Lindbergh vs. Roosevelt: The Rivalry that Divided America
James P. Duffy
Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2010. $29.95. 270 p.
Reviewed by Christopher Griffin
Université Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle
James P. Duffy, a military historian and author of fifteen books on topics ranging from Imperial Russia to the American Civil War and World War II, sets out in Lindbergh vs. Roosevelt to rehabilitate the image of the famed pilot and aviation expert Charles A. Lindbergh, a “true American hero” [x]. Duffy’s primary claim is that Lindbergh was unjustly targeted by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration for a “smear campaign” [x] that accused him of being anti-Semitic and a Nazi sympathizer. The accusations leveled against Lindbergh by the Roosevelt campaign, according to Duffy, destroyed his image in the American public mind for decades to come and overshadowed his previous accomplishments and patriotic devotion to America.
Before discussing the book in detail, it is necessary to briefly address Duffy’s political leanings, as his political stance is explicitly important for the book’s argument. Regnery Publishing describes itself as “the leading conservative publisher in America,” and “central to the conservative movement today.”1 In the preface, Duffy argues that Lindbergh’s battle with Roosevelt can be compared to the right-wing Tea Party movement’s battle with the Obama administration. He says that the Tea Party is “demonized” [xi] by the Obama administration, and that “He [Lindbergh] had dared to speak out against the policies of a president the left revered, and he was maligned in much the same way as Obama’s opponents are today” [xi]. The comments in the preface set the stage for the rest of the book, identifying at the outset the hero – Lindbergh, and the villain – Roosevelt. Duffy’s portrait of Lindbergh in the run-up to World War II is that of a “reluctant crusader”  at the head of a highly conservative anti-interventionist movement who fought against the “machinations”  of Roosevelt aimed at bringing the U.S. into yet another European war. The framing of the narrative in this way results in much of the book acting as a polemic against Roosevelt’s administration and foreign policy interventionists more generally.
The book begins with some background on Lindbergh’s life prior to the 1930s, including his renowned flight over the Atlantic in 1927, in order to show the reader why Lindbergh was such a popular public figure in 1930s America. While Duffy is clearly writing for a popular audience, it is unfortunate that he does not delve deeper into Lindbergh’s life and character prior to the 1930s, as it could have illuminated the rationale behind the choices made by Lindbergh during his battle with Roosevelt.
Duffy’s narrative centers rather on the disputes between Roosevelt and Lindbergh over the question of U.S. intervention in the European theater in the initial years of World War II. The topic of the relationship between the President and Lindbergh and their respective political views is an interesting one, and Duffy is particularly successful in the first chapters in highlighting the complexity of both sides’ respective positions. The book begins with a discussion of Roosevelt’s decision to effectively nationalize the airmail service in early 1934, in which he gave the Army Air Corps the responsibility for delivering the mail, with disastrous results. Lindbergh publicly opposed Roosevelt’s decision and Duffy convincingly shows how the airmail dispute set the stage for the animosity and conflict between the two men in future years, and the extent to which Roosevelt blamed Lindbergh for a personal defeat. The discussion of the airmail scandal is the most interesting part of the book, as Duffy explains the details of the disagreement between the two men and how the scandal played out. The polemical nature of the rest of the book is also less evident in the first two chapters.
After discussing Lindbergh’s victory against FDR in the airmail dispute, Duffy turns to Lindbergh’s relations with Germany. Lindbergh lived in Britain for much of the late 1930s, and was invited by U.S. military intelligence to visit Germany to evaluate its progress in aircraft development. Lindbergh visited Germany five times before the war, and was a guest of Hermann Goering at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Lindbergh also received a medal for his 1927 flight on a visit to Germany in 1938, which was highly controversial in the U.S., and led many to claim that he was a Nazi sympathizer. The U.S. Interior Secretary even went so far as to call Lindbergh a “traitor” . Duffy refutes the claims that Lindbergh was a willing recipient, arguing that the medal was unexpected and Lindbergh did not see a way to refuse the honor. Duffy’s defense of Lindbergh in the medal case is not entirely convincing, though he does present the text of a letter from the U.S. Ambassador to Germany to Lindbergh  which praised Lindbergh for accepting the medal.
Lindbergh’s alleged links with the Nazis are one of the major themes of the book. Duffy looks at many of the instances in which Lindbergh’s loyalty was questioned by the U.S. government, and chalks them up to “innuendo, mistruths, and guilt-by-association” . His defense of Lindbergh takes three forms. First, the source material is the diaries of his wife, Anne, and Lindbergh’s own accounts. Few other sources are presented to back up the claim that Lindbergh was anti-Nazi, other than Lindbergh’s FBI file (the contents of which are not directly cited in the bibliography), which Duffy alleges made no mention of any Nazi connections. The second defense is that Lindbergh was actually a sort of spy on a secret mission from the U.S. military to bring back information on German aircraft technology [89-90]. The claim that Lindbergh was a spy for the U.S. government seems unlikely, and while he brought back reports on the German aircraft industry, it seems that his reports had little effect on American military policy. The third defense is that while Lindbergh was not a Nazi, his opponents were sympathetic to them, especially Roosevelt, though he also accuses former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George of being a Nazi sympathizer for criticizing Lindbergh in 1939 . Thus, Duffy commits the same mistake that he criticizes in his preface of demonizing those who oppose Lindbergh.
Duffy also investigates the claims that Lindbergh was racist and anti-Semitic. The accusation of anti-Semitism was based largely on several speeches that Lindbergh made during the run-up to the war, in which he said in September 1939 that the U.S. and Europe needed to work together “to defend the white race against foreign invasion” . In Des Moines, Iowa, on 23 May 1941, he claimed that Jews were one of the major groups pushing the U.S. to go to war with Germany, and that Jews had too much power in the U.S. government [195-196]. It is difficult to defend statements such as this, but Duffy responds to the allegations of Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism in large part by dismissing the claims that his statements were in fact anti-Semitic, and by launching an attack on FDR. Duffy claims that FDR was much more anti-Semitic than Lindbergh, and that anti-Semitism was a characteristic of the entire Roosevelt family, a claim which will likely alienate many readers [198-201]. Duffy is clearly not interested just in rehabilitating Lindbergh’s image, but also in destroying Roosevelt’s. As mentioned above, he accuses Roosevelt of being anti-Semitic for a full four pages of his text, in a rather nasty attack on the former president, which is out of place in any attempt at objective history, and which detracts from the main argument.
The second half of the book, and the main narrative, focuses on the dispute between FDR and Lindbergh over the decision to intervene on behalf of Britain and France in World War II. According to Duffy, FDR wanted to go to war to solve the economic problems at home . FDR was also manipulated by the British, and Churchill in particular, who engineered a major propaganda campaign to bring the U.S. into the war [145-146]. In this way, Duffy builds up an image of Britain in the first years of World War II as a power conspiring to bring the U.S. into the war at any cost. Duffy also claims that FDR was bent on intervention from the start, and goes so far as to make the surprising claim that “eleven months before the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, the Roosevelt administration was looking to provoke the Germans into causing an incident into the Atlantic comparable to their 1915 torpedo attack on the Lusitania” . He uses the evidence of the build-up of the American merchant fleet and increased patroling for German and Italian submarines in the Atlantic to back up this claim.
The revisionist claim that Roosevelt was trying to provoke an attack on American shipping interests is an astounding one, and is not backed up by the evidence provided in the text. The assertion is surprising coming from a historian of World War II, but is not the only questionable statement regarding the history of the war. In an attempt to discredit British claims of the necessity of American intervention, Duffy also states that France and Britain should not have gone to war since “the leaders of both France and England, especially the military leaders, must have been aware that Germany was more powerful than their two nations combined” . This statement is also surprising for the reader, as most military historians and strategic analysts largely agree that the balance of forces in May 1940 favored France rather than Germany, especially in tank numbers.2 It suggests an insufficient knowledge of the historiographical debates about the opening years of the war, and mainly serves again as a polemic against the British for their supposed manipulation of the American government.
Duffy also describes Lindbergh’s role in the anti-interventionist movement in some detail. This is where the book is more useful, as it shows the extent to which the FDR administration was worried about the movement and threatened by Lindbergh’s popularity. A more objective and broader analysis of the anti-interventionist movement would have been useful for the general reader, as it is difficult to get a sense of Lindbergh’s overall importance in events during the period in question. Most of Lindbergh’s supposedly racist or anti-Semitic comments were made during the period in which he was the head of the “America First Committee,” and Duffy spends much more time defending Lindbergh’s statements than describing his activities or that of the AFC in any detail.
It is curious to note that Duffy devotes little space to Lindbergh’s exploits after December 1941, other than noting briefly that Lindbergh was eventually reinstated in the U.S. military and flew combat missions in the Pacific in 1944. He was also promoted to Brigadier General by Eisenhower after the war [215-216]. Analyzing events in Lindbergh’s life after December 1941 in more detail would have helped Duffy to broaden the scope of his reassessment of Lindbergh.
The source material for the book is largely based on secondary sources, including histories of the FDR administration and recent biographies of Lindbergh. Duffy cites a number of historians throughout the book, but as it is a popular history, he does not locate his arguments in the historiography in any systematic fashion. Duffy does not use a great deal of primary source material to back up his claims, except in the case of the writings of Lindbergh and his wife. He worked at archives in the FDR Presidential Library, but only two archival documents are cited in the notes. For a book that attempts to rehabilitate a much maligned historical figure, it is unclear to what extent Duffy is able to bring new source material to light.
The two questions that the reader must ask of the book is whether or not Duffy succeeds in improving Lindbergh’s image, and whether or not it is an original contribution to the literature. For the first question, the result is mixed, as Duffy shows that Lindbergh’s relation to the U.S. government in the 1930s and early 1940s was more complex than commonly thought. The book, however, seems to be more of an attack on FDR and his advisors than a concerted attempt to show the real nature of Lindbergh’s opposition to the government. For the second question, Duffy implies in the preface that previous historical work did not question the FDR administration’s attacks on Lindbergh and the problems with Lindbergh’s reputation [x-xi]. Towards the end of the book, however, Duffy cites three other historians that made the argument that Lindbergh was not a Nazi sympathizer, with the most recent book published in 1998. Thus, the contribution of the book to the academic historiography is not a highly original one, but it is, despite its problems, an accessible and readable account of Lindbergh’s battle with Roosevelt that may appeal to a public and conservative readership.
1 See Regnery’s website at <http://www.regnery.com>, accessed 7 November 2010.
2 See for an important example, Alistair Horne, To Lose a Battle: France 1940 (London: Penguin, 1990) : 25, where the author cites a Time magazine article of 14 August 1939 that stated that the French Army was the most powerful in the world. The French alone had at least 3,100 tanks to the German 2,200 (Horne : 229-230).
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