When Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to an airport near Paris, it was both a milestone in aviation history and an act of incredible heroism.
History’s first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean took place May 21, 1927, when Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to an airport near Paris. It was both a milestone in aviation history and an act of incredible heroism. For 33 hours, Lindbergh was alone in what amounted to a flying gas tank and he literally was in the dark for much of it. Quite rightly, the flight made “Lucky Lindy” the most famous man in the world.
But it was a double-edged sword, as the following story illustrates.
As the 1920s became the 1930s, ominous developments were occurring in Germany, where Adolf Hitler and his Nazi acolytes had taken over the country and were secretly building up Germany’s armed forces. Everyone knew Hitler had conquest on his mind, and while most observers knew that Germany was rearming, no one knew to what extent.
And then America’s military attaché to Berlin, Major Truman Smith, had an idea. Why not invite Lindbergh, whom the Germans admired above all others, over to Germany for a goodwill visit? Smith figured the Germans would be so eager to impress Lindbergh that they would show off all of their military hardware, giving Smith and other observers a better gauge of Germany’s military strength.
So Lindbergh paid several visits to Germany, and the Germans were so taken with him, they showed off all of their military equipment, just as Smith had hoped. Alas, Lindbergh was so impressed with that military arsenal, he concluded that if Germany did start a war in Europe, it would be unbeatable, and therefore America should stay out of that war.
Thus did Charles Lindbergh become the most prominent member of America’s leading isolationist movement, the “America First” movement. Indeed, it was Lindbergh who gave the group its name. “The best thing America can do is stay out of it (war),” Lindbergh said. “Let them (the Europeans) duke it out and let us defend America first.”
Of course, history would prove Lindbergh wrong, and because of his many visits to Germany, Lindbergh was accused of being pro-Nazi, and by inference, anti-Semitic. He was pilloried in the media and his popularity plummeted.
Which was somewhat unfair. Lindbergh genuinely believed that America was unprepared for war and his calls for America to re-arm actually spurred government action. And when America did get into the war, Lindbergh — always a patriot — immediately volunteered to serve. But President Roosevelt, angered by Lindbergh’s America First activities, turned him down.
It was ironic. Lindbergh became famous because he believed in his own ability to overcome long odds. He became infamous because he did not believe in his country’s ability to do likewise.