In some respects, Liam Hoare’s Sept. 5 commentary “Commemorative history: MSP airport has its own ugly connection — Lindbergh” is a restrained recitation of Charles Lindbergh’s association with Nazi Germany and trafficking in contemptible anti-Semitic canards.
As Hoare notes, Lindbergh accepted in October 1938 from Hermann Goering the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle — in the presence of two individuals highly responsible for the development of the Luftwaffe: Ernst Heinkel and Willy Messerschmitt.
The timing of Lindbergh’s recruit of the Nazi decoration is highly instructive: about 17 months after the Condor Legion’s (a German Air Force proxy) bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War and about a month before the unleashing of the Kristallnacht. Lindbergh refused to return his Nazi decoration, saying it would be an “unnecessary insult.”
About Lindbergh’s Sept. 11, 1941, Des Moines speech: It was an address delivered as a nationwide broadcast — at a rally with approximately 8,000 people in attendance. He accused Britain, American Jews and the Roosevelt administration of fomenting war with Nazi Germany aided by Jews and “their large ownership and influence” of the American movie industry, press and government.
Lindbergh was stirring a combustible pot. In historian Lynne Olson’s definitive account of this precise period — “Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941” — she relates Anne Morrow Lindbergh begging her husband not to give the speech. She quotes her as saying that her husband’s remarks about Jews were “segregating them as a group” and “setting the ground for anti-Semitism.”
Emotionally and empirically, Anne Morrow Lindbergh was correct. Historian David Wyman has analyzed the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism via national public-opinion polls from 1938 to 1946. He concluded: As many as 35 percent to 40 percent of Americans were prepared to participate or support “a widespread campaign against Jews in this country.” Lindbergh spoke his poisonous words against this backdrop.
Despite the extent of contemporary American anti-Semitism, Americans of profile and goodwill recoiled from Lindbergh’s assertions and criticized him heavily. As Olson noted, the 1940 Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie denounced the speech as “the most un-American talk made in my time by any person of national reputation.”
At ground zero, the interventionist Des Moines Register (like the Minneapolis Tribune and the Minneapolis Star owned by the Cowles family) — as Olson also highlights — placed a front-page editorial cartoon with Lindbergh speaking to an audience including Hitler and Mussolini. The cartoon was titled: “HIS MOST APPRECIATIVE AUDIENCE.” Lindbergh shamed his country and Minnesota — thousands of whose sons were killed in action defending freedom and defeating Nazi Germany and lie buried in European cemeteries — whether by the standards of 1941, 1985 or 2017.
All of that said, it is possible to understand the mid-1980s motivation to name a terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for Charles Lindbergh. He was a towering, pioneering Minnesota figure of international aviation whose May 1927 solo flight from Long Island to Paris elevated him to instant legendary status. The 33-hour flight across the Atlantic of the “Spirit of St. Louis” changed the arc of global aviation, as recounted in A. Scott Berg’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Lindbergh. (Berg’s analysis, for his part, concluded that Lindbergh was not an anti-Semite.)
To take up Hoare’s challenge: What is to be done about the naming of MSP’s Terminal 1 — through which millions of passengers pass each year?
By our Jewish Community Relations Council lights, I would like to focus our attention and energy on the creation of an ongoing and permanent “educational moment.” For a year now, we have been engaged in serious discussions with the Airport Foundation MSP about bringing the JCRC’s, photographer David Sherman’s and writer Lili Chester’s “Transfer of Memory” exhibit to MSP. The exhibit’s color photographic portraits tell the stories of the lives of Minnesota Holocaust survivors before, during and after the Shoah.
Beyond the educational opportunities, the issue of Terminal 1 and the Lindbergh name requires a serious, frank and healthy community discussion.
Terminal 2 is named for Hubert Humphrey — we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of his “Bright Sunshine” speech in July 2018. Perhaps it is time for the name of the architect of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ascend among the MSP terminals.
Steve Hunegs is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.