In 1941, Charles Lindbergh was still considered to be a great American hero, having been the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic.
Lindbergh’s flying skills may have been first rate, but his views on race and politics were a bit dicey.
Charles and his wife Anne had visited Germany several times in the 1930’s, and were dazzled with what they saw. They were impressed with the Germans, and even thought about moving to Berlin.
On October 18, 1938, Lindbergh accepted a medal from Hermann Göring, the head of Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe, in honor of his transatlantic flight.
Several weeks later, the Nazis launched Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), a vicious pogrom against Jews in Germany, Austria, and Sudetenland, and a rehearsal for what was in store for the European Jews. Lindbergh dismissed calls that he return his medal in protest, saying, according to biographer A. Scott Berg:
It seems to me that the returning of decorations, which were given in times of peace and as a gesture of friendship, can have no constructive effect.”
By 1939, Lindbergh was traveling around the U.S. advocating that the country stay out of World War II, as well as maintain vigilance, as he wrote for “Reader’s Digest” in 1939, in avoiding “the infiltration of inferior blood.”
Lindbergh’s reputation was already beginning to suffer, and his speech in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941 sealed his fate as someone not really deserving of the epithet of “hero.” Speaking to The America First Committee, the most powerful isolationist group in the country, Lindbergh decided to “name names,” contending:
The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.”
Of the Jews, he went on to say:
Instead of agitating for war, Jews in this country should be opposing it in every way, for they will be the first to feel its consequences. . . . Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”
After noting, disapprovingly, that the British also wanted the U.S. to enter the war, he added a disclaimer:
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.”
He couldn’t believe the uproar over his comments. Later he wrote in his diary:
My Des Moines address has caused so much controversy. . . . I felt I had worded my Des Moines address carefully and moderately. It seems that almost anything can be discussed today in America except the Jewish problem. The very mention of the word “Jew” is cause for a storm. Personally, I feel that the only hope for a moderate solution lies in an open and frank discussion.”
You can read the full text of his speech here.