home | many pasts | evidence | www.history | blackboard | reference
talking history | syllabi | students | teachers | puzzle | about us
search: go!
advanced search - go!

Against Isolationism: James F. Byrnes Refutes Lindbergh

The interwar peace movement was arguably the largest mass movement of the 1920s and 1930s, a mobilization often overlooked in the wake of the broad popular consensus that ultimately supported the U.S. involvement in World War II. The destruction wrought in World War I (known in the 1920s and 1930s as the “Great War”) and the cynical nationalist politics of the Versailles Treaty had left Americans disillusioned with the Wilsonian crusade to save the world for democracy. Senate investigations of war profiteering and shady dealings in the World War I munitions industry both expressed and deepened widespread skepticism about wars of ideals. Charles Lindbergh, popular hero of American aviation, had been speaking in support of American neutrality for some time, and allies of FDR’s interventionist foreign policy sought to counter the arguments of the famous aviator. In a May 19, 1940, radio speech, Senator James F. Byrnes of South Carolina refuted Lindbergh’s position, specifically rebutting a speech Lindbergh had given on military spending.

Listen to Audio:

James F. Byrnes: Perhaps the greatest clause in our Bill of Rights is that guaranteeing free speech. In the exercise of that freedom, which totalitarian government is fast wiping out in Europe today, Mr. Charles A. Lindbergh went on the air last Sunday night to urge the American people to continue to bury their heads in the sands and give no thought toward the shocking conflict now raging across the waters which threatens the very fabric of Christian and democratic civilization.

Mr. Lindbergh’s speech was announced as a discussion of our air defense. Like many other Americans, I listened in keen anticipation of hearing a technical and practical discussion of our aviation problem by the man who thrilled all of us by his spectacular flight across the ocean. But instead of giving us advice on a subject about which he should be qualified to speak, Mr. Lindbergh gave another discourse on American foreign policy, about which he is no more qualified to speak than Wrong-Way Corrigan or any other aviator who may fly the Atlantic Ocean.

A few years ago, Mr. Lindbergh went to Great Britain to live. It seemed natural to us that his interest in aviation should cause him to inspect the air forces of other countries in Europe: France, Germany, and Russia. We thought nothing of it—at first. Later, we were somewhat surprised by the news that he had accepted a decoration from Hitler. We were further surprised by the reports at the time of the Munich settlement that he was volunteering his advice in important circles in England and France thought to be favorable to a policy of appeasing Germany by offering no resistance to her aggression upon small countries to the east.

Source: Courtesy of the Michigan State University, G. Robert Vincent Voice Library.

See Also:"An Independent Destiny for America": Charles A. Lindbergh on Isolationism
Didactic Dramas: Antiwar Plays of the 1930s