The removal of monuments to the Confederacy has at last started a necessary debate about that which is worthy of commemoration.
As America looks afresh at its parks and street signs, courthouses and public schools, perhaps this can be the hour when the name of Charles A. Lindbergh is finally detached from Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Named after his father, who served as a congressman from Minnesota, Lindbergh was, of course, the great pioneer of American aviation who spent most of his childhood in Little Falls. The impulse to venerate him — and at the state’s main airport — is at least by this measure comprehensible.
Yet even by the time the terminal was dedicated to Lindbergh in 1985, around 10 years after his death, too much was known about his political history for this gesture to be justified.
Having visited Germany several times during the 1930s, Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer as war approached. In 1938, he accepted the Order of the German Eagle from Hermann Göring, who would be sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity at Nuremberg in 1945. Of Adolf Hitler, Lindbergh’s wife wrote in her diary that he “is a very great man, like an inspired religious leader … a mystic, a visionary who really wants the best for his country and on the whole has rather a broad view.”
Lindbergh’s “inclination toward Fascism is well known to his friends,” columnist Dorothy Thompson wrote in 1939. Once war came to Europe, he agitated for appeasement, including as a spokesperson for the notorious American First Committee.
Lindbergh argued that Western civilization depended on American neutrality and cooperation with Nazi Germany. In an August 1940 address, he condemned “accusations of aggression and barbarism on the part of Germany,” five years after the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws were passed and seven after the first concentration camp for political opponents was erected at Dachau.
But Lindbergh saved his ugliest words for a now infamous anti-Semitic speech given in September 1941, in which he accused American Jews of “agitating” for war. “The leaders of both the British and the Jewish races,” Lindbergh proclaimed, “for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.” He also said of American Jews: “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”
Upon his death in 1974, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote that Lindbergh would be remembered as a sympathizer of the Nazi regime who “had a blind spot that allowed him to criticize Hitler’s genocidal policies while at the same time supporting Nazi theories of racial elitism. … Neither those views nor his attitude towards Jews were ever repudiated.”
In a recent interview with Moment, the writer Leon Wieseltier wisely cautioned: “When you start by erasing part of the past that you don’t like, someone else may start erasing the part of the past that you do like.”
The danger is that by choosing not to remove unjustifiable and unconscionable memorials, we become hostages to our own timidity while being bound forever by the mistakes and misfortunes of previous generations. No individual is entitled to a monument, and there is no reason for America’s towns and cities to remain mausoleums dedicated to the monsters of the country’s history. With time and consideration, we’ve not only come to better understand these men and their deeds but why they were misguidedly venerated in the first place.
This is not a call to start tearing down the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls tomorrow morning, but rather a suggestion that a modest alteration be made at the gateway to Minnesota. Whatever his merits in the field of aviation, that the main airport terminal continues to be named after a prominent anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer is at once an insult and a disgrace. As Virginia debates what best to do about one of its problematic native sons, Minnesota should ask what to do about Little Falls’ own, too.
Though it remains only as a suffix, a final retitling would be the right thing to do. Terminal 1-Lindbergh should be no more.
Liam Hoare is a freelance writer based in Vienna, where he is the Europe Editor for Moment Magazine and a contributor to Metropole. He is a frequent visitor to the Twin Cities.