Quirky Des Moines #16: An American icon gives an Un-American Speech


Photo Courtesy NPR



He was known world-wide for being the first pilot to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. But one day in September of 1941, Charles Lindbergh gave a speech in Des Moines that was criticized nationally in newspapers and even caused the then presidential candidate, Wendell Wilkie, to call it the most “Un-American talk made in my time”.

World War Two started September 1, 1939. In response to the war, the America First Committee was formed in 1940. Famous early members included the future President Gerald Ford and future Peace Corps Director Sergeant Shriver.  Future President John F. Kennedy contributed $100 to the cause.

The four main principals of the America First Committee were:

  • The United States must build an impregnable defense for America
  • No foreign power could successfully attack a prepared America
  • American democracy could only be preserved by staying out of the European War
  • “Aid short of War” weakens national defense at home

Charles Lindbergh was their most outspoken spokesperson. He was also well known to be pro-Germany after spending time at the German Air Base in Luftwaffe and became impressed by the strength of their Air Force.  He held a speech in Los Angeles in June of 1941 to over 30,000 people where he criticized Roosevelt’s movements that Lindbergh felt were leading America into war with Britain.  He claimed in his speech that interventionists who were claiming to want the defense of England really wanted the defeat of Germany.

On September 11, 1940, at a rally in Des Moines, Lindbergh gave a speech that outlined the three groups he blamed for America being forced into the European War. The British, the Roosevelt administration, and American Jews.  In regard to American Jews he said “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government”.  The speech was criticized by newspapers across the country and politicians publicly denounced it.

Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  The AFC cancelled a rally with Lindbergh at the Boston Garden in “in view of recent critical developments” and publicly provided their support for the war.  Lindbergh also publicly supported American involvement and went on to fly fifty combat missions in the Pacific as a civilian consultant. Roosevelt refused to reinstate his Air Corps Colonel commission most likely in response to Lindbergh’s publicly insulting the Roosevelt administration before Pearl Harbor.

Lindbergh would later go on to be a prize winning author, an international explorer and an environmentalist.


To read about how the Tone Brothers brought exotic spices to both Des Moines and to America, click here.

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