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Arthur Schlesinger on:
Charles Lindbergh

Arthur Schlesinger Q: Tell me, who was Charles Lindbergh?

AS: Charles Lindbergh I suppose was one of the American heroes, at least for a good part of his life, one of the American heroes of the 20th Century. He came out of Minnesota, his father was a politician. Lindbergh as a young man, accompanied his father in some of the campaigns. His father was a great opponent of American entry into the First World War, wrote a book about it, campaigned against it, and in the course of that, he took very unpopular positions. He was mobbed. Once he was almost lynched. Young Lindbergh, when he was about sixteen years old, drove him around in a battered old car-- saw quite a lot of that. I suppose that experience of seeing his father booed and pursued by angry people raised doubts in his mind from an early age about the virtues of war and the virtues of democracy.

He diverged from his father. His father came out of the populist tradition. He was very much concerned with the machinations of the international bankers. He was afraid that the great net of international finance was driving us into war. I suppose that Lindbergh's own concern about the Jews in a sense was derivative because, for many people around the turn of the century, when they thought of international bankers they really meant Jewish international bankers. So again there may have been some conditioning of that sort. But Lindbergh on the whole was not interested particularly in politics. He certainly was not opposed to rich people or to bankers. And he did pride himself on what he regarded as his scientific objectivity, this dispassionateness with which he thought he approached problems of war and peace.

Q: It's a great contrast to C. A. Lindbergh who, in a way, was the great stump speaker, the fiery orator, and yet a pretty cold and taciturn man personally. But the two did have real differences, didn't they?

AS: Well, they were different. Both Lindberghs were very contained. As you say the elder Lindbergh was a very effective stump speaker. Now the younger Lindbergh, in his way, became a very effective stump speaker and those few years of his life he devoted to stump speaking. But his arguments against entering the war were very different than the arguments his father made against entering The First World War.

Q: He's such a mysterious figure in that regard. He's so filled with contradictions. You know he obviously did stunts that had to do with attracting press attention for example, but also professed this tremendous need for privacy.

AS: On the other hand I think Lindbergh really felt, rather deeply, that democracy was a very doubtful thing. He saw what it had done to his father. He then had the frightful incident of the kidnapping of his son, and the murder of his son. He was, thereafter, harried by the press. His privacy was under constant assault. I think one thing that attracted him is quite clear. One thing that attracted him about Nazi Germany was the press knew its place and he knew he could go to Nazi Germany without having that kind of incessant and intolerable inquisition and surveillance which he found in the United States.

He didn't much like the free press. He had doubts about popular democracy. He made a friendship in the 1930s with the French biologist Alexis Carrel who was a great believer in government by elites. And all this made him skeptical, reserved about democracy, and somewhat susceptible to authoritarian forms of government.

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