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Charles Lindbergh: from national hero to racist anti-hero

Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902–74) was born to a well known fath­er: Charles August Lindbergh (1859–1924) had been a US Congress­man from Minnesota from 1907-1917. Father vigorously opposed American entry into WWI and opposed the 1913 Federal Reserve Act/the nation’s central banking system.

But it was the son who became famous for his historic, solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic in May 1927 on the Spirit of St Louis. After his flight, Lindbergh received public ador­at­ion in newspapers, magazines, universities and radio shows. In July 1927, Lindbergh was promoted to colonel in the Air Corps of the Officers Reserve Corps.

Charles Lindbergh, May 1927 
and the Spirit of St Louis

He was equally well known because of the kidnapping and tragic murder of his tod­dler in 1933 by Richard Hauptmann. His life and the trial were reported so sensation­ally by the press that, in 1935, the family fled to Europe.

The U.S military asked Lindbergh to travel to Germany a few times between 1936-8. While the rest of the world seemed to crumble, Germany showed its impressive, organised vitality. He became convinced that no power in Eur­ope could defeat the Luft­waffe.

In 1938 Am­er­ica's ambassador to Germany hosted a din­ner for Lindbergh with Ger­many's air chief, ex-pilot Hermann Göring, and 3 pivotal figures in German aviation. At this dinner Göring presented Lind­bergh with the Comm­ander Cross of the German Eagle. Lindbergh felt very proud.

At the urging of US Ambassador to Britain Joseph Kennedy, Lindbergh wrote a memo to the British, warning against any military response by Brit­ain and France to Hitler - France was militarily weak and Britain over-reliant on its navy. He urged that they strengthen their air power to force Hitler to redirect his aggres­sion against Asiatic Communism.

After the outbreak of war, Lind­bergh published an article in 1939, con­demning American involvement in the war. But he was not a pacifist… he strongly favoured a war between Germany and Russia! Lindbergh believed that civilisation depended on peace among Western nations, and therefore on united streng­th. He gave a nationwide radio address in which he called for American isolationism, indicated his pro-German sympathies and made clear anti-Semitic statements about Jewish ownership of the media.

 Charles Lindbergh inspecting Luftwaffe aircraft in 1937.

Lindbergh was awarded the Comm­ander Cross of the German Eagle

In Oct 1939, after the Canadian declaration of war on Germany, Lindbergh made another nationwide radio address criticising Canada for drawing the Western Hemisphere into a European war! The entire continent needed to be free from the dictates of European powers!

This American icon became a spokesman for the nativist and isol­ationist group, America First Committee, in late 1940. He spoke to excited and packed out crowds in Madison Square Garden and in Chicago's Soldier Field, with millions listening by radio. His basic point was that America had no business attacking Germany. A war with Germany would be bad for the USA… for the white races.

Re Krist­al­l­nacht he published in a racist essay in Nov 1939, re-stating that Western nations “can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possess­ion, our inheritance of European blood.” He was very con­cern­ed that the pot­entially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed idealism, might enter Europe to destroy Hitler. Americ­ans had to realise that Hitler's destruct­ion would lay Europe open to the barbarism of Soviet Russia's forces.

Lindbergh returned to the USA in 1940 and was re­cruited to speak on behalf of America First, an antiwar group who saw WW2 as an awful consequ­ence of WW1. The group attracted a wide range of supporters, from celebr­it­ies to pac­if­ists to xenoph­obics. At its peak, it had 800,000 members, many in the Midwest. Lindbergh was the ideal spokesman: charismatic, brave and heroic. 

In his 1941 testimony at the House Committee on Foreign Aff­airs opposing the Lend-Lease bill, Lindbergh proposed that the U.S neg­otiate a neutrality pact with Germany. Pres Franklin Roose­velt publicly disparaged Lindbergh's views as those of a defeatist and appeaser. So Lindbergh resigned his commission as a col­onel in the US Army Air Corps.

At an America First Committee rally in Des Moines Iowa in Sept 1941, Lindbergh spoke to a huge crowd. He blamed three forces for driving America into a global conflict that no patriotic American wanted.
1. he rebuked Ch­urchill and the desperate British for turning to America to assist in fight­ing the Germans.
2. he singled out the Roosevelt administration for opposing Germany.
3. and, most of all, he argued the Jews were agitating for war. The greatest danger to this country lies in the Jews’ large ownership and influence in U.S motion pictures, press, radio and government.

There was a backlash in the American press in response to the speech; even the isolationist America First Committee had to apol­ogise for the aviator’s remarks. The end of Charles Lindbergh’s political aspirations was coming.

Charles Lindbergh addressed the America First Committee meeting 
Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1941.

Two weeks after Lindbergh’s attack on American Jewry’s abuse of power, the SS Einsatzkommando and their Ukrainian allies murdered 33,000+ Kiev Jews at Babi Yar Ukraine. Meanwhile Charles Lindbergh was still warning the US against the excesses of Jewish power.

Anti-Semitism was well known in Lindberg’s time; his attitudes were not seen as offensive by some parts of the American community. He had never made a secret of his interest in eugenics, nor his racial attit­udes. But by 1941 he had gone too far. Because of his favourable reports about Nazi Germany, Lind­bergh was seen as a Nazi sympath­iser. Lindbergh had to resign his military commis­s­ion at the demand of Roos­e­velt.

Since Lindbergh believed the U.S military's sole role was to defend the Western Hemisphere from attack by foreigners, the attack on Pearl Harbour in Dec 1941 was a terrible shock for him. When the Japanese attacked, Lindbergh asked to be recom­mis­sioned but Roose­velt refused. So it is interesting that Lindbergh did take part in fighter bomber raids on Japanese positions in 1944.

**

The Plot Against America is a novel by Philip Roth (2004). It is an "alternative history" in which Pres. Roosevelt was defeated in the 1940 presidential election by Charles Lindbergh. Read The Great Raven  for a great review. And see a trailer for the tv programme.







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This season, the American designer will showcase a series of historic objects from the New York museum's.

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