Buckley and Vidal– and Charles A. Lindbergh

The name of Charles A. Lindbergh has a remarkable persistence in American culture, cropping up in any number of unexpected places.  You may remember an earlier post, during the Republican primary season, when the names of Newt Gingrich and GOP bankroller Sheldon Adelson were linked to Lindbergh’s.   Lindbergh’s opposition to American involvement in World War II– his work for the “America First” movement– is the usual site of contemporary interest (though kidnapping stories are right up there, too).

Yesterday’s New York Times brought this story, occasioned by the death of novelist and pundit Gore Vidal, about the Vidal and his arch-nemesis (one of them, at least) William F. Buckley.  The two famously and bitterly clashed on national TV in 1968, but as the article points out, they actually had a lot in common, including a youthful enthusiasm for “America First” politics and Charles Lindbergh.  Click on the link above for the full story, or read the excerpts below:

It is also not surprising to learn that for all their animosity, the two men shared a distinct set of attitudes. Both were born in 1925 and came of age at a time, just before Pearl Harbor, when the most pressing issue was whether America should intervene in World War II. National opinion was divided — as it would later be over different wars — but in this early instance these two men, though they hadn’t yet met, stood on the same side in their fierce opposition to American intervention and to the “establishment” that was urging it.

This may seem odd. But for all their East Coast social connections both came from families rooted in the heartland and its isolationist legacy. Mr. Vidal’s grandfather was a United States senator from Oklahoma. Buckley’s father was a Texan who made his fortune in oil. In their teens both men idolized Charles Lindbergh, the tribune of the antiwar America First Committee.

Mr. Vidal helped organized the committee’s chapter at Exeter when he was a student there, and as late as 1998 he argued that Lindbergh had been tarred as a “pro-Nazi anti-Semite when he was no more than a classic Midwestern isolationist, reflective of a majority of the country.” Lindbergh, he added, was “the best that we are ever apt to produce in the hero line, American style.”

Buckley agreed. “It takes great courage to give up what Lindbergh has and for this courage he has been called a fifth columnist,” he said in an oration delivered at his boarding school, Millbrook, in 1941, the same year Buckley attended a Lindbergh rally in Madison Square Garden. And like Mr. Vidal he continued to champion Lindbergh many years later. In “Saving the Queen,” Buckley’s first Blackford Oakes spy novel, published in 1976, he described Lindbergh as “the great advocate of the American peace.”

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