To Shoot Down Or Not To Shoot Down, That Is The Question

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German public television channel ARD showed a courtroom drama called Terror on Oct. 17 about the trial of a German Eurofighter pilot for shooting down a hijacked airliner about to crash into a football stadium filled with 70,000 people.

I was looking forward to seeing the TV film with the crème de la crème of German movie actors as I was lucky enough to get the very last ticket for the original play in Frankfurt last year on one of the few nights the judge was played by the author, Ferdinand von Schirach. The theater audience was able to vote on whether the fighter pilot was guilty and the TV audience was able to do the same.

Despite orders not to, the pilot takes things into his own hands and decides to shoot down the airliner, sacrificing the 150 passengers on board to save 70,000 people. The state prosecutor, played by Martina Gedeck, who I remember first seeing in the Oscar-nominated Stasi movie Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), argues that individual rights overrule all other considerations and that the pilot did not have the moral right to decide on whether the lives of the airline passengers and crew should be sacrificed for the people in the stadium.

She says there was no way of knowing if the passengers would not have been able to storm the cockpit and overwhelm the hijackers and calls as a witness a woman whose husband was on the plane that was shot down to support this argument. She even asks the pilot if he would have decided differently if his wife had been onboard.

TV audiences in Germany and Austria voted overwhelmingly to acquit the pilot by over 85 percent versus 13 percent in favor of finding him guilty. A media expert interviewed on Deutschlandfunk, the German equivalant of BBC radio, Oct. 18 thought only 65 percent would have voted in favor of acquitting the pilot if he hadn't been played by heartthrob Florian David Fitz.

This is closer to the level in favor of acquitting him in theaters throughout Germany when Terror toured theaters across Germany. I remember being surprised how close the vote was in Frankfurt when I saw the theater version.

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