Tag Archives: Flying Over Ruins
Wasn’t Charles Lindbergh a Hitler-loving Jew-hating Nazi-sympathiser responsible for the death of millions in the gas chambers?
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.
Flying Over Ruins: a synopsis
Flying Over Ruins is a portrait of two of the most remarkable marriages of the 20th Century – and of the period in the late 1930s when their fortunes intertwined.
Charles Lindbergh, heroic aviator, the most famous human being on the planet, and his wife Anne, as sensitive as she is courageous, a first-rate writer in the making, seek a new life England in the aftermath of the murder of their first child.
They already know Harold Nicolson, who’d been a guest of the family in the States when he was writing a biography of Anne’s father. Now they’re destined to fall under the spell of Harold’s wife too: Vita Sackville-West.
Their arrival coincides with the revival of Harold’s ambitions as a statesman – and, for a while, his friendship with Charles is advantageous. But this proves a double-edged sword as Charles, naively, accepts invitations to visit Berlin and allows himself to be feted by Nazi Germany; and when he allies himself to the pro-Appeasement faction back in England, he helps throw Britain’s foreign policy into disarray.
As a result, Harold’s career soon lies in ruins. He can console himself that he’s been highly influential in Anne’s emergence as a writer of real talent; and he rediscovers his love, unlikely as this may seem to outsiders, for Vita. Anne and Charles, meanwhile, are drifting apart.
All the source material for Flying Over Ruins is already in the public domain; but no-one has put the material together in quite this way before – and there are genuinely new perspectives here. For instance, Lindbergh’s role in the Munich crisis will come as a surprise to many.
But as we see as our narrative unfolds, when Charles preaches about the invincibility of German air power, the nation listens… and his arguments are a major factor in emboldening the Cliveden Set. Similarly, Harold’s role in pre-war politics is almost always ignored: he’s far better known these days as Vita’s husband. But he’s a witty and colourful character in his own right – and Flying Over Ruins aims to show him at his compelling best.
At the outset of the book, the Lindberghs are installed in Harold and Vita’s Long Barn property; and the supremely well-connected Harold begins introducing Charles to all the people who matter, including royalty and the political elite. Along the way, he tries to co-opt him to the side of the foreign policy hawks warning of a growing German menace.
But Charles, much to his mentor’s chagrin, drifts towards allegiance with Nancy Astor – no friend of Harold’s. Coincidentally, despite several barnstorming speeches in The House, Harold’s star begins to wane.
Both men are damaged, professionally and personally, by events as they unfold – and have every reason to feel disillusioned. There’s a catalogue of failures here, some darkly comic (not least the Lindberghs’ Berlin trips), others poignant. Yet there’s resilience here too: Harold, outmanoeuvred, finds consolation in a new understanding with Vita; Charles, his naivety now cruelly exposed, heads back home, defeated in Europe but ready to meet turbulent new challenges in Washington.
As their story heads towards an elegiac conclusion, we begin to realise that history will eventually prove both men right, though in very different ways.
But Charles and Harold aren’t the whole story. Though they give the book much of its narrative structure, Anne is its beating heart. She was one of the most remarkable women of the age, celebrated for her role as co-pilot and navigator on Charles’s more sensational expeditions. Indeed, we’re party to one of these as they seek to fly over the ruins of all the world’s ancient civilisations (thus the book’s title) in one round trip before following Alexander’s route to India, where Charles meets one of his heroes, the mystic writer, Francis Younghusband.
In the opening chapter, Anne arrives on these shores still haunted by tragedy – the kidnap and murder of her first son in the so-called Crime of the Century. In England, she finds herself once more; and, encouraged by both Harold and Vita, begins to emerge as a writer of real talent.
In particular, we focus on the evolution of the acclaimed “Night Flight from Bathurst” chapters of Listen! – a book destined to become an instant bestseller.
More people should know about Anne Lindbergh – her story is an uplifting one.
In summary, Flying Over Ruins is a fictionalised account of a true story, as-yet-untold in this detail, about two marriages, four extraordinary people – and the ways in which they each see the world. Sensitively derived from the diaries and letters of the four main characters, it’s also a book very much about a time and a place, evoking Kent and London during a vividly intense period in Britain’s history.