by Eddie Rickenbacker
Reviewed date: 2006 Aug 13
468 pages
cover art

I lay there, fighting off death until the doctor came. But I did not fight alone. I prayed for God's help. Together we held of the soft and insidious appeal of death.
I have always said that I would rather have a million friends than a million dollars.
You may have heard that dying is unpleasant, but don't you believe it. Dying is the sweetest, tenderest, most sensuous sensation I have ever experienced. Death comes disguised as a sympathetic friend. All was serene; all was calm. How wonderful it would be simply to float out of this world. It is easy to die. You have to fight to live.
Men grow only in proportion to the service they render their fellow men and women.

Eddie Rickenbacker is an American hero. His father died when he was 13, and he dropped out of school to support the family. He became a hero of the racetrack, winning dozens of auto races. In World War I, he downed 26 enemy airplanes to become America's premier ace. In the period between the world wars, he ran the Indianapolis Speedway, and was also instrumental in developing America's fledgling aviation industry--which was to become a vital part of winning the second world war.

During World War II, Rickenbacker served in a civilian capacity, touring military facilities, giving speeches to pilots, and suggesting improvements that could be made to aircraft. He carried secret messages to generals, and even wrangled an invitation to visit Moscow at a time when the Soviet Union (although an ally in the war) was closed to Americans. His tour of Moscow allowed him to bring back much vital information on the Russian military placements.

After a plane crash, Rickenbacker survived 24 days adrift in a rubber raft on the Pacific Ocean.

The book is exciting--it can hardly fail to be so, considering the life Rickenbacker lead. By his own count, he cheated death more than 30 times. But I want to focus on his predictions of the future, which he gives in the last chapter. He made these predictions in 1967. A few of his predictions have come to pass.

  1. Jumbo jets will carry 500 passengers. Airports around the world will be redesigned to handle these behemoths.
  2. Air transport will largely replace shipping by sea.
  3. Electronic flight instruments will allow planes to land in all kinds of weather.
  4. Networks of electronic devices will enable instant communication across the globe. E.g., you could see a product on TV in the morning, order it that afternoon. An electronic network will inform the manufacturer of your order, which will be shipped out immediately; you will receive it the next day, or even that same evening.
  5. American foreign aid encourages dependence. Africa in particular will end up in endless tribal warfare, and will never break out of its cycle of poverty.
  6. Communism in the Soviet Union will collapse.

However, not all of his predictions were on the mark.

  1. Supersonic air transport will make the London-New York route in 15 minutes.
  2. Every man will have his own "rocket flying belt" for routine travel.
  3. Nuclear power will allow the development of huge floating fortresses in the sky. They will stay aloft for years at a time, and will be used as stepping-stones into space.
  4. Space travel will become commonplace.
  5. Fast air travel will be an angel of peace that brings the world together.
  6. Oil will run out, and the world will turn to nuclear power as its replacement.
  7. There will be breakthroughs in the field of extra-sensory perception.
  8. Desalinization of sea water will allow desert land to be turned into productive farmland; nobody need go hungry.
  9. The global conflict of the 21st century will be on the basis of color, pitting the white Western world against the Asians. Although Rickenbacker identifies this as a color war, it's actually a cultural struggle, because he takes pains to say that blacks and Asians in the Western world will continue to identify with the West.

[On the morning of November 11] orders came down that all pilots should stay on the ground. About 10:00 I sauntered out to the hanger and casually told my mechanics to take the plane out on the line and warm it up to test the engines. Without announcing my plans to anyone, I climbed into the plane and took off. Under the low ceiling I hedge-hopped towards the front. I arrived over Verdun at 10:45 and proceeded on towards Conflans, flying over no-man's-land. I was at less than five hundred feet. I could see both Germans and Americans crouching in their trenches, peering over with every intention of killing any man who revealed himself on the other side. From time to time ahead of me on the German side I saw a burst of flame, and I knew that they were firing at me. Back at the field later I found bullet holes in my ship.

I glanced at my watch. One minute to 11:00, thirty seconds, fifteen. And then it was 11:00 A.M., the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I was the only audience for the greatest show ever presented. On both sides of no-man's-land, the trenches erupted. Brown-uniformed men poured out of the American trenches, gray-green uniforms out of the German. From my observer's seat overhead, I watched them throw their helmets in the air, discard their guns, wave their hands. Then all up and down the front, the two groups of men began edging towards each other across no-man's-land. Seconds before they had been willing to shoot each other; now they came forward. Hesitantly at first, then more quickly, each group approached the other.

Suddenly gray uniforms mixed with brown. I could see them hugging each other, dancing, jumping. Americans were passing out cigarettes and chocolate. I flew up to the French sector. There it was even more incredible. After four years of slaughter and hatred, they were not only hugging each other but kissing each other on both cheeks as well.

Star shells, rockets, and flares began to go up, and I turned my ship toward the field. The war was over.

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