Charles Lindbergh at Lambert Field. St. Louis, Missouri, 1923. — Library of Congress

September 11, 1941

Charles Lindbergh Makes ‘Un-American’ Speech

The famous aviator blamed Jews, British, and the Roosevelt administration as war agitators.

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Lindbergh, Lindy, Jews, British, Roosevelt, plot, isolationist, anti-semitic, antisemitic, Jewish, Britain, America First, Des Moines, Iowa

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Domestic concerns in the United States, including unemployment and national security, combined with prevalent antisemitism and racism, shaped Americans’ responses to Nazism and willingness to aid European Jews. The economic devastation of the Great Depression, combined with isolationist attitudes and deeply held prejudices against immigrants, limited Americans’ willingness to welcome refugees. Many issues that the American public perceived as having a critical impact on their livelihoods, security, and core values vied for public attention during this time and affected the manner in which Americans responded to events at home and abroad.

In the 1930s, celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh was one of America’s best known heroes, famous for his daring solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. However, by 1940, at a time when many Americans feared being drawn into another world war, Lindbergh was also known as a spokesman for the America First Committee isolationist movement.

On September 11, 1941, Lindbergh delivered a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in which he identified groups that he believed were conspiring to force the U.S. into war against Germany: "The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish [sic] and the Roosevelt Administration."

The speech was criticized in newspapers across the country, and politicians across the political spectrum denounced it. Wendell Willkie, the GOP presidential candidate in 1940, called it “the most un-American talk made in my time by any person of national reputation.” President Roosevelt remained silent, but the White House press secretary released a statement noting a “striking similarity” between what Lindbergh said and “the outpourings of Berlin in the last few days.” Many people denounced Lindbergh as an antisemite, and the controversy surrounding his speech irreparably damaged the isolationist cause. 

Within three months, however, the question of war was moot. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Germany declared war on the United States four days later. Lindbergh remained silent in public throughout America’s involvement in the war.

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