Today, September 11 is synonymous with the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as well as a plane crash in Pennsylvania.
But 60 years earlier, 11 September 1941 was marked by a radio broadcast from President Franklin D. Roosevelt; a speech from by the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh; and groundbreaking for the Pentagon.
In his 18th fireside chat at 8:00 pm CT, Roosevelt detailed a German U-boat attack that happened during “daylight” 04 September 1941. The U.S. destroyer Greer was southeast of Greenland, en route to Iceland carrying American mail.
Germany admits that it was a German submarine. The submarine deliberately fired a torpedo at the Greer, followed later by another torpedo attack. In spite of what Hitler’s propaganda bureau has invented, and in spite of what any American obstructionist organization may prefer to believe, I tell you the blunt fact that the German submarine fired first upon this American destroyer without warning, and with deliberate design to sink her.
However, the speech most associated with that day was not Roosevelt’s. It was the one delivered by Lindbergh in Des Moines, Iowa. The audience: a rally organized by America First, the largest anti-war group.
Lindbergh, an outspoken isolationist, took the stage at 9:30 pm CT, after the audience had listened to Roosevelt’s radio address.
Lindbergh’s speech was widely criticized for its anti-Semitism. The lede for many newspapers the next day came from this sentence:
The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.
Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences… Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.
Criticism included isolationist newspapers and was bi-partisan. Wendell Willkie had been the GOP presidential candidate in 1940. He called the speech “the most un-American talk made in my time by any person of national reputation.”
In Iowa, the Des Moines Register was pointed:
The speech was “so intemperate, so unfair, so dangerous in its implications that it cannot but turn many spadefuls in the digging of the grave of his influence in this crisis.”
William Randolph Hearst was sympathetic to American isolationists. But his papers said “the assertion that the Jews are pressing this country into war is UNWISE, UNPATRIOTIC, and UN-AMERICAN.”
In Texas, the House of Representatives passed a resolution stating that “Lindbergh was not welcome to speak in the state.”
Liberty Magazine, which advocated for religious freedom, called Lindbergh “the most dangerous man in America.”
Many newspapers published the full text of FDR’s speech, but most Americans not in Iowa read about Lindbergh’s speech.
How did Lindbergh become an outspoken war critic?
In 1932, the Lindbergh’s 18-month old son was kidnapped and killed. In 1935, they moved to England, although his family had Germanic roots, to seek privacy and escape news media attention. They would later move to France.
In 1936, the U.S. military attache in Berlin asked Lindbergh to learn details of the German Air Force. Between 1936 and 1938, he visited Germany six times to inspect and fly airplanes.
Lindbergh had attended the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin as a special guest of Field Marshal Hermann Goering, head of the Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe (the German Air Force).
Lindbergh grew to admire Hitler’s revitalization of the German economy at a time the United States was still mired in the Great Depression. He also marveled at the advanced fighters and bombers of the Luftwaffe.
Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.
Lindbergh insisted that Germany would win against any enemy.
“Without doubt the German air fleet is now stronger than that of any other country in the world,” Lindbergh said in a report to Joseph Kennedy, US ambassador to Britain. “Their military strength now makes them inseparable from the welfare of European civilization, for they have the power either to preserve or destroy it.”
However, Lindbergh was not the only high profile American who opposed U.S. involvement in another “European war.”
… the executive committee of America First included the automaker Henry Ford, who had paid to publish a series of anti-Semitic pamphlets called The International Jew, and Avery Brundage, the former U.S. Olympic Committee chairman who had barred two American Jewish runners from competing at the Berlin Olympics.
Political rhetoric gets the gold for recycling.
Historians told The Associated Press there are some ideological parallels between Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and the positions taken 75 years ago by members of the American First Committee.
In his inaugural address in 2017, President Trump stated: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Krishnadev Calamur pointed out that the phrase Trump “reclaimed” is “controversial” and “associated with opponents of entering World War II.”
A key difference between speeches delivered by Lindbergh and Trump is the immediacy: live streams (text and video) and the web versus printed news a day later. Another is the emotional difference between messages seen and heard on television and those on radio, with one one sense engaged.