It started back in the summer when Donald Trump began deploying “America First” as a campaign slogan. It wasn’t long before some commentators were pointing out that “America First” had historical resonance.Wasn’t there an America First Committee set up in September 1940 to lobby for continuing US neutrality as regards the war in Europe?
Yes, indeed there was. Its best-known supporters included John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gore Vidal, Walt Disney plus a handful of poets, socialites and socialists.
Oh yes… and of course… Charles Augustus Lindbergh. Aha! Hadn’t he been embroiled in political controversy of some sort? Indeed he had. He’d visited Nazi Germany in 1936, 1937 and 1938. He’d even, during that last 1938 visit, been presented with a medal by Hermann Goering. He’d also been friendly in the 1930s with Alexis Carrel, a French scientist who’d written a book about eugenics.
These facts were first triangulated by Lindbergh’s enemies (he had a terrific talent for making enemies) and then wheeled out as supposedly damning evidence against him when he made a speech for America First arguing that US public opinion shouldn’t be swayed by the Jewish lobby (one Rabbi had been particularly vociferous) pleading for the US to join the war on Britain’s side.
France had fallen and it looked as if Britain was about to follow suit. Should Britain go under, what hope could there be for the Jews in Germany?
Lindbergh’s view was, as it had always been, that not one drop of American blood should be shed in propping up the British Empire.
Those who disagreed with him stated with passionate intensity that he was only saying that because he was a Hitler-loving Jew-hating Nazi-sympathiser.
They’d have added that he was (directly, knowingly) responsible for million of deaths in the gas chambers. Except they couldn’t because they didn’t know about the gas chambers. Nor did Lindbergh. Nor, come to that, did many Germans, Nazi or otherwise. Not then.
But more recent critics have been at no such disadvantage.
As indeed you’ll soon discover if you enter his name into a search engine. Or venture onto Twitter. Twitter has had two Lindbergh meltdown moments in recent weeks. The first, back in late-November, early-December arrived on the back of two articles, one in New York magazine (not to be confused with The New Yorker) and one in the aptly-named Daily Beast. (I’ll link to them below if you’re interested.)
They are crude exercises in vilification, written by writers who don’t much care for Donald Trump and want you to believe that he is a Nazi on the basis that he’s been using a slogan loosely associated with, among others, Charles Lindbergh… the Hitler-loving Jew-hating Nazi-sympathiser responsible for the death of millions in the gas chambers.
This was exactly what some segments of the Twittersphere wanted to hear, because they not only tweeted links to these articles, they heaped on more bilious contempt (for Trump via Lindbergh) whenever they could.
The first hate storm died down in December… but back it came again in Inauguration week; and this time it seemed, if anything, even more venomous.
And me? I looked on, increasingly wide-eyed. I didn’t know what to think. I still don’t. I’m excited by the fact that Lindbergh can still inspire such intense emotions. Yet I wonder what I’d feel if that intensity were turned on me. If I became, even in the most superficial of ways, collateral damage.
Because I’m currently pitching a narrative in which Charles Lindbergh is one of the lead characters. My Lindbergh is no angel. He’s the least attractive of the protagonists; and speculation about the true nature of his political sympathies is certainly a driving factor one of the plotlines.
He’s more of a political ingenue (intellectually, he was no more mature than a schoolboy, reckoned Harold Nicolson) than a villain, though – and I suspect this may not be to everyone’s taste. During the research process, I became acutely aware that people who think they loathe Lindbergh can be equally aggressive towards anyone who disagrees with them.
So I’ve agonised about getting him right.
Because absolutely, at some stage down the line somebody’s bound to ask me… “Charles Lindbergh? He’s that Jew-hating Nazi sympathiser, isn’t he?”
And I’ll respond: “Do you want the short answer or the long answer?”
Synopsis of Flying Over Ruins, here.
New York magazine article here.
Daily Beast article, here.