Germany’s open secret

The US must have really not wanted to get into WWII.  As I recall, Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle, and Eddie Rickenbacker (as a guest of Ernst Udet) all got to tour the German air force build-up before WWII, and warned the US government what was going on.  And obviously all three were mostly ignored.  Of course, Doolittle hadn’t had his most famous mission yet, and Lindbergh and Rickenbacker, though on opposite ends of the political spectrum from what I read, were both on bad terms with FDR.  And Rickenbacker was rumored in WWI to be a German spy (he seems to have put the rumor to rest when he became the American top ace….)  Still, it seems when you get an enemy telling airmen of this stature exactly what’s happening, somebody should pay attention.

Even though little was done about it, I have often wondered why the Germans would be so open.  Rickenbacker’s autobiography has an interesting answer.

Knowing the German mentality, I did not find it at all strange that they were telling me, an American, their plans to lick the world.  First, they did not really consider the United States basically an enemy, as they did England and France.  Second, whether I was friend or foe, I had a reputation as a combat pilot, and they had a compulsion to awe me with their Teutonic might.

- Edward V. Rickenbacker, Rickenbacker: An Autobiography(Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1967), 298

I am tempted to go on with the quote – for another 495 pages.  Rickenbacker’s book is extremely readable, and fascinating in how much history of aviation he was eyewitness to, besides his own stories as an ace and as a survivor of an aircraft crash and being at sea for 24 days.

There is the story of how commercial aviation prepared the way for and supported military aviation in WWII, the military transport command came to be, and how the boring-but-vital supply system for aircraft was developed.  Interesting essays on hard work, the difference in the spirit of the militaries in WWI and WWII, and the way Russians talk.  There are all kinds of openings for alternative-history novels; what if more race-car drivers had become pilots, what if commercial aviation had developed around different routes, what if different cities awoke first to the need to build an airport.  And what if Rickenbacker had died, any of the many times he came close to it.

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