Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh; drawing by David Levine

“Wednesday and Thursday, April 1 and 2 (1942). Up at 4:30. Left in Mercury at 5:00. Crossed on 5:45 ferry. Took U.S. Route 6 through Providence and Hartford, and crossed the Hudson, via Bear Mountain Bridge. Stopped only for gasoline and sandwiches, which I ate, driving, during the day. Took half an hour for hot supper at a small-town restaurant in the evening. It was crowded, and I think I was recognized by a girl at the counter, even though I was wearing glasses and a pulled-down hat. Left before finishing to avoid the inevitable questions and stares and newspaper story.”

Let us assume that the “girl” at the counter was somewhere between sixteen and twenty-six, so that her upbringing had taken place in the Twenties or Thirties when, by and large, upbringings were along conventional lines; on the basis of this banal hypothesis, it seems safe to conclude that the girl’s eye was attracted to a man eating his blue-plate special in a pulled-down hat rather than to Charles A. Lindbergh in camouflage. If she were sixteen, she had been a year old when Lindbergh made his Atlantic flight and it does not seem likely that now, in 1942, she had much pull with the press unless her brother, a stringer for the Toledo Blade, was in the back room of a generic small-town restaurant. After this narrow escape, the Colonel continued his trip and arrived at 9:30 the following morning at the Dearborn Inn and, after breakfast, drove out to Henry Ford’s Willow Run factory where he was employed as a civilian consultant on bombers.

This is a fairly representative passage from The Wartime Journals, kept from the spring of 1938 until early summer of 1945, and because the text runs to a thousand pages, the timetable brings on spots before the reader’s eyes. While chronomania is understandable—and commendable—in an aviator, and the make of his craft (Franklin, De Soto, Ford, Mercury) a natural concern; and while the tribulations, real or conjectured, of the famous must be sympathized with, one cannot help wishing that the famous bird would light for a while and hang up his hat (or at least turn back the brim) so that we could have a good look at him.

William Jovanovich, the Colonel’s impresario, writes in his Introduction,

The redaction of the text was carried out on the principle that a great many details of day-to-day living are insignificant because they are routine—getting to and from local places, meeting people who are not seen again, confirming appointments, carrying out household or clerical chores—and are therefore of no interest to anyone but the author and, perhaps, the scholar.

Several readings of the following entry which I quote in its entirety fail to illumine its impact or its utility or the “principle” of redaction: “January 1, 1940. Off train at 8:45. Took taxi to garage and drove to Englewood in the De Soto.”

Although meetings with people of influence are reported in the hundreds, almost nothing specific seems to have been said. In London, with Ambassador Kennedy, Lord and Lady Astor, Neville Chamberlain, in Berlin with Goering and Messerschmitt, he discussed the “European situation”; in New York with Herbert Hoover and Roy Howard and William Benton and Juan Trippe, in Washington with General “Hap” Arnold and Senator Taft, in the Pacific with Douglas MacArthur, Lindbergh “discussed the war and the trends in this country.” Most of the trends, as he in the navigator’s seat read them, were down the garden path with Roosevelt calling the Corybantic tune:

I think he has the ability to persuade himself that whatever he wants himself is also to the best interests of the country. I feel sure he would, consciously or unconsciously, like to take the center of the world stage away from Hitler.

In the spring of 1939 when he was living abroad, Lindbergh wrote,

Hitler’s speech is carried in the morning papers. On the whole it is plausible and states the German case very well—one of the best-written political speeches I have read. Yet one of the English papers…headlines it over the front page as HITLER GETS THE JITTERS. The press is misleading the people as usual…. It seems to me that this man, damned almost everywhere except in his own country, called a fanatic and a madman, now holds the future of Europe in his hand. Civilization depends upon his wisdom far more than on the action of the democracies…. I am more than ever depressed by the shortsightedness and vacillation of democratic statesmen.

Deploring and bewildered by the violence of Nazi anti-Semitism when he visited Germany before the war, he nonetheless saw the menacing power of the Jews in the United States who, together with other blocs, were inflaming Roosevelt’s megalomania, and in May of 1941, he wrote,


The pressure for war is high and mounting. The people are opposed to it, but the Administration seems to have “the bit in its teeth” and hell-bent on its way to war. Most of the Jewish interests in the country are behind war, and they control a huge part of our press and radio and most of our motion pictures. There are also the “intellectuals,” and the “Anglophiles”….

Roosevelt emerges from these pages as a man as overweening as Tamerlane and as sly and lithe and venomous as a serpent; Hitler, however, is a tragic figure, misguided, but not through personal vanity. In 1945, in the ruins of Berchtesgaden, Lindbergh ruminated,

It was in this setting, I realize, that the man Hitler, now the myth Hitler, contemplated and laid his plans—the man who in a few years threw the human world into the greatest convulsion it has ever known and from which it will be recuperating for generations. A few weeks ago he was here where I am standing, looking through that window, realizing the collapse of his dreams, still struggling desperately against overwhelming odds. This scene, this valley, these mountains entered into the contemplation, the plans which brought such disaster to the world.

Hitler, a man who controlled such power, who might have turned it to human good, who used it to such resulting evil: the best youth of his country dead; the cities destroyed [my interpolation: in this book there are photographs of devastated German cities but there are none of the perdition in England]; the populations homeless and hungry; Germany overrun by the forces he feared most, the forces of Bolshevism, the armies of Soviet Russia; much of his country, like his own room and quarters, rubble—flameblacked ruins. I think of the strength of prewar Germany.

Again, at the Nürnberg Stadium a week or so later, nostalgically,

The dais from which Hitler used to speak to his legions—empty, littered with fragments of brick and marble—reminded me of one of the Mayan temples in Yucatan…. The interior of the main building had been used as a refuge—probably by people who had lost their homes in the bombing, and by D.P.’s after the surrender. The floors, once so carefully scrubbed and polished, were covered with inches of torn paper, rags, and broken furniture.

Convinced of the weakness of England (“I do not believe he [Hoover] recognized the decadence in England…[he] had never carefully analyzed the claim to greatness of the present generation of Englishmen. It was an inherited claim, and like most things inherited, it had never stood the test of conflict. A great tradition can be inherited, but greatness itself must be won”), convinced of the venality and impurity of the French, convinced most firmly of the superiority of German military equipment and faculty, Lindbergh bitterly opposed our involvement in the war. He allied himself with the isolationist America Firsters (who included Kathleen Norris, Lillian Gish, Colonel McCormick, Mrs. J.P. Marquand, Alice Longworth—“fine type of people”) and, breaking his strict rules of privacy, appeared publicly at rallies throughout the country. He was a colonel in the Air Corps when, in 1939, he wrote:

…Truman [Lieutenant Colonel Smith, military attaché for air with the American Embassy in Berlin from 1935 to 1939] and I went into the bedroom, where we could talk alone. He told me he had a message which he must deliver, although he knew in advance what my answer would be. He said the Administration was very much worried by my intention of speaking over the radio and opposing actively this country’s entry into a European war. Smith said that if I would not do this, a secretaryship of the air would be created in the Cabinet and given to me!… This offer on Roosevelt’s part does not surprise me after what I have learned about his Administration.

Later that evening (“9:45 E.S.T.”) he broadcast the first of his America First speeches by way of refusing the President’s bribe; there is no documentation for this arresting piece of intelligence baring Roosevelt’s machinations against him, and it is never mentioned again.

Two years later, in 1941, after he had been severely scored by Roosevelt in a press conference, he resigned his commission, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (“I am not surprised the Japs attacked. We have been prodding them into war for weeks”), although he had not changed his mind, he tried to re-enlist but was refused because—surprising to him but not to the reader—his political views were scarcely harmonious to the emergency at hand, and he went to work for Henry Ford. Ultimately he went to the Pacific as a technical observer for United Aircraft and he flew fifty missions in fighter raids, taking considerable interest in the game of strafing and, on the ground, in trading with the natives.


Twenty-five years after VJ Day, he has not yielded his position by a hair, and in a letter to Jovanovich, his publisher, he says,

You ask what my conclusions are, rereading my journals and looking back on World War II from the vantage point of a quarter century in time. We won the war in a military sense; but in a broader sense it seems to me that we lost it, for our Western civilization is less respected and secure than it was before.

This stubbornness, together with great physical intelligence and daring, accounts for the stupendous feat of his 1927 flight, which he recorded admirably in The Spirit of St. Louis, a book in the front rank of suspense and adventure stories. It is too bad that that accomplishment has been marred by the publication of this monotonous, repetitious, and self-conscious outpouring. When, once in a great while, he writes of the act of flying or contemplates the formation of clouds or the movement of water and trees and animals, he is appealing; or here is an attractive glimpse of him in a hotel room in St. Louis: “Made out maps with courses to San Francisco, using the glass dresser top as a ruler.”

But the raisins are few and far between in the rice pudding, and the reader is subject to sententiousness (“I believe motion pictures have had a great deal to do with the decline in character that is obvious in this country today. Cheapness and immorality do not go hand in hand with strength.” Remember, he writes, that the Jews “control…most of our motion pictures”), to comic strip American clichés (on food: “England is without competitor in having the worst”), to statements of fact that cause the eye to leave the page in embarrassment (“At lunch we were introduced to a new drink—carrot juice. It was very good, I thought. Ford said it was made by crushing carrots and collecting the juice”).

Although Lindbergh makes frequent references to his work with Alexis Carrel at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, he is disappointingly vague. It would have been to the point if Mr. Jovanovich had slashed out sufficient undergrowth to make way for an appendix on Carrel’s memorable research and Lindbergh’s contribution to it, a contribution which, to be sure, was technical rather than inventive (he constructed a pump that supplied pure oxygen to a chicken heart which was artificially animated for an impressive length of time) but was nonetheless essential to experiments on the transplantation of organs. It would be infinitely more interesting to read a description of the pump than it is to read an impassioned defense of Carrel’s activities as a Pétainist, after he had returned to France where he was eventually jailed as a collaborationist.

On Midway Island, Lindbergh observed and wrote well about birds:

The gooney birds are the distinctive feature of the island and take one’s attention from everything else, even the overpowering atmosphere of the military. They are a form of albatross—graceful in the air, awkward on the ground, stupid and yet crammed with character.

With the deletion of the word “stupid,” this would be a reasonably accurate picture of Lindbergh himself. He is as American as cherry pie or the atomic bomb, courageous, suspicious, xenophobic (except for Germans and Swedes and the late Dr. Carrel), wedded with great generosity of spirit to the conservation of animals and landscape, restless, inquisitive. But, as an intransigent midwestern American, he is given to stereotypical and inattentive judgments: in the Solomons, collecting miscellaneous information, he heard about Russian roulette from the Marines, and he wrote, “Russian roulette, as the name implies, is supposed to have been originated by the Soviets….” The implication escapes me. What could be more antipathetical to the premises and practices of the Soviet than this reckless, madly antic, and romantic vagary? (The procedure is as old at least as Lermontov, who described it in his story “The Fatalist.”)

He is, historically, a hero, and while he protests his imprisonment in the public domain—put there by the adoring public—he has, with his Journals, invited that girl at the counter to call the nearest AP man, and invade his privacy to the point of letting the whole mob into the delivery room each time his wife has a baby. He offers his book, he says, to clarify issues of the past that we may mend our present ways; but the murk of prejudice and of warmly nursed grievances obfuscates his message—unless the message is one too sinister to contemplate. Mr. Jovanovich concludes his address of introduction to this perplexing apologia by saying that it

…is told with the intimation that we dare not, on penalty of the living, put our lives beyond recall, beyond comprehending.

If these words had any meaning, perhaps we might be able to figure out what Lindbergh, Mr. Citizen, had in mind when he decided to expose himself.

This Issue

October 8, 1970