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March 2023
1min read

I am sorry to see American Heritage (of all magazines) repeat as fact the myth that President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Charles A. Lindbergh “a new cabinet post as Secretary of Air” in 1940 (“The Time Machine,” April).

I am aware that Lindbergh’s diary reports a conversation (in September 1939) with his friend Col. Truman Smith, who, as military attaché in our Berlin embassy, had been responsible for Lindbergh’s three visits to Nazi Germany. According to Lindbergh, Smith told him that if he refrained from opposing American entry into the European war, “a Secretaryship for the Air would be created in the Cabinet and given to me!”

Actually, the war had only just broken out in September 1939, and no one in authority at that point was advocating American entry. As for the alleged offer of a cabinet post, I have found nothing in the Roosevelt papers at the Hyde Park library to confirm this incident or anything approaching it. Lindbergh biographers have described Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring and Gen. H. H. Arnold as intermediaries; but this quite startling offer is mentioned neither in Keith D. McFarland’s authoritative biography of Woodring nor in Hap Arnold’s autobiography.

The offer would also be startling for another reason: because it implied the creation of an independent air force. In 1939 there was no such thing as a separate air force. The Army and Navy each had their own air corps. To create an independent air force would have meant a titanic struggle with the existing services and their civilian chiefs. It would also have required legislation. The establishment of a new cabinet department would have required legislation too. FDR had other things on his mind, and the last thing he would have wished in 1939 was to get involved in bureaucratic and congressional battles over an independent air force and a cabinet department.

I might add that to this day there is no such “cabinet post” as Secretary for the Air. Neither the non-cabinet post of Secretary of the Air Force nor the independent air force came into existence until 1947.

Truman Smith had no White House entrée. One can only assume that he was trying to restrain Lindbergh by speculating that if Lindbergh did not provoke Roosevelt by attacking a proBritish policy, Roosevelt might do something for him. Or maybe he was kidding Lindbergh, who was not notable for his sense of humor. Smokeblowing speculation or kidding are very different from the allegation that Roosevelt deliberately offered Lindbergh a nonexistent cabinet job.

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