“A straight line from Lindbergh to ‘Israel-Firsters'”

Somehow, Lindbergh’s name keeps popping up, now in connection with Newt Gingrich and one of his campaign’s biggest bankrollers, Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire who has been called an “Israel-firster” by his critics.

On this date in 1941, Charles Lindbergh went before a US House committee to testify against US support of Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Act that was supporting Great Britain in its hostilities with Nazi Germany.   Today, the website Real Clear Politics has a lengthy post by Carl Cannon, its Washington editor, connecting Lindbergh’s isolationism and anti-Semitism to contemporary criticism of what some pundits call “Israel-firsters”–politicians and moneyed interests who are supposedly blind supporters of Israeli politics.  Critics imply that “Israel-firsters” (echoing the name of the pre-war isolationist movement “America First”) are exhibiting disloyalty to America, as Lindbergh once accused American Jews of doing in their support for intervention in the European war.

Cannon’s post was picked up by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, who titled his post “A straight line from Lindbergh to ‘Israel-firsters.'”  

[Photo is from Corbis, and is dated Feb. 1, 1941, with Lindbergh testifying against Lend-Lease before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.]  

“Wings” (1927) and Lindbergh’s flight (1927)

One of the greatest of all silent films– and one of the great World War I films of all time– is being re-released in what is reportedly a spectacular restoration.  William Wellman’s Wings, generally recognized as the winner of the first “Best Picture” Oscar (it wasn’t called that in 1929, and the Academy Awards weren’t called “Oscars,” either) is a thrilling movie, a huge, big-budget blockbuster, following the exploits of a couple of American flyboys in France during the Great War.  It stars Richard Arlen (a St. Paul native, by the way), Charles “Buddy” Rogers (who married Mary Pickford and lived to the age of 95), and Clara Bow, the biggest Hollywood star of the day.  A very young Gary Cooper shows up in just one scene, then his character heads out and promptly dies in a plane crash.  (There are lots of plane crashes in the movie.)

Wings is well worth checking out, especially for the breathtaking flying sequences, all done with real planes and real people–with even the actors themselves doing a lot of the flying.  As New York Times critic David Kehr writes:   “The modern Oscar winner that Wings most closely resembles is James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic: a grand entertainment in the something-for-everyone tradition that has been lost in the more recent era of niche marketing.”  Kehr notes that Wings was not the first movie epic about the War, since The Big Parade and What Price Glory had been released a few years earlier, but it was the first about the war in the air.  Kehr sees Wings as “perhaps inspired by the national wave of enthusiasm that accompanied Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 trans-Atlantic solo flight.”   The movie’s immense popularity in 1927-28 was probably stoked by the public frenzy over Lindbergh’s flight and his subsequent “Goodwill Tour” in the Spirit of St. Louis (more that another time), but the movie itself was planned and filmed before Lindbergh’s flight.  In fact, it appears that its first showing was on May 19, 1927–the day before Lindbergh took off from New York for Paris.  The premiere (if that’s what it really was) was in San Antonio TX– probably a special showing for the military at Fort Sam Houston, where the movie’s outdoor and flying scenes were filmed.

Check out this terrific “trailer” (made by a recent fan of the movie, not the original trailer).

Lindbergh’s “Nazi medal”

Lindbergh and the “Nazi Medal”

On October 18, 1938, at dinner party at the American Embassy in Berlin, Nazi Air Minister Hermann Goering presented the guest of honor, Charles A. Lindbergh, with a surprise gift: the “Verdienstkreuz der Deutschen Adler,” or “Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle.”   He actually received two identical medals: one in a leather case, one on a silk ribbon. The elegant medal–a Maltese cross surrounded by eagles and swastikas–was awarded principally to foreigners who, incidentally, were also considered sympathetic to the Third Reich.  Among other recipients were Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Thomas Watson (the head of IBM), and automobile magnate (and notorious anti-Semite) Henry Ford.

Charles A. Lindbergh’s “Nazi medal,” as it was quickly and exclusively called in the press, proved to be, in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s own words, “an albatross.”   He was roundly and harshly criticized for even accepting it, though simple decorum would seem to have militated against such a breach in etiquette, or returning it after the US entered the war against the Axis. Lindbergh–a master of conflict-avoidance, compartmentalization, and disregard for public approbation–simply put the incident out of his mind and sent the medal to the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, the repository of all of the honorific objects and awards he had received since 1927.  After being tucked away in storage for decades, it was put on display there in a major exhibit in 2002 after a careful vetting of the issue with the local Jewish community and other groups.  Along with the rest of the exhibit, the medal is being removed from display for conservation and storage later this month.

The uses of Charles Lindbergh, Part III


I’m pretty sure I have never thought about a connection between Charles Lindbergh and Global Warming, or rather “global-warming denials.”  But sure enough, Lindbergh’s notorious isolationist stance during the lead-up to World War II has inspired comparison with positions currently being staked out by the climate change “denial community.”   Lindbergh’s isolationism is cited by Huffington Post environmental columnist Edward Flattau:  

Virtually all the world’s nations participated in the crisis sessions of the recent global warming conference in Durban, South Africa to a daily drumbeat of incriminating evidence.

Yet Senator James Inhofe, (R-OK), didn’t seem impressed by the internationally shared concern or the reasons for it. One of the most outspoken skeptics of global warming, he ridiculed the purpose of the conference and warned that taking remedial action against a “phony” climate threat would cripple our economy.

Turn back the clock to the days immediately preceding World War II when German and Japanese armies threatened to spread totalitarianism across the globe. Uber-isolationist Charles Lindbergh, the famed aviator, was warning that if we were drawn into a shooting war with the Axis powers, a still depression-shaky American economy would buckle under crushing debt.

Flattau compares the arguments of the WW2 isolationists with those of today’s climate-change denialists, who argue that the respective threats–German militarism and devastating global warming–are, variously, exaggerated or fictitious; inevitable and unpreventable; possibly beneficial in the long run; etc.  He concludes that, although in the long run, America and the free world prevailed over Fascism, it’s unclear whether the “machinations” of the climate-change denialists “can be surmounted prior to the point of no return.”

The “uses” of Charles Lindbergh, Part II

“Lucky Lindy flies again”

Lindbergh’s famous “Des Moines speech”–delivered at a 1941 America First rally in the Iowa capital on the not-yet-infamous date of September 11th–is continually being re-discovered and re-deployed: by anti-Semites, anti-anti-Semites, neo-isolationists, white supremacists, and on and on.  In Its most often quoted line, Lindbergh called out the “three groups” that he believed were impelling America into the European war: the Roosevelt administration, and “the British and Jewish races.”

Now the Des Moines speech is back– and the news item is coming out of Iowa, site of today’s Republican caucuses.  The Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes about what he sees as the dangerous isolationism of libertarian candidate, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas.  Cohen sees Paul as espousing a foreign policy “drained of morality.”

His total indifference to what happens overseas is chilling and reminiscent of the old isolationism, best articulated in Des Moines — a world capital this election season — by Charles Lindbergh back in 1941. In that speech, Lindbergh identified three groups that wanted to take America to war against Germany: the Brits, the Jews and the Roosevelt administration. They all had their reasons, he acknowledged, but, “We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.” I can almost hear these very words coming out of the mouth of Paul.

Cohen writes that President Ron Paul would oppose all military interventions, even those more morally justifiable than the disastrous adventure in Iraq:  

He cannot for the life of him summon government’s authority or military might to have the right thing done. Still, the man himself is immaterial. His message, though, is a different matter. It has struck a chord, and others, more polished and with better-fitting shirts, will pick it up. Lucky Lindy flies again.

 (The illustration here–with a gas-masked Lindbergh on top of a “stink-wagon”–is by Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, one of his many anti-Lindbergh cartoons, published in the leftist newspaper PM in 1940-48.  It is reprinted in Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel.)