Charles Lindbergh - "America First" Involvement

"America First" Involvement

In late 1940, he became spokesman of the antiwar America First Committee. He soon became its most prominent public spokesman, speaking to overflowing crowds in Madison Square Garden in New York City and Soldier Field in Chicago. His speeches were heard by millions. During this time, Lindbergh lived in Lloyd Neck, on Long Island, New York.

Lindbergh argued that America did not have any business attacking Germany and believed in upholding the Monroe Doctrine, which his interventionist rivals felt was outdated. In his autobiography he wrote:

I was deeply concerned that the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler's destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia's forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of western civilization.

In his January 23, 1941, testimony in opposition to the Lend-Lease Bill before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Lindbergh proposed that the United States negotiate a neutrality pact with Germany. President Roosevelt publicly criticized Lindbergh's views on neutrality three months later during a White House press conference on April 25, 1941, as being those of a "defeatist and appeaser" and compared him to U.S. Rep. Clement L. Vallandigham (D-OH), the leader of the "Copperhead" movement that had opposed the American Civil War. Three days later Lindbergh resigned his commission as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps in an April 28 letter to the President in which he said that he could find "no honorable alternative" to his taking such an action after Roosevelt had publicly questioned his loyalty.

In a speech at an America First rally in Des Moines on September 11, 1941, "Who Are the War Agitators?", Lindbergh claimed the three groups, "pressing this country toward war the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration" and said of Jewish groups,

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 the speech, he warned of the Jewish people's "large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government". However, he went on to condemn Nazi Germany's antisemitism: "No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany." Lindbergh declared,

I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.

The speech was heavily criticized as being anti-Semitic. In response Lindbergh stated again he was not anti-Semitic, but he did not back away from his statements.

Lindbergh's wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh had concerns about the reaction to the speech and how it would affect his reputation, wrongfully in her view. From her diary:

I have the greatest faith in as a person — in his integrity, his courage, and his essential goodness, fairness, and kindness — his nobility really. . . . How then explain my profound feeling of grief about what he is doing? If what he said is the truth (and I am inclined to think it is), why was it wrong to state it? He was naming the groups that were pro-war. No one minds his naming the British or the Administration. But to name "Jew" is un-American — even if it is done without hate or even criticism. Why?

Interventionists created pamphlets pointing out his efforts were praised in Nazi Germany and included quotations such as "Racial strength is vital; politics, a luxury". They included pictures of him and other America Firsters using the stiff-armed Bellamy salute (a hand gesture described by Francis Bellamy to accompany his Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag); the photos were taken from an angle not showing the flag, so to observers it was indistinguishable from the Hitler salute.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt disliked Lindbergh's outspoken opposition to intervention and his administration's policies, such as the Lend-Lease Act. Roosevelt said to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau in May 1940, "if I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this, I am absolutely convinced Lindbergh is a Nazi." FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, on his own authority, began to investigate Lindbergh's personal life. Hoover had his agents look for anything that might discredit Lindbergh's reputation, such as information purporting that during Prohibition, Lindbergh had bootlegged whiskey in Montana and had consorted with pimps and prostitutes. While not ordering the FBI to look into Lindbergh, Roosevelt all the same did not complain about Hoover's efforts.

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