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Charles Lindbergh

1902 - 1974

The “Lonely Eagle": Charles Lindbergh’s Involvement in WWII Politics

by Jim Bredemus

A native Minnesotan, Charles Augustus Lindbergh has been seen by some as the first worldwide hero. In May 1927 Lindbergh stood at the pinnacle of his career, having just successfully completed the first-ever solo trans-Atlantic flight, from New York to Paris. Only 14 years later, however, Lindbergh’s star suddenly fell as many branded him as sympathetic to the Nazis and anti-Semitic because of his outspoken views against the U.S.’ entry into World War II. In the words of one columnist Lindbergh had plummeted from “Public Hero No. 1” to “Public Enemy No. 1”. Debate continues today as to whether Lindbergh was a “Nazi sympathizer” or whether he simply sought to keep America out of the war.

Lindbergh decided to move his family to Europe in 1935 after a stressful three-year ordeal involving the kidnapping and murder of his son and the ensuing trial. Lindbergh publicly expressed his frustration with the intrusive American media and what he saw as a breakdown of morals and justice that was consuming America. Lindbergh initially removed to England, then, two years later, to France.

Surprisingly, the U.S. government arranged Lindbergh’s first experience with Nazi Germany. U.S. Army Major Truman Smith wanted to collect more information about German aviation capacities and technology, and he believed that because of Lindbergh’s celebrity status, the Germans would be eager to show him their aviation accomplishments—thereby giving him access to sites that previously were inaccessible to Americans. Major Smith sent an invitation to Lindbergh in June of 1936 and the two agreed that Lindbergh would come to Berlin on 22 July 1936.

Lindbergh’s nine-day trip was busy and filled with visits and meetings with German officials. General Erhard Milch and the German Ambassador to the U.S., Hans Dieckhoff, greeted Lindbergh upon arrival. During Lindbergh’s military visits he toured Tempelhof airport and piloted a Junker 52, spent a day at the Junker works at Dessau and a day at the German research institute at Adlershof.

Goering (right) presents Lindbergh with a sword
            Various social functions had been planned by the Nazis to allow Lindbergh to meet important Nazi officials. His first social event was a luncheon at the Berlin Air Club. At this event Lindbergh gave a speech about the powers and dangers of air warfare, and although the reaction of the mostly Nazi crowd was mixed, Hitler insisted that the full text of the speech be printed in the newspapers. Lindbergh and his wife also had a private lunch with Nazi Air Minister Hermann Göring at his home in the Wilhelmstrasse.

On Lindbergh’s last day in Germany, Lindbergh and his wife attended the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as special guests of Hermann Göring and were seated in a special spectator box with Göring and his wife. Truman Smith later claimed that Lindbergh’s special relationship with Göring was a milestone for the American military attaché in Berlin because it gave the Americans access to German Air Ministry they never had before.

The facilities and technology of the German Luftwaffe impressed Lindbergh. He also noted the work ethic of the German people, and exclaimed that there was “a spirit in Germany which I have not seen in any other country. There is certainly great ability, and I am inclined to think more intelligent leadership than is generally recognized. A person would have to be blind not to recognize that they have already built up tremendous strength”. Lindbergh also was impressed by the good discipline, high morals, and restrained press that existed in Germany—things that he believed were lacking in the United States.

            On 11 October 1937, Lindbergh and his wife Anne flew on their second trip to Germany. It was an unofficial visit and Lindbergh met with no Third Reich officials, but he did visit airfields and factories in Bremen and Pomerania and once again was impressed with Luftwaffe technology and capabilities. A few months later, Lindbergh was invited to examine the air forces of Czechoslovakia and Russia, but was unimpressed in comparison to what he had seen in Germany. “Germany now has the means of destroying London, Paris and Prague if she wishes to do so”, Lindbergh said. “I am convinced that it is wiser to permit Germany’s eastward expansion than to throw England and France, unprepared, into a war at this time”.

            Although Lindbergh believed the German Luftwaffe was unstoppable in Europe, it is not clear to what degree he ever became a Nazi sympathizer per se. “I was far from being in accord with the philosophy, policy, and actions of the Nazi government”, he later wrote. Clearly, to him the Soviet Union and communism posed a much greater threat to Europe and “Western Civilization” as he called it, and a strong Nazi Germany could protect Western Europe from the Russians.

            Lindbergh’s next trip to Germany in October 1938 proved to be the most controversial trip. After a day of touring factories in Magdeburg and Dessau, Lindbergh along with the American Ambassador Hugh Wilson attended an official state dinner with Hermann Göring and a number of other Nazi officials. At the dinner on 18 October, Lindbergh and the members of the American embassy were surprised when Göring arrived with a small red leather box in hand. In the box was the Verdienstkreuz Deutscher Adler, or Service Cross of the German Eagle, and it was presented to Lindbergh “by order of the Führer”. Lindbergh thought little of the award, which previously had been given to both Henry Ford and the French Ambassador; he saw it as simply another commendation for his trans-Atlantic flight.

            By 1938 Lindbergh had become dissatisfied with Britain and France and had been looking to move. During the October trip to Germany Lindbergh and Anne searched for a house in Berlin because they thought a stay in Germany would “be interesting from many standpoints”. The two found a house in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, then returned to France to pack their things and retrieve their children. Just two weeks later, on 9-10 November 1938, the Nazis unleashed premeditated anti-Jewish riots across Germany; characterized by the destruction of Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues, the riots became known as Kristallnacht. After Lindbergh received word of this, he immediately cancelled his plans to move to Berlin.

            Even after this event, Lindbergh still did not publicly condemn the Nazis or decide to return his medal. Lindbergh still hoped for a battle between Stalin and Hitler while France and Britain might arm. Later in 1938, after the Munich Agreement, Lindbergh held the opinion that Hitler should simply be left alone. After witnessing Kristallnacht and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Americans began to be more critical of Lindbergh and some journalists began to criticize his choice to not return his Nazi medal. Later, in late 1938 or early 1939, Lindbergh attempted to broker a deal for a joint Franco-German aircraft—although the plan was doomed to fail from the start. Lindbergh made his final trip to Berlin in January 1939, and soon after decided that since war was imminent, he should better return to the United States.

            During the trip across the Atlantic by ship Lindbergh wrote in his diary an entry that now sheds some light onto his views on Jews, which he was careful not to share in public. His diary entry on 10 April 1939 reads “a few Jews add strength and character to our country, but too many create chaos. And we are getting too many. This present immigration will have a reaction”. Not until his 1941 speech in Des Moines/Iowa did Lindbergh utter such words publicly.

After more than three years living outside the United States, Lindbergh sought to steer America away from joining a war in Europe. Although Lindbergh was happy with President Roosevelt’s neutral stance, he didn’t fully trust the president and thought that Roosevelt wanted the Allies to triumph and thus would try to help them. Expressing his usual frustration with the press in the United States, he called his much-awaited return to the United States a “barbaric entry into a civilized country”. Upon his arrival, Lindbergh decided to enlist in the Army Air Force, accepting a Colonel position. Shortly after, Lindbergh met with President Roosevelt for a personal meeting that seemed to go well but Lindbergh left suspicious, nevertheless.

In September 1939, two weeks after the Nazi invasion of Poland, Lindbergh delivered a nationwide radio address urging the United States to stay out of the war. In this speech Lindbergh proclaimed that Nazi victory in Europe was certain and because of this America should stay out and deal with the consequences. Later in the speech, Lindbergh commented “These wars in Europe are not wars in which our civilization is defending itself against some Asiatic intruder”. A later article by Lindbergh in Readers Digest continued: “Our civilization depends on a western wall of race and arms which can hold back…the infiltration of inferior blood”. These statements were a continuation of Lindbergh’s belief that the Nazis were unbeatable in Europe and that in reality the Soviet “Asiatic intruder” was what truly threatened “Western civilization”.

Lindbergh addresses an America First audience
          Although some Americans were suspicious of Lindbergh’s Nazi connection, there was still overwhelming support for Lindbergh’s non-interventionist views. Even into 1940 Lindbergh’s fan mail was 20-1 in favor of his non-interventionist stance. Through the rest of 1939 and into 1940, Lindbergh continued to give non-intervention speeches and became increasingly critical of Roosevelt’s policies, which favored the Allies. Meanwhile, a strong non-intervention organization called “America First” was growing throughout the country. The group had some 850,000 members, who represented all ages and political parties. Lindbergh joined the organization in October 1940 as an unpaid executive and immediately became the organization’s most popular speaker.

With Lindbergh’s increasingly public stance against American intervention into the war came increasing frustration and criticism from the Roosevelt administration. On 23 January 1941 Lindbergh testified before Congress for two and a half hours against the passage of the proposed Lend-Lease Bill, which ultimately passed. To the administration, Lindbergh and America First had become a primary enemy. In an April 1941 press conference, Roosevelt revealed that he believed Lindbergh was a “Copperhead”, a term used to describe Northerners during the Civil War who believed the Confederacy could not be beaten and that the Union should broker a peace deal.

Lindbergh was extremely offended by this comment and turned in his resignation as a Colonel of the Army Air Force. Meanwhile Roosevelt asked the FBI to put Lindbergh under surveillance, but after tapping his phones and following Lindbergh for months, the FBI found that Lindbergh was not involved in “subversive activities”.

During the summer of 1941 Lindbergh made a number of large speeches sponsored by America First. At a May speech in Minneapolis/Minnesota he said that Germany would not be defeated by the United States unless it became a military nation and that it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. to mount an amphibious attack against mainland Europe. At another May speech in front of 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden, Lindbergh called for a “change in leadership”. Lindbergh was still popular with the public and an April Gallup poll found that 83% of Americans were against the U.S. joining the war.

Lindbergh’s support was completely ruined by a speech he made on 11 September 1941 in Des Moines/Iowa. In a speech titled “Who Are the Agitators?” Lindbergh publicly addressed for the first time the Jewish issue and shared some of his opinions:


Their greatest danger lies in [the Jews’] large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our Government. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their interests, but we also must look out for ours.


With these words Lindbergh tarnished his reputation and credibility. Time wrote that “The American First Committee had touched the pitch of anti-Semitism and its fingers were tarred”. Lindbergh made a few more big speeches for America First, but by now his reputation was tainted and many Americans had stopped following him.

            On 7 December 1941 Japanese forces surprise attacked Pearl Harbor, which resulted in the United States declaring war on Japan; in turn, Germany declared war on the United States [please check]. Because of the situation, American First was immediately disbanded and Lindbergh cancelled all future speeches. Lindbergh now fully threw his support behind the war effort and on 20 December offered his services to the Army Air Force. After his offer bounced around various military and executive offices, Lindbergh received word that he would not be allowed to join the Army Air Force. Pan-Am, United and Curtiss-Wright also turned down Lindbergh’s services. He had now hit rock bottom, unable to find a job in the field he had pioneered and completely discredited by his anti-intervention stance.

Eventually, Lindbergh turned to another isolationist, Henry Ford. Ford gave Lindbergh a job at a Detroit bomber plant in April 1942. He worked there as a consultant and volunteered his services at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester/Minnesota, where he was put through grueling experiments with pressure chambers to test the new P-47 Thunderbolt airplane.

Lindbergh, however, wasn’t satisfied. He soon was able to secure a position as a consultant for United Aircraft in 1944 and was sent to the South Pacific to help and train pilots with Corsair aircraft. In spite of his official civilian title, Lindbergh flew some 50 combat missions against the Japanese. Lindbergh also showed young pilots half his age tricks on how to conserve fuel and extend their flying range.

After the war, Lindbergh made a return trip to Germany for the U.S. military. He was sent to on 13 May 1945 to assess German aircraft and rocketry developments. He was shocked by the destruction and horrified when shown the remains of a Nazi prison camp named Camp Dora located in the Harz Mountains. At the same time, Lindbergh also was disgusted with American troop behavior in Germany, saying that the German people didn’t deserve to be punished, and didn’t deserve the looting and rape that was taking place.

Even after the end of the war and exposure of the horrors of Nazi Germany, Lindbergh refused to reject his pre-war assessment of Nazi Germany. He also refused to return or destroy his Nazi medal. He did, however, speak of the misuse of power by the Nazis saying that “History is full of its misuse. There is no better example than Nazi Germany”.

Although Lindbergh’s non-intervention stance leading up to World War II severely damaged his reputation and hero persona, his active participation in the war made many Americans forget what had been said. After the war Lindbergh worked with the U.S. Air Force for a short time but eventually became very active in the worldwide conservation movement. Although Lindbergh temporarily lost his hero status among Americans because of his trips to Germany and strong anti-war stance, most Americans were quick to forgive the man they affectionately still knew as the “Lone Eagle”.




Berg, A. Scott. Lindbergh. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. New York: 1998.

Dahl, Heather. “Charles Lindbergh: The 20th Century’s First Celebrity”. 27 April 2001. 


“Fallen Hero: Charles Lindbergh in the 1940s”. The American Experience TV Series.


Mosley, Leonard. Lindbergh. Hodder and Stoughton. London: 1976.

“The Ultimate Charles Lindbergh Website”. www.charleslindbergh.com.

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