“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.)

The “uses” of Charles Lindbergh, part I

From "Click" Magazine, February 1939

The name and reputation of Charles A. Lindbergh have been put to myriad uses since 1927:  as a “boy hero” and role model for youth; as a symbol of American independence and boldness; as an emblem of family tragedy made gruesomely public.   For some time, however, the most frequent “use” of the Lindbergh name has been in connection with his anti-interventionist stance before World War II, especially his comments about the “Jewish race” being one of the forces pushing America into the European war in 1939-41.  Lindbergh–or perhaps more accurately, “Lindbergh” as a idea or a symbol or a “brand”–has been deployed in the rhetorical battles of right-wingers, white supremacists, and anti-Semitic groups, as well as ordinary conservative groups.  It’s remarkable, in fact, how often his name comes up in contemporary discourse, and this blog and my project will be examining some of them in the near future.

Today we have a rather complex news item about a war of words between liberal and conservative bloggers and organizations revolving around US policy toward Israel.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center responded to what they felt were attacks coming from the Center for American Progress and Media Matters–two progressive/liberal organizations:

When it comes to the charges of being ‘Israel Firsters’ and having ‘dual loyalty,’ we not only plead innocent but also counter-charge that these sponsored bloggers are guilty of dangerous political libels resonating with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.  These odious charges have been around since Henry Ford in 1920 said “wars are the Jews’ harvest,” Charles Lindbergh in 1940 condemned Jews for conspiring to plunge America into World War II, and “Jewish neocons” were charged with colluding with Israel to cause the 2003 Iraq War.

A writer for The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog
quotes the above, and writes:  “Dual-loyalty charges are indeed pretty dicey. Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were anti-semites, and their claims that Jews caused the first and second world wars were baseless anti-semitic propaganda.”  But he goes on to take issue, sharply, with the Wiesenthal Center for conflating the Ford and Lindbergh statements with the last item, the support of neocons for the Iraq War, pointing out that there are, in fact, a lot of Jewish neo-cons who, along with (if not in collusion with) the Israeli government did indeed press for the United States to invade Iraq in 2003.

“Forward from Here,” by Reeve Lindbergh

 

When I tell people what — or rather, whom– I am working on, I sometimes get (usually after the “Nazi” question– more on that another time) questions about the relatively recent (beginning in 2003) revelations about Charles Lindbergh’s clandestine extra-marital affairs (three) and the sizable brood of children (seven) he fathered in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s.  Questions like:  “How are you going to deal with THAT?!”  The answer: “I don’t really know yet.”  Since my focus is on Lindbergh as a writer, primarily, and secondarily as a figure in the larger popular culture, it’s possible I won’t deal extensively with the scandal of the “European families,” except insofar as it–once again–shifted the tectonic plates of Lindbergh’s reputation, nationally and internationally.   And also how such revelations should probably be situated within a broader framework of “secret lives exposed,” and the insatiable appetite for salacious stories of the private lives of public figures.

Meanwhile– that is, until I get to that– I do have a guide to one way of looking at this most recent addition to the Lindbergh Narrative, and that is this book, Reeve Lindbergh’s Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age–And Other Unexpected Adventures (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2008).  Reeve is the last child of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, born in 1945, when her father was 43, and her mother 39.  Like her parents, she is a writer, and in addition to numerous children’s books, has written two previous works of memoir–Under a Wing, about “growing up Lindbergh,” and No More Words, about her mother’s last years.  Both books (as well as Scott Berg’s definitive Lindbergh biography, which appeared in 1998) were published before the “European families” revelations.  But in the last essay in this lovely book, Reeve Lindbergh describes her reactions to these revelations, and her subsequent visits to Europe to meet her newly-revealed siblings and their families, visits that turned out to be joyous occasions.

When the story about the secret families turned out to be true, I became furiously angry, as angry as I have ever been in my life.  I was not angry with my ‘new,’ living relatives, no more to blame for the circumstances of their birth than I am, but with my long dead father.  I raged against his duplicitous character, his personal conduct, the years of deception and hypocrisy.

The story of the secret families had me raging, thinking, writing, and trying to be honest for about a month.  Then something changed.  On September 4, 2003, I wrote only one sentence in my journal: “God help me, I’m beginning to get used to this!” …. I still can’t come to a satisfactory conclusion about my father’s secret life; I still feel surges of anger and pain, but not often.  Over the months and years, familiarity overcame shock, and what was once an outrage became another condition of life.  By now, if I’m not “over” the discovery that my father had another life, I am at least used to it.

I am watching so many of my long-held assumptions dissolve into a new reality, like dreams in daylight: the assumption that my parents had a complex but traditionally “faithful” marriage; the assumption that my father always wandered the world alone and unloved, a kind of roving monk, until he came home to us; the assumption that my father was by his very nature unable to deceive.

 I still miss him, sometimes, and still remember him in detail, but the detail is less sharp now.  Of all the people I have known and loved, my father is the one I found most impenetrable.

Lindbergh and the Apollo 8 astronauts, December 1968


It had to happen:  some kind of synchronicity between my former life (“The 1968 Exhibit”) and my current one– this project and this blog about Charles Lindbergh.

Lindbergh was an avid supporter of the U.S. space program since its inception in the late 1950s–and, of course, was still a major celebrity in the history of exploration and aeronautics.  So it was with a great deal of excitement on all sides that Charles and Anne Lindbergh met with the Apollo 8 astronauts–Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders–on December 20, 1968, while the crew was in living in their pre-launch quarters at the Kennedy Space Center.  Lindbergh reportedly told them about how he had used a piece of string to measure the distance on a globe from New York to Paris and how he had used that to calculate the amount of fuel needed for the flight.  The next day, the Lindberghs watched the launch of Apollo 8 from a nearby dune.   Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book  Earth Shine is about the Apollo program.


The Lindberghs would meet again with the Apollo 8 astronauts at a White House dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson in December 1968, where Lindbergh and the astronauts signed autographs together and posed for photographs.

Lindbergh, the kidnapping, and “J.Edgar”

Charles Lindbergh, the kidnapping, and J. Edgar

Charles Lindbergh makes an appearance–several of them, in fact–in the new biopic J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonard DiCaprio as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.  The movie is a huge, stately bore, beautifully filmed and embarrassingly written and acted.  The positive reviews are, I believe, more about the reviewers’ reverence for Clint Eastwood, as close a thing as we have now to a sacred cow in Hollywood.  I’m more in line with the negative reviews, like this one from Salon.com.

The sensational part of the Hoover life story–his supposed homosexuality and  long (though perhaps unconsummated) liaison with his assistant, Clyde Tolson–gets quite a bit of attention in the movie.  A friend of mine invented an “elevator pitch” for the movie:  “It’s kind of like Public Enemy meets Brokeback Mountain.”

The Lindbergh connection was, of course, the reason I went to the movie, and in fact the 1932 kidnapping is a major plotline– more so than any other in this historical-pageant-like film full of subplots and vignettes, with the exception of the first one, the Palmer Raids against “subversives” and anarchists in 1919.   However, one would not go to J. Edgar for a strictly documentary report on the kidnapping–not that such a thing is conceivable, given the rancorous disagreements out there on Exactly What Happened in March 1932.

The Lindbergh name is introduced in the movie by the Old-Guy Hoover (Leo in tons of creepy make-up), dictating his bogus memoirs, when he pops a quiz on the transcriber:  “Who was the most famous man in the world?”   There it is–Lindbergh and the muse of Fame, forever intertwined.   The flashbacks proceed to the kidnapping case, which the film presents in quite a number of episodes, some of them oddly out of sequence, some of them more-or-less right (the baby’s body being discovered accidentally by someone who had stopped to pee in the woods near the Lindbergh’s house).  “Jafsie”–the mysterious person who “helped” Lindbergh with the case–makes an appearance or two, including a few scenes in the Bronx cemetery, where ransom money was paid, supposedly to the person eventually apprehended and charged with the crime, Bruno Hauptmann.  The famous wood-products scientist, examining the ladder found at the crime scene and testifying about it later in court, is also a minor character here.   And so is Hauptmann, played by a scary and scared-looking actor who doesn’t look a thing like Hauptmann.

Josh Lucas, who plays Lindbergh, is a handsome and talented actor, but at 40 years of age, is a decade older than Lindbergh was at the time of the kidnapping.  If you want to see what he looks like and don’t want to bother with the movie, check out this softball interview with Josh Lucas from the WB channel:

Lindbergh and American culture–A new blog

Welcome to the first post in a new blog, “Lindbergh and American Culture.”

To an extent matched by few others in his time, Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-74) sought to be the teller of his own tale.  From 1927 to the last months of his life, he was constantly writing, eventually publishing six autobiographical works and leaving unpublished more than a thousand pages of memoir.  He was also the author of several scientific articles, a score or more of anti-interventionist speeches and articles, and a series of thoughtful commentaries about the environment and wilderness.

Lindbergh’s writings, and the way they collectively reveal–and conceal–the self that he meticulously constructed for nearly half of the twentieth century, are the starting points of my investigation.

My intent, however, is to go beyond the writings, indeed beyond the man himself, to understand how this fabled life was—and continues to be—narrated in the public arena.  Because of his fame and the complexities of his character, Lindbergh becomes a prismatic figure through whom is refracted the interplay between self and celebrity, between a private life and a public reputation, between history and memory.

What I hope to offer is not only an entirely new way of examining one of the most examined of 20th-century lives, but also a nuanced perspective on the broader cultural currents through which that life flowed.