The Last Enemy, the Enemy Richard Hillary Never Knew The literary masterpiece of Richard Hillary has an inappropriate title: The Last Enemy. This paper will venture on exploring the possibility that in truth and in fact Richard Hillary never knew who or what the last enemy was. Hence, the position of this paper is that the title The Last Enemy is inappropriate for this literary work.
After a careful reading and analysis of the subject text it is submitted that Richard Hillary finished writing his book unaware as to who or what the last enemy really is and mislead himself to thinking he was aware of who the last enemy was. The common opinion the book suggest is that in the end the last enemy was that of fear and not death. This fact however must be disputed because contrary to Hillary’s belief the last enemy is not fear.
With great respect to the prolific writer and excellent pilot he was did not know what the last enemy really is it is not death nor fear. The literary masterpiece was written by Hillary after he was first shot down. Richard Hillary though brilliant with his words could not have possibly known who the last enemy was. If he would have known the same then he shouldn’t have died from the very same enemies he sought to fight. This paper will now venture to prove this point.
What is apparent however is the fact that in this memoir of Richard Hillary there was indeed a generous amount of mention to the enemies of Richard Hillary both tangible and intangible enemies. Richard Hillary referred to generally two types of enemies those that we can literally see those which are more specific and existent which are the tangibles. He also referred to different sorts of enemies which we cannot really see but we can definitely feel and we definitely know exists the intangibles. As a fighter it is quite obvious and simple that the most tangible enemies of Richard Hillary are the fighter pilots of the enemy and in his case the Germans. Richard Hillary was an awesome pilot whatever strength he possessed in flying he also possessed in writing. He was a good writer and this memoir of his is a living proof of that. Richard Hillary had an occasion in his memoir to show us his strength both as a pilot and in writing.
This can easily be manifested when he wrote about how he shot down his first German Aircraft hence his first tangible enemy. He wrote:We ran them at 18,000 feet, twenty yellow-nosed Messerschmitt 109s, about five hundred feet above us. Our Squadron strength was eight, and as they came down on us we went into line astern and turned head on to them. Brian Carberry, who was leading the Section, dropped the nose of his machine, and I could almost feel the leading Nazi pilot push forward on his stick to bring his guns to bear. At the same moment Brian hauled hard back on his control stick and led us over them in a steep climbing turn to the left. In two vital seconds they lost their advantage. I saw Brian let go a burst of fire at the leading plane, saw the pilot put his machine into a half roll, and knew that he was mine.
Automatically, I kicked the rudder to the left to get him at right angles, turned the gun button to ‘Fire’, and let go in a four-second burst with full deflection. He came right through my sights and I saw the tracer from all eight guns thud home. For a second he seemed to hang motionless; then a jet of red flame shot upward and he spun to the ground. (Hillary)This was also the first time he occasioned to talk about his first intangible enemy. This enemy was death along the same line with the above cited statements from his book he said:My first emotion was one of satisfaction, satisfaction at a job adequately done, at the final logical conclusion of months of specialized training. And then I had a feeling of the essential rightness of it all. He was dead and I was alive; it could so easily have been the other way round; and that would somehow have been right too. I realized in that moment just how lucky a fighter pilot is.
He has none of the personalized emotions of the soldier, handed a rifle and bayonet and told to charge. He does not even have to share the dangerous emotions of the bomber pilot who night after night must experience that childhood longing for smashing things. The fighter pilot’s emotions are those of the duelist-cool, precise, impersonal. He is privileged to kill well. For if one must either kill or be killed, as now one must, it should, I feel, be done with dignity. Death should be given the setting it deserves; it should never be a pettiness; and for the fighter pilot it never can be. (Hillary) He wrote that one of his intangible enemy’s deaths should be given the setting it deserves. This memoir had been successful because of Richard Hillary himself.
Readers of this memoir become witnesses to his greatness in his life, as a pilot and as a writer. Richard Hillary was very articulate even when writing about his enemies. In this case his first tangible enemy was that of German fighter pilot and his first intangible enemy was death which he even claimed should be given a proper setting. Most pilots are not as articulate as Richard Hillary which is an important element to the success and appeal of this memoir. Still, the contention of this paper remains that despite his brilliance he did not know and was not aware of who the last enemy really was. They say that knowing is half the battle. If Richard Hillary had really known who the last enemy really was should he not have survived? Richard Hillary was a brilliant man if he knew who the last enemy really was could he not have devised anything to overcome it? Despite the fact that he claimed to know who the last enemy was why had he fallen? It is ironic how these questions serve as the answer to the very fact that Richard Hillary in truth and in fact did not know who the Last Enemy really was. In order to prove this fact we must dig down deeper to his experiences which made him claim to realize who or what the last enemy really is.
Probably the most terrifying experience he ever had as mentioned in his book was when he was first shot down. He wrote:Then, just below me and to my left, I saw what I had been praying for – a Messerschmitt climbing and away from the sun. I closed in to 200 yards, and from slightly to one side gave him a two-second burst: fabric ripped off the wing and black smoke poured from the engine, but he did not go down. Like a fool, I did not break away, but put in another three-second burst. Red flames shot upwards and he spiraled out of sight. At that moment, I felt a terrific explosion which knocked the control stick from my hand, and the whole machine quivered like a stricken animal.
In a second, the cockpit was a mass of flames: instinctively, I reached up to open the hood. It would not move. I tore off my straps and managed to force it back; but this took time, and when I dropped back into the seat and reached for the stick in an effort to turn the plane on its back, the heat was so intense that I could feel myself going.
I remember a second of sharp agony; remember thinking “So this is it!” and putting both hands to my eyes. Then I passed out. (Hillary) It was these kinds of experiences which probably made Richard Hillary believe that he knew who the last enemy really is. However these experiences instead of helping him mislead him. Anyone who reads this memoir will be lead to believe that fear is the last enemy and it is not death. Richard Hillary in his book refers to fear as the last enemy instead of death. The question posed however remains: is fear really the last enemy?Conclusion The last enemy could not have possibly been fear and Richard Hillary could not have possibly known what the last enemy was.
Fear is not the last enemy the last enemy is your self because fear is not the end in itself. The last enemy is not fear but yourself because when you are able to conquer this fear then there is no doubt that you could prosper. Richard Hillary was close to realizing what the last enemy was. He was already in the point of referring to fear as the last enemy. However fear as an emotion cannot be an end and cannot be the last enemy because there is something left to conquer and that is your self.
Richard Hillary was a good writer and this conclusion could not have come about if it were not for his memoir. The fact remains however that his analysis on the last enemy was inadequate. It might be that he died too young. He might have known which the last enemy really is but did not have the chance to write about it.
The Last Enemy therefore is not an appropriate title because Richard Hillary referred to fear as the last enemy when. Richard Hillary’s last enemy was not death. Richard Hillary’s last enemy was not fear. Richard Hillary’s last enemy was Richard Hillary. Even the bible in a certain passage provides “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”. Richard Hillary through his memoir was able to dispute this fact and provided that fear and not death is the last enemy.
His analysis however was inadequate for the last enemy was neither death nor fear but himself.Works CitedRichard Hillary, The Last Enemy (1942);