The brave French policeman who ‘died a hero’

The face of bravery: Beltrame’s superior officers noted that he would “fight to the end”.

Should you give your own life to save someone else? The world is mourning Arnaud Beltrame, a French policeman who died after saving a complete stranger during a terrorist attack on Friday.

At 11am on Friday in the quiet town of Trèbes, France, a man named Redouane Lakdim stormed into a supermarket armed with a handgun and a knife.

He proclaimed himself a soldier of Islamic State and immediately shot two people dead, before ordering the other people in the shop to lie on the ground.

Within minutes, hundreds of police arrived to a hostage situation. Lakdim was using a woman as a human shield. Police brought in his mother and two sisters to negotiate, but to no avail.

Then Arnaud Beltrame, a 44-year-old gendarme, stepped forth. Police had negotiated with Lakdim to release all but one of the hostages, and Beltrame offered himself in place of the last one remaining.

Inside the shop, Beltrame tried to negotiate with Lakdim. He left his phone on a table to allow the authorities to listen in.

After three hours, Lakdim shot Beltrame. Police stormed in, killing Lakdim. Beltrame died of his wounds over the weekend. He married his partner on his deathbed.

A week before Easter Sunday, this story of 21st-century sacrifice has touched the world. President Emmanuel Macron declared that Beltrame had “fallen a hero”.

“France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice,” tweeted France’s Interior Minister Gérard Collomb.

The theme of sacrifice is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus was “delivered over to death for our sins”. Selflessness is also vital to Buddhism. According to the Dalai Lama: “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.”

Modern history is full of martyrs too: during Hurricane Sandy Officer Artur Kasprzak drowned while saving people from rising floodwaters. And when planes hit the World Trade Centre in the 9/11 terror attacks, the New York firefighters who died rescuing trapped workers were met with sober admiration from across the globe.

Many people can imagine risking their lives to save a loved one. But Beltrame’s death represents a rarer form of altruism. Should you give your own life to save a stranger?

The ultimate sacrifice

Yes, say some. It’s morally wrong to let someone die if you think you could save them. Self-sacrifice makes social and biological sense too: it contributes to trust in society, and encourages others to help those around them. As Martin Luther King Jr once said: “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

Your first priority should always be yourself, reply others. You can never be sure that someone will be as selfless as you. It’s all very well being called a hero, but not if you’re not around to enjoy it. Life is the most precious thing in the world, so there is nothing wrong with doing whatever it takes to survive.

You Decide

  1. Should you sacrifice yourself to save another person?
  2. What is more heroic: to die for a person or to die for a cause?

Activities

  1. Define the word “hero”.
  2. Research a historical example of self-sacrifice, and give a presentation about it to your class.

Some People Say...

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Arnaud Beltrame, a 44-year-old French policeman, volunteered to swap places with a hostage during a terrorist attack in the south of France last week. After three hours of negotiations with the terrorist, Beltrame was shot. He died two days later. We know that similar incidents often lead to awe-inspiring tales of personal sacrifice.
What do we not know?
Why people behave so selflessly. It is a tough question for evolutionary scientists. Animals pass on their genes by having offspring. But creatures that happily sacrifice themselves for others are unlikely to survive long enough to breed. If this is the case, the “self-sacrifice” genes should have died out long ago.

Word Watch

Redouane Lakdim
Moroccan-born Lakdim was known to police for a succession of minor crimes. On the day of the attack he hijacked a car Friday near the town of Carcassonne in Aude, killing a passenger and wounding the driver, before moving on to Trèbes. While holding hostages in the supermarket, he demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam — the only surviving member of the Islamic State cell that attacked Paris in 2015.
Gendarme
France has two police forces: the Police nationale and Gendarmerie nationale, which is a branch of the French armed forces.
Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy devastated much of America’s Atlantic coast in 2012, claiming 233 casualties.
New York firefighters
In total, 343 firefighters of the New York City Fire Department died on 9/11. Sixty police officers also died, along with eight emergency medical technicians.
Biological sense
There is also the idea that, in early societies, those who shared food and protected each other from enemies were more likely to do well.