In today’s climate of rising anti-Semitism and intolerance, we should give these issues proper consideration because, in the real America of the 1930s and 1940s, we did indeed have several homegrown fascists and Hitler admirers. And Charles Lindbergh was among them.
You may have been watching The Plot Against America on HBO and reading JN Editor Andrew Lapin’s columns about the series online. Plot is based upon a fictional situation — thank God — where fascism has become the ruling political force in America. There is a demagogue in the White House, Charles Lindbergh, and the idea that such an occurrence “could never happen here” is turned on its head. The fictional phenomenon unfolds through the lens of the Levins, a middle-class Jewish family.
There are many nuances to the Plot’s characters and storyline. Lapin is providing JN readers with a weekly review and is dealing with serious historical issues: in particular, the role of Jews and their assimilation into American society. In today’s climate of rising anti-Semitism and intolerance, we should give these issues proper consideration because, in the real America of the 1930s and 1940s, we did indeed have several homegrown fascists and Hitler admirers. And Charles Lindbergh was among them.
“Lucky Lindy” gained global recognition in 1927 at age 25, as the first person to make a solo, non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris. It was a courageous act and a transformational moment that forged the way for commercial aviation. Lindbergh became an instant American hero, receiving the Medal of Honor.
In 1940, Lindbergh would once again earn national notoriety for another reason. He was a leader of the America First Committee (AFC). On paper, the organizing principle of the AFC was isolationism; that is, opposition to America entering WWII. The name seems benign. What citizen would not put his or her nation first? But the AFC had a very dark side. Underlying the AFC was a vein of anti-Semitism, racial bigotry and intolerance, along with some admiration for Hitler’s politics.
Lindbergh gave a speech on Sept. 11, 1941, illustrating this point. He suggested that, along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Jews were pushing the U.S. to enter WWII, and that this was against the nation’s best interest: “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 … A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention.”
He elaborated: “Their [Jews’] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”
Claiming that he was not against Jews — don’t anti-Semites always say this? — Lindbergh claimed that Jewish leaders, “for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.”
Although Lindbergh had made anti-Semitic statements before, this speech created a furor in the American Jewish press, including in the Sept. 26, 1941, issue of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, which is part of the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. I also found references to Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism in issues of the JN as late as the 1970s.
The Plot Against America is certainly entertaining, but it also presents a serious question. What is the goal of “America First” and for whom?
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.