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July 2, 1941 – Charles Lindbergh – America First Committee Address from San Francisco – Mutual – Gordon Skene Sound Collection
Since before war began in Europe, Charles Lindbergh had been as determined, disciplined, and skilled in his drive to keep the United States from going to war in Europe as he was in flying solo between the continents.
Impressed by Germany’s rapid progress in aviation during two visits there, he had made plans to move to Berlin, but returned home before Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. In the first year and a half of the war, he made five nationwide radio broadcasts, addressed two large public meetings, published three articles in popular magazines, and testified twice before congressional committees. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, his wife and a noted author, came to the defense of German fascism in her number-one best-selling 1940 testament, The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith. Nazism and other movements crushing human freedom, she wrote, were just “scum on the surface of the wave” as civilization moved fitfully into a new “highly scientific, mechanized, and material era.”
A week after Germany’s May 10, 1940, invasion of the Low Countries, Charles Lindbergh told a national radio audience that America had nothing to gain and everything to lose by intervening. He urged the nation to secure its own borders, which in any foreseeable scenario, he said, remained beyond invasion. “If we desire peace,” he insisted, “we need only stop asking for war. No one wishes to attack us, and no one is in a position to do so.”
He warned that certain unspecified groups within society lay behind the drive to join forces with the British against Hitler and the fascists. He told millions of listeners: “The only reason that we are in danger of becoming involved in this war is because there are powerful elements in America who desire us to take part. They represent a small minority of the American people, but they control much of the machinery of influence and propaganda. They seize every opportunity to push us closer to the edge.” Ultimately, he contended, a national spiritual rebirth, a change in outlook adequate to a revolutionary age of technology and social organization, was key to the nation’s future: “It is time,” he declared, “for the underlying character of this country to rise and assert itself, to strike down these elements of personal profit and foreign interest.” Listeners realized he was speaking primarily about Jews (though he also later referred to British nationals living in the country).
Lindbergh’s isolationism meshed with America First’s program; his heroic past made him an American icon. Bob Stuart tagged him as the group’s potential leader. Stuart attended an August 4, 1940, dinner for Lindbergh at publisher McCormick’s home and talked with Lindbergh at length. The next day, he dashed off a letter asking the Lindberghs to help their movement “give sane national leadership to the unexpressed conviction of the majority of American people that this is not our war. ‘Defend America First’ will be our theme.” Lindbergh liked the young man, and he appreciated the group’s nonpartisan stance—welcoming liberals and pacifists along with Lindbergh’s own reactionary brand of support for neutrality. A few months later, he formally joined America First.
Lindbergh became America First’s principal spokesman in spring of 1941. The organization’s membership exploded. He gave 13 speeches at rallies from coast to coast, drawing raucous crowds that rivaled major sporting events, with millions more listening in on the radio and seeing him on newsreels. A Chicago talk brought out close to 40,000 people. So many turned out for an America First rally at New York City’s Madison Square Garden that 20,000 people who couldn’t get in filled the streets outside to listen to Lindbergh over loudspeakers.
The committee soon claimed more than 800,000 dues-paying members in 450 chapters, making it the largest antiwar organization in American history and by far the most wide-reaching campus-launched movement.
Here is one of those addresses given by Charles Lindbergh at a rally in San Francisco on July 2, 1941.
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