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1941 Fifty Years Ago

May 2024
1min read

In April Charles A. Lindbergh became a national political figure as the star member of the America First Committee. He had already made known to Congress his pessimism about France and Britain’s chances against Germany, and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, had written a curious book, The Wave of the Future , dreamily equating totalitarian and democratic “sins.”

On April 17 in Chicago Lindbergh made an address for America First. He said Britain was doomed. In New York five days later he followed by announcing, “France has now been defeated,” and urged America to be pitiless in both cases.

As soon as Lindbergh joined the committee its membership swelled from three hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand. The flier became a worry to the administration, for unlike the committee’s other famous members—professional pacifists and movie stars and a millionaire publisher—he was a national hero seemingly above personal interest. Lindbergh, for his part, said it especially pained him to be working side by side with pacifists when he’d rather be fighting a war he could believe in.

After unsuccessfully offering Lindbergh a new cabinet post as Secretary of Air, Franklin Roosevelt thought of another way to silence him. At a press conference, Roosevelt was asked about “calling up” Lindbergh, an Army Air Corps reservist, and quieting him that way. The President instead compared the flier to Clement L. Vallandigham, the Civil War congressman who had been arrested and sent into the Confederacy for making speeches compromising the security of the North. Lindbergh resigned his commission in the Air Corps on April 28, after a tortured weekend of writing and revising a letter to the President. “I take this action with the utmost regret,” he wrote, “for my relationship with the Air Corps is one of the things which had meant most to me in my life. I place it second only to my right as a citizen to speak freely to my fellow countrymen …”

Lindbergh did not resign his membership in America First but kept making speeches right up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, after which he grew silent and faded from public notice.

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