Dauntless High Flyer: Charles Lindbergh Campaigned to Keep the United States out of War as Leader of the America First Committee, Then Placed Himself in Harm's Way When We Did Go to War

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Four years ago, Canadian immigrant and neoconservative scribe David Frum, who coined the term "Axis of Evil" as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, accused conservatives who opposed the Iraq War of disloyalty to the United States. His scurrilous screed was entitled "Unpatriotic Conservatives: The War Against America," and oddly enough, he invoked Charles Lindbergh to make his point.

As leader of the America First movement, Lindbergh counseled against America's entering Europe's second war, a popular position but one that President Franklin Roosevelt used to smear the aviator as pro-Nazi. Though patently false, FDR's image of Lindbergh persists, and Frum conjured it to attack modern conservatives who opposed the Bush administration's ill-conceived adventure in Iraq. Even Lindbergh, he wrote, "ceased accommodating Axis aggression after Pearl Harbor." Of course, Lindbergh never "accommodated Axis aggression," and his heroic combat service against the Japanese reveals Frum's remark for the bald demagoguery it was.

American Hero Against the War

Most Americans are familiar with Lindbergh's exploits before World War II, when he made the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. The flight elevated Lindbergh to international fame. Mobs descended upon him wherever he landed; he was a hero not only to Americans but also across the world.

As Europe headed for war, Lindbergh was circumspect about the United States joining the slaughter. An officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Lindbergh lived in Europe for a while, and visited Nazi Germany eight times. He inspected German armaments and aircraft and warned that German air power was growing. On a trip to Germany in 1938, A. Scott Berg wrote in his biography, Lindbergh, he met Hermann Goering at the American Embassy at the invitation of the American ambassador, who hoped introducing Goering to Lindbergh would improve German-American relations and, importantly, improve the plight of Jews forced to flee the country. Goering unexpectedly awarded Lindbergh the Verdienstkreuz Deutscher Adler, the Service Cross of the German Eagle, for his contributions to aviation and the flight over the Atlantic.

When Hitler's armies blitzkrieged Poland in 1939, Lindbergh forthrightly opposed American entry into the war. "A Europe divided by war," he wrote in Reader's Digest, "reduces the stature of our civilization and lessens the security of all western nations. It destroys life, and art, and the spiritual growth that spring from peaceful intercourse among men." Lindbergh warned prophetically, "we should never enter a war unless it is absolutely essential to the future welfare of our nation," and "we must either keep out of European wars entirely, or stay in European affairs permanently."

R. Cort Kirkwood is managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

"As long as America does not decay from within," he said in his first radio address, "we need fear no invasion of this country." Indeed, Lindbergh's great concern, he said, was that America, "guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler" and open it to the "rape, loot and barbarism" of the Soviet Union, which he believed was the greatest threat to Western Civilization. Still, Berg reports, Lindbergh later wrote that he was "far from being in accord with the philosophy, policy and actions of the Nazi government."

It wasn't long before the character assassins unsheathed their long knives to butcher Lindbergh's reputation. The medal from Goering haunted the famed aviator during his tenacious fight to stop the United States from entering the war, and even before Lindbergh embarked on his crusade for America First, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes said Lindbergh "forfeits his right to be an American." Berg noted that columnist Dorothy Thompson, "who only months earlier had praised Lindbergh for following the courageous [isolationist] path of his father [prior to World War I]," called him a "somber cretin" and a "pro Nazi recipient of a German medal. …