One Red Rose, A Tear and Charles Lindbergh

It took a decade of dreams and a trip to Maui, United States Occupied Hawai’i, to complete this pilgrimage. I finally encountered Charles Lindbergh. I have been enamoured and mesmerised by this antiwar, complex iconic figure. My high school, Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School, was located just east of Lindbergh Road in St. Louis. It was the aircraft named, “Spirit of St. Louis,” funded by St. Louis businesspersons, that carried the great aviator hero from Roosevelt Field on May 20, 1927 in New York City to Le Bourget Field in Paris the following day—the first human to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

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The Detroit native was a major figure of the courageous America First Committee, a rather diverse group of nationalists and internationalists such as Robert Hutchins, Chester Bowles and William Benton. I say “courageous” because it has not been easy for Americans to oppose war. They are called “isolationists,” “fifth columns,” or dismissed as traitors who “cut and run.” To oppose American entry into World War II, particularly before the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, is even more admirable. Did the Russians need America to defeat Hitler? Was there a casus belli with Japan prior to the naval installation attack on Oahu? Would the world have been better without U.S. entry into the war? Should the U.S. had merely confined its actions to the Pacific and not to Europe despite Hitler’s rather perfunctory war declaration after the attack on Oahu?

Mr Lindbergh gave one of the most controversial speeches of the twentieth century at Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941 when he claimed the British, the Roosevelt administration and American Jewry were the principal groups that advocated America’s entry into the European war. World War II began with the German attack on Poland in 1939; some say it begins with Japan’s attack on Manchuria in 1931, and America was certainly close to war by the time of the Des Moines address. Mr Lindbergh was careful, however, to qualify his criticism of American Jews with an effort to understand their politics while strongly and fervently dissenting from it. Here are his remarks on the prowar proclivities of many American Jews:

“It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.

“No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. 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.

“Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.

“Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

“I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.”

He would have been less provocative had he deleted the reference to “danger” and avoided the prejudicial image of a Jewish-media cabal. Nvertheless, he had every right as Jimmy Carter does or John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have, to engage in critical thinking of Jews, lsrael or some combination of the two. He brilliantly summarizes the perils of antiwar protest in America:

“A smear campaign was instituted against individuals who opposed intervention. The terms “fifth columnist,” “traitor,” “Nazi,” “anti-Semitic” were thrown ceaselessly at any one who dared to suggest that it was not to the best interests of the United States to enter the war. Men lost their jobs if they were frankly anti-war. Many others dared no longer speak.”

Mr Lindbergh also was equally derisive of Franklin Roosevelt’s thirst for war. In a majestic paragraph in his Des Moines speech, in which he never directly refers to the president but only his administration, Mr Lindbergh’s criticism of President Roosevelt resonates today, speaks to us today, reaches greatness today:

“The Roosevelt administration is the third powerful group which has been carrying this country toward war. Its members have used the war emergency to obtain a third presidential term for the first time in American history. (“Lucky Lindy” is referring to F.D.R.s third presidential victory in 1940.) They have used the war to add unlimited billions to a debt which was already the highest we have ever known. And they have just used the war to justify the restriction of congressional power, and the assumption of dictatorial procedures on the part of the president and his appointees.”

The issues of an imperial presidency, of assuming dictatorial power, of wasting precious American resources on the crazed exercise of human destruction and physical devastation are as relevant today as they were in the prewar period. Of course Mr Lindbergh is correct about F.D.R.s thirst for war:

a) The Quarantine Speech on October 5, 1937 in Chicago when the president tried unsuccessfully to forge public opinion to quarantine, as if a disease, Japan and Germany.

b) His undeclared Atlantic naval war against Germany in which nazi ships were sunk, trailed and spotted to benefit British naval activity. The U.S.S. Greer was the first to fire on German ships and was attacked on September 4, 1941, seven days before the Des Moines speech of September 11. Other American ships that were engaging in hostile action before a war declaration were the USS Kearney and USS Reuben James. The latter was sunk on October 31, 1941 with a loss of 115 personnel.

While F.D.R. was not aware in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan and did not plan a “backdoor” to war in Europe through Asia, nevertheless, the examples above plus the Destroyers for Bases deal and Lend Lease demonstrated a quasi-war situation months before the sinking of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

My autocar was wending its way slowly on hairpin curves on the Road to Hana: up mountains, through rain forests, across one-lane bridges, through the mist, through the dream of Hawai’i. The little bridge that allows a journey to Lindbergh’s grave, south of Hana, had been damaged by a recent earthquake on the Big Island, Hawai’i, but had been repaired only days before my hegira. Then about forty-five minutes beyond the Road to Hana, a small road led to the Palapala Ho’omau Congregational Church. I walked down a little path, across a chain link, saw some graves and then I encountered Charles Augustus Lindbergh.

His grave was modest but not insubstantial. There are rocks around the tombstone, and I saw a model airplane, a shell-linked necklace and a small lei with fresh yellow and red petals. A Java plum tree offers shade above the grave. There was no one else in the graveyard, at the church, on Maui, on a beautiful December day. No one else. I placed a fresh single red rose on his grave, that had been chilled by the florist, refrigerated overnight by the hotel and transported in a cooler for the four-hour journey. I cried. I told him how courageous he was to speak his mind, to oppose war, to stand on principle and defy conventional wisdom. I told him Hiroshima proved him right; Nagasaki proved him right; FIFTY TO SIXTY MILLION dead in World War II proved him right. I told him I honour anyone who opposes war and that he was the gift to the ages: a gift among us at the edge of Maui. I stood, walked to a fence about 20 metres from the hero’s grave, saw the Pacific Ocean below, and left him and the rose alone under the Java plum tree.

On the antiwar, taboo-breaking aviator’s tombstone was carved:

“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.” [Psalm 139:9. Source not included on gravestone.]

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