Hitlerland, the new book by Andrew Nagorski (Simon & Schuster, 2012), is subtitled “American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power.” Naturally, I expected to find Charles Lindbergh within its pages, and sure enough, here he is–visiting the country five times during the 1930s, being taken on tours of military aircraft factories and airfields, producing his frank assessments of German air power at the behest of his American host, Truman Smith, the U.S. military attaché at the American Embassy.
Lindbergh’ subsequent vocal campaign to keep the United States out of the war in Europe, his involvement with the isolationist America First movement, and his conviction that the Soviet Union represented the real threat to European civilization–and that, in a war between those two powers, “a victory by Germany’s European people would be preferable to one by Russia’s semi-Asiatic Soviet Union”–only confirmed how well he had been played by the Nazis. His critics were right that he had become, in effect, an apologist for Hitler. Ironically, though, the flyer’s political blindness also allowed him to to help Smith and his team gather more data on the Luftwaffe’s modernization and ambitions than any of their counterparts in other embassies. For his part, Lindbergh was pleased to be part of this effort; as he saw it, this information on Germany’s growing strength only bolstered his argument that the United States should wavoid any new conflict with that country.
While Hitlerland doesn’t contribute anything especially new to the Lindbergh-in-Germany narrative, the book is valuable for filling in the larger context: on-the-ground witnesses to events in pre-war Germany. Many of these Americans–reporters, embassy officials, exchange students, and athletes competing in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin–were, like both Charles and Anne Lindbergh, surprisingly sanguine about the direction the country was taking, though most also remarked on the Nazis’ suppression of political opposition and their virulent campaigns of anti-Semitism.