September 21, 2011
By Mark Weber
In May 1927, a shy, handsome 25-year-old suddenly sprang from obscurity to instant world fame when he flew a small single-seat, single-engine airplane, called the “Spirit of St. Louis,” from Long Island, New York, to an airfield in Paris. In a grueling 33-hour flight that covered 3,600 miles, Charles A. Lindbergh became the first person to fly the Atlantic ocean, alone and non-stop. His daring flight, and his aviation pioneering afterwards, made him, for some years, the most admired man in America, and the most admired American in the world.
During his lifetime he made a mark not only as a pioneering global aviator, but also as an award-winning author, environmentalist and anti-war activist. Given the scarcity of truly heroic Americans during the past century, he towers as a man of exemplary accomplishment and courage. He deserves to be remembered today not only as an authentic American hero, but also because much of what he wrote and said is relevant in our own age. Indeed, some of his remarks have proven to be prophetic.
Charles Lindbergh was born in 1902 of Swedish, English, Irish and Scottish ancestry. He grew up in Minnesota in a family that was accomplished and well educated. His father was an attorney, a writer, a publisher and a U.S. Congressman.
Lindbergh travelled widely in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa, as well as across the U.S. He met and spoke at length with many of the world’s most prominent personalities. And he carefully observed and thoughtfully remembered much of what he saw and experienced. During the 1930s he spent much time in Britain, France and Germany — three countries he admired. But he was particularly impressed by what he observed during his several visits to Germany in the years 1936 to 1939 — that is, during a period of dynamic change under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist movement.
Lindbergh did not approve of everything he saw there. In particular, he disagreed with the regime’s Jewish policy. All the same, he wrote at the time, he felt that Germany was “the most interesting nation in the world today, and that she is attempting to find a solution for some of our most fundamental problems.”
“While I still have many reservations,” he wrote to a U.S. Army officer who was also a personal friend, “I have come away with a feeling of great admiration for the German people. The condition of the country, and the appearance of the average person whom I saw, leaves with me the impression that Hitler must have far more character and vision than I thought existed in the German leader who has been painted in so many different ways by the accounts of America and England.”
In a letter to another American friend he wrote: “With all the things we criticize, he [Hitler] is undoubtedly a great man, and I believe has done much for the German people. He is fanatic in many ways, and any one can see that there is a certain amount of fanaticism in Germany today. It is less than I expected, but it is there. On the other hand, Hitler has accomplished results — good in addition to bad — which could hardly have been accomplished without some fanaticism.”
Lindbergh’s wife was Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a remarkable woman who was, in her own right, an accomplished aviator and a successful author. In a 1936 letter to her mother, she wrote: “Hitler, I am beginning to feel, is a very great man, like an inspired religious leader — and as such rather fanatical — but not scheming, not selfish, not greedy for power, but a mystic, a visionary who really wants the best for his country and, on the whole, has a rather broad view.”
Charles Lindbergh was so impressed with Hitler’s Germany that he seriously considered moving there with his family. “I did not feel real freedom until I came to Europe,” he remarked in 1939. “The strange thing is that of all the European countries, I found most personal freedom in Germany, with England next, and then France.” After a search for a suitable place to live, he found a property in a suburb of Berlin that he came close to buying. But as the threat of war grew in Europe, he abandoned those plans.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 distressed him greatly, and he resolved to do what he could to help keep the U.S. out of the conflict. During the next two years — that is, until the United States formally entered the conflict in December 1941 — he spoke out in a series of public statements and speeches.
In an address given in mid-September 1939 that was broadcast on nationwide radio and widely circulated in written form, Lindbergh said: “We must keep foreign propaganda from pushing our country blindly into another war … We should never enter a war unless it is absolutely essential to the future welfare of our nation.
“These wars in Europe are not wars in which our civilization is defending itself against some Asiatic intruder. There is no Genghis Khan nor Xerxes marching against our Western nations. This is not a question of banding together to defend the white race against foreign invasion. This is simply one more of those age-old struggles within our own family of nations — a quarrel arising from the errors of the last war — from the failure of the victors of that war to follow a consistent policy either of fairness or of force.
“As a result, another war has begun, a war which is likely to be far more prostrating than the last, a war which will again kill off the best youth of Europe, a war which may even lead to the end of our Western civilization.
“Our safety does not lie in fighting European wars. It lies in our own internal strength, in the character of the American people and of American institutions. As long as we maintain an army, a navy and an air force worthy of the name, as long as America does not decay within, we need fear no invasion of this country.”
A few weeks later, he spoke again to the American people in another coast-to-coast broadcast. “Our bond with Europe,” he said, “is a bond of race and not of political ideology… It is the European race we must preserve; political progress will follow. Racial strength is vital; politics a luxury. If the white race is ever seriously threatened, it may then be time for us to take our part in its protection, to fight side by side with the English, French, and Germans, but not with one against the other for our mutual destruction.”
Lindbergh laid out similar views in an article, “Aviation, Geography and Race” that appeared in the November 1939 issue of Reader’s Digest, the most widely read American monthly periodical. He wrote: “We, the heirs of European culture, are on the verge of a disastrous war, a war within our own family of nations, a war which will reduce the strength and destroy the treasures of the White race, a war which may even lead to the end of our civilization … We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood …”
For many Americans today, Lindbergh’s views on race and culture may seem offensive or outrageous. But for most of this nation’s history, they were not at all unusual. They were in accord with the outlook of such prominent Americans as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Such views were also shared by the vast majority of Americans during the 1930s — although it was already becoming unfashionable to express them openly.
In his address of August 4, 1940, Lindbergh spoke about how Americans had been badly misinformed about conditions abroad. “I found conditions in Europe to be very different from our concept of them here in the United States,” he said. “Anyone who takes the trouble to read through back issues of our newspapers cannot fail to realize what a false impression we had of the belligerent nations. We were told that Germany was ripe for revolution, that her rearmament was a bluff, that she lacked officers, that she flew her airplanes from one field to another so they would be counted again and again by foreign observers … Statements of this sort have issued forth in an endless stream from Europe, and anyone who questioned their accuracy was called a Nazi agent. These examples show how greatly we have been misled about the military conditions in Europe. If one goes still farther back, he will find that we have also been misled about political conditions.”
In a much-publicized appearance before a Congressional committee in early 1941, Lindbergh testified against further U.S. measures toward war. As he had on other occasions, he voiced the hope that the conflict between Britain and Germany might be resolved through a negotiated peace, and he expressed his view that the U.S. should not “police the world.”
Active during this period was the largest and most important peace group in U.S. history. With some 800,000 members, the America First Committee was a formidable and broad-based citizens’ organization. Lindbergh was its most popular, eloquent and influential spokesman. At a large rally in New York City in April 1941, he appealed for support.
“ … We have been led toward war by a minority of our people,” he said. “This minority has power. It has influence. It has a loud voice. But it does not represent the American people … These people — the majority of hard-working American citizens — are with us. They are the true strength of our country … That is why the America First Committee has been formed — to give voice to the people who have no newspaper, or news reel, or radio station at their command; to the people who must do the paying, and the fighting, and the dying, if this country enters the war.
“… If you believe in an independent destiny for America, if you believe that this country should not enter the war in Europe, we ask you to join the America First Committee in its stand. We ask you to share our faith in the ability of this nation to defend itself, to develop its own civilization, and to contribute to the progress of mankind in a more constructive and intelligent way than has yet been found by the warring nations of Europe.”
Lindbergh’s most controversial — and courageous — public address was given at a large meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941. (It was on that same date 60 years later that the World Trade Center in New York was attacked and destroyed.) In this speech, Lindbergh for the first and only time spoke publicly about just who was pushing for war. He said:
“National polls showed that when England and France declared war on Germany in 1939, less than ten percent of our population favored a similar course for America. But there were various groups of people, here and abroad, whose interests and beliefs necessitated the involvement of the United States in the war. I shall point out some of these groups tonight, and outline their methods of procedure. In doing this, I must speak with the utmost frankness, for in order to counteract their efforts, we must know exactly who they are.
“The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.”
Lindbergh was careful to add these words: “I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.”
Lindbergh went on: “As I have said, these war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence. Against the determination of the American people to stay out of war, they have marshaled the power of their propaganda, their money, their patronage.”
With regard to Jewish efforts to get the U.S. into war, Lindbergh said: “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.” He then said: “We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own best interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.”
He went on to explain the deceitful measures of those who were pressing for war. “They planned: first, to prepare the United States for foreign war under the guise of American defense; second, to involve us in the war, step by step, without our realization; third, to create a series of incidents which would force us into the actual conflict. These plans were of, course, to be covered and assisted by the full power of their propaganda.
“Our theaters soon became filled with plays portraying the glory of war. Newsreels lost all semblance of objectivity. Newspapers and magazines began to lose advertising if they carried anti-war articles. A smear campaign was instituted against individuals who opposed intervention. The terms `fifth columnist,` ‘traitor,’ `Nazi,’ `anti-Semitic’ were thrown ceaselessly at any one who dared to suggest that it was not to the best interests of the United States to enter the war. Men lost their jobs if they were frankly anti-war. Many others dared no longer speak. Before long, lecture halls that were open to the advocates of war were closed to speakers who opposed it. … Propaganda was in full swing.”
This address unleashed a torrent of scathing criticism. Lindbergh was viciously attacked — above all, for his remarks about the Jewish role in the campaign for war — even though what he has said was measured and truthful.
Ten months before the outbreak of fighting in Europe, for example, the most influential U.S. illustrated weekly magazine was already psychologically preparing Americans for war with alarmist claims that Germany threatened the United States. A major article in the October 31, 1938, issue of Life magazine, headlined “America Gets Ready to Fight Germany, Italy, Japan,” told readers that Germany and Italy “covet … the rich resources of South America,” and warned that “fascist fleets and legions may swarm across the Atlantic.”
In fact, Hitler and all other high-level German officials were eager to avoid conflict with the U.S., Britain or France. But in September 1939 Britain and France — encouraged by the U.S. — declared war against Germany.
During this period, President Roosevelt and other high-ranking U.S. officials also sought to generate public support for the administration’s war measures with frightening allegations of fantastic German plans to conquer the world.
On the very day that Lindbergh gave his controversial address in Des Moines, President Roosevelt told the American people that Hitler and Germany were seeking “to abolish the freedom of the seas, and to acquire absolute control and domination of the sears for themselves” as part of a grand German strategy that aimed at “domination of the United States … [and of] the Western hemisphere by force.” With this justification, the President went on to announce a “shoot on sight” order to the U.S. Navy against German and Italian ships in the Atlantic — a provocative and completely illegal war measure.
And in an address to the American people on October 27, 1941, President Roosevelt announced that he had a “secret map” that proved Hitler’s intention to take over all of South America and reorganize it into German-dominated states. The President also revealed that he had in his possession “another document made in Germany by Hitler’s government. It is a detailed plan to abolish all existing religions — Catholic, Protestant, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish alike,” which Germany will impose “on a dominated world, if Hitler wins.”
Although millions of Americans believed these and similarly brazen falsehoods, seasoned foreign onlookers were not so credulous. One such observer was Poland’s ambassador in Washington, Jerzy Potocki, who reported regularly to Warsaw on conditions in the United States. In a confidential dispatch of February 1938 — more than a year a half before the outbreak of war in Europe — he took note of the Jewish role in pushing for war.
“The pressure of the Jews on President Roosevelt and on the State Department is becoming ever more powerful,” he wrote. “The Jews are right now the leaders in creating a war psychosis which would plunge the entire world into war and bring about general catastrophe. This mood is becoming more and more apparent … This hatred has become a frenzy. It is propagated everywhere and by every means: in theaters, in the cinema, and in the press. The Germans are portrayed as a nation living under the arrogance of Hitler who wants to conquer the whole world and drown all of humanity in an ocean of blood.
“ … This international Jewry exploits every means of propaganda to oppose any tendency towards any kind of consolidation and understanding between nations. In this way, the conviction is growing steadily but surely in public opinion here that the Germans and their satellites, in the form of fascism, are enemies who must be subdued by the ‘democratic world’.”
In a confidential dispatch of January 9, 1939, the ambassador reported: “The American public is subject to an ever more alarming propaganda which is under Jewish influence and continuously conjures up the specter of the danger of war. Because of this the Americans have strongly altered their views on foreign policy problems, in comparison with last year.”
The Polish envoy made similar points a few days later in his confidential report of January 12, 1939:
“The feeling now prevailing in the United States is marked by a growing hatred of fascism and, above all, of Chancellor Hitler and everything connected with Nazism. Propaganda is mostly in the hands of the Jews who control almost 100 percent radio, film, daily and periodical press. Although this propaganda is extremely coarse and presents Germany as black as possible — above all religious persecution and concentration camps are exploited — this propaganda is nevertheless extremely effective since the public here is completely ignorant and knows nothing of the situation in Europe. Right now most Americans regard Chancellor Hitler and Nazism as the greatest evil and greatest danger threatening the world.
“… The American people are unequivocally told that in case of a world war, America must also take an active part in order to defend the slogans of freedom and democracy in the world.”
Twenty-five years after the end of the Second World War, Lindbergh published his Wartime Journals. In an introduction to the book, which prompted much discussion and comment, he looked back on the conflict and its legacy.
“We won the war in a military sense,” he wrote, “but in a broader sense it seems to me we lost it, for our Western civilization is less respected and secure than it was before. In order to defeat Germany and Japan we supported the still greater menaces of Russia and China – which now confront us in a nuclear-weapon era. Poland was not saved … Much of our Western culture was destroyed. We lost the genetic heredity formed through aeons in many million lives … It is alarmingly possible that World War II marks the beginning of our Western civilization’s breakdown, as it already marks the breakdown of the greatest empire ever built by man.”
As daring as Lindbergh’s famous trans-Atlantic flight had been, he showed greater courage and devotion to principle in his bold campaign against war. “We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction,” he warned on September 11, 1941. If Americans had heeded those words, the U.S. would not have suffered the horrors of the 9/11 attack sixty years later.