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Arthur Schlesinger on:
Lindbergh Accepting a Nazi Medal

Arthur Schlesinger Q: Was FDR worried about Lindbergh?

AS: I don't think he was worried about him that early. I think that Lindbergh began to emerge as a factor in the political debate after the outbreak of war in Europe. Up to that point Lindbergh appeared to be a patriotic American who had come back with this presumably useful intelligence about the magnificent German air force. There had been kind of an odd episode in which he had accepted the Nazi decoration. On the other hand it was understood in Washington that this had been a surprise to him. The medal was presented by Marshall Goering at a stag party at the American Ambassador's Residence and it would have been embarrassing to reject it. So that wasn't taken too seriously. Lindbergh himself oddly was totally unrepentant about receiving the Nazi decoration, never returned it, even during the war.

Q: Why do you think he never returned that?

AS: I think he was a very stubborn fellow, and he was a man deeply convinced he was right about everything, and very hard to move. In August 1939, he was having dinner one day with a right-wing radio commentator of that period named Fulton Lewis Jr., and they were talking about the dangers of war in Europe. Lewis, who was an isolationist, was much impressed by Lindbergh's concern about a war and American involvement in such a war. He said, "you ought to say this on radio," and Lindbergh said, "well I don't know about that." But then war broke out a few weeks later. Lindbergh called Fulton Lewis and said, I have a statement I'd like to make. So he proceeded in the autumn of 1939, in a flood of speeches, interviews, articles, to explain why he thought the war was a great mistake. And his general points were first that there was no moral issue in the war. It was totally a balance of power war, and it was a useless war. It was to be regarded as a fratricidal war. The real threat, he said, were the great Asiatic hordes. The white race had to hang together. That Germany was predestined for great air power, Britain a great sea power, France a great land power, United States. These four countries must stand together against the Asiatic hordes, and the Asiatic hordes are, presumably, led by Soviet Russia. And he said, "race is what binds us to Europe, not ideals." And so democracy, in his view, was not an issue. I mean there's no point in going to war to preserve a balance of power that would benefit England, and it was useless to have people of the white race quarreling among themselves when they should be uniting against the Asian hordes.

Q: That was a terribly sort of racist attitude in the conflict and he shared those views.

AS: I don't know where that came from. I suppose he got a lot of it from Alexis Carrel, the French biologist who had a kind of racial mysticism of a sort. And he may have imbibed it unconsciously with all the racism of Nazi Germany. But he did use the word race and think in terms of race. And the basic argument that he made was, at this stage, the white race should not be divided inconsequentially and that Germans, French, Britain, and Americans must unite against the hordes.

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