Review: Fighting the Flying Circus

Eddie Rickenbacker‘s Fighting The Flying Circus is another book that I cannot pretend to objectively review.  I first read this in 7th grade in study hall, and then again the following year.  It’s Rickenbacker’s story of being a fighter pilot in World War I, and it’s a very thrilling read for a boy who wants to fly, full of comradeship, derring-do, and courage and decency in the face of danger.  Rickenbacker comes across as a responsible, daring guy who wanted to do his best for his country in a war.

I’m older now, and I can see where he’s filling pages, and how there are places where I wish Rickenbacker had written more of a memoir than a briefing.  It was still a thrill to revisit it again, though.

Then there’s the gung-ho side of the book – which is to say most of it.  Rickenbacker is honestly happy to go out strafing German soldiers, which he calls great sport.  He and his men treat shooting down Germans as a game at which they want to be better than anyone else.  There’s an unapologetic jingoism that’s hard to ignore; and of course one shouldn’t ignore it.

I think Rickenbacker wrote honestly, and so I’m sure that these were exactly what he and his men talked about, and probably believed about the war.  And he honestly describes the enormous relief that the Armistice brought them.  One pilot just keeps repeating “we won’t get shot at anymore.”  These men had been in combat less than a year.

To see the losses that they suffer in that year, and coming off reading about how hard this brief, brutal war affected others, it’s easy to wish Rickenbacker had been more thoughtful about the barbarism of what he experienced.  That’s probably a lot to ask of a young patriot six months after the experience, though.

It’s a good book in a lot of ways, and much more readable than von Richthofen‘s autobiography.


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