Lindbergh’s Public Statements Were More Troubling Than His Private Affairs

by Dr. Rafael Medoff

The revelation that famed aviator Charles Lindbergh had a German mistress and fathered three children with her has attracted much media attention in recent days. The public is always fascinated by the discovery of celebrities’ moral indiscretions. But Lindbergh’s public activities were far more troubling than his private affairs.

Lindbergh became a national hero in 1927 by making the first solo transatlantic flight. But after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, Lindbergh made headlines for a very different reason–he was becoming an apologist for the Nazi regime. Lindbergh declared in 1936 that Hitler had “done much for the German people,” and he attended that year’s Olympic games in Berlin as the personal guest of Hitler’s air force chief, Field Marshal Hermann Goering. At an official state dinner in October 1938, Goering, acting “by order of the Furrier,” presented Lindbergh with a prestigious medal, the Service Cross of the German Eagle.

Even after the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom, and even after Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and annexation of Austria, Lindbergh continued to make excuses for the Nazis. “Germany has pursued the only consistent policy in Europe in recent years,” he wrote in an April 1939 diary entry, refusing to acknowledge the evil nature of the Hitler regime. “The question of right and wrong is one thing by law and another thing by history.”

During 1939-1941, Lindbergh emerged as the most prominent public spokesman for America First, the extreme isolationist group that opposed any U.S. action against Hitler.

In a radio address on October 13, 1939, barely six weeks after Hitler’s armies had devastated Poland, triggering World War II, Lindbergh blamed the British and French for the war. He insisted that “if England and France had offered a hand to the struggling republic of Germany, there would be no war today.” Viewing Europe in racial terms, Lindbergh saw no reason for America to side with either side in the conflict: “Our bond with Europe is a bond of race and not of political ideology,” he asserted. “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.”

Despite the German conquest of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940, Lindbergh refused to reconsider his perspective. “Nothing is to be gained by shouting names and pointing the finger of blame across the ocean,” he declared in an August 4, 1940 radio broadcast. “Our accusations of aggression and barbarism on the part of Germany, simply bring back echoes of hypocrisy and Versailles.”

Perhaps the most infamous of Lindbergh’s speeches was the one he delivered at an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941. He accused “the Jews” of “pressing this country toward war,” and complained about what he called “their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.” He also implicitly threatened American Jews, declaring: “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation.”

In fact, mainstream American Jewish organizations were extremely careful to refrain from urging U.S. military action against Hitler–precisely because they were afraid anti-Semites would call them warmongers.

Criticism of Lindbergh’s Nazi apologetics was widespread. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes called him “the number one fellow-traveler of the Nazis in the United States.” Time magazine reported that with Lindbergh’s speech, “the America First Committee had touched the pitch of anti-Semitism and its fingers were tarred.” Residents of Lindbergh’s hometown, Little Falls, Minnesota, removed his name from their water tower.

Lindbergh died in 1974. Six years later, his widow, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, published her diaries and letters from the 1940s. In an interview with the New York Times on that occasion, Mrs. Lindbergh remarked: “He was accused of being anti-Semitic, but in the 45 years I lived with him I never heard him make a remark against the Jews, not a crack or joke, and neither did any of our children.”

Maybe so; maybe not. But whatever Lindbergh might have said in private about Jews –and whatever he did in private with his German mistress– was far less significant than the things he said and did in public.

November 2003