exam, which was essay based, the examiner asked only one question. What is courage?

Naturally every student went on a writing spree and took loads of additional answer papers filling them with examples of what courage meant. Except for one student. His answer was just one word: This!!

He handed in that answer paper and got full marks. But the more I think of it, the more I ask - is that courage (to hand in an exam paper with only word) or is that stupidity + risk? Or is that plain smart? Would I give full marks (or any marks) for my student?


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