Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our civilization’s survival

It is 40 years today since the death of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, an extraordinary American who made his name as an aviation pioneer. However, he became even more of a celebrity when his toddler son was kidnapped and then murdered (the so-called ‘crime-of-the-century’). Subsequently, he inadvertently courted further publicity with his views on Germany, which led some to perceive him as a Nazi sympathiser - a view not dispelled, many years later, by the posthumous publication of a diary he kept during the war years. Long after his death, it was also discovered that apart from having a large family with his wife Anne Morrow, he had kept secret long-term relationships with at least three women, in Germany and Switzerland, each of whom had borne him children.

Lindbergh was born in 1902, the son of Swedish immigrants, his father being a lawyer and congressman, and his mother a chemistry teacher. He began to study engineering at the University of Wisconsin but left after two years to fly daredevil stunts at fairs. In 1924, he enlisted in the army, was trained to fly, and then joined the Robertson Aircraft Corporation as a pilot. In 1927, he took up a $25,000 challenge, that had stood since 1919, to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. Several St Louis businessmen helped finance the cost of a plane, with Lindbergh involved in the design. On 20 May he made the famous flight of around 5,600km in under 34 hours. Thereafter, he became a celebrity, and an active campaigner, partly backed by Harry Guggenheim, for the further development of aeronautics.

While in Mexico on a promotion trip, Lindbergh met Anne Spencer Morrow, daughter of the American ambassador. They married in 1929, he taught her to fly, and they made many foreign trips. In 1932, their toddler son, Charles, was kidnapped - causing a media frenzy - and ten weeks later the body was found. It took more than two years for the so-called ‘crime-of-the-century’ to be resolved when, in 1934, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was found responsible for the murder. He was executed in 1936. Since then, though, Hauptmann’s guilt has been much debated, with many books being written on the case, some asserting his innocence, others backing the original judgement.

To escape the press and media attention during these years, the Lindberghs and a second son (four other children were to follow) moved to England. Subsequently, Lindbergh attracted more public attention when he accepted a German medal of honour from Hermann Goering. After returning to the US in 1939, Lindbergh campaigned against US involvement in the European war, and was accused of being a Nazi sympathiser. After Pearl Harbor, though, he sought involvement in the war, and ended up flying about 50 combat missions even though he was a civilian. He also helped develop aviation techniques.

After the War, Lindbergh worked as an adviser for government and industry. His book The Spirit of St Louis, an expanded account of the 1927 flight, won a Pulitzer Prize. In the 1960s, he campaigned on environmental issues. From 1957 until his death on 26 August 1974, Lindbergh maintained a secret affair with Brigitte Hesshaimer, a German hatmaker, who had three children by him, as well as affairs with two other women (one German, one Swiss) who each bore him two children. It would be nearly 30 years after his death before these affairs became public. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Minnesota Historical Society, the Lindbergh Foundation, or the Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project.

In 1937, two years before the war in Europe began, Lindbergh began to write a diary, which he kept up until the war was over in 1945. However, this was not published until 1970 when Harcourt Brace Jovanovich brought out The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh. William Jovanovich, himself, provided a short introduction to the book:

‘The quarter century that has passed since the ending of World War II has dimmed our recollection, which is reason enough for us to be interested in reading a unique record of that terrible time. But the years have also lessened our sense of certitude. The past is always compromised by the present: many of the assurances of long ago, on re-examination, turn into questions and speculations. Both the exercise of memory and the writing of history tend to make it so, however different they are in resource. The historian will attempt to read the whole record of the past so far as he is able, but since he cannot write the whole record, he will select those events and circumstances that accommodate his thesis or his bias or his style or whatever. Those selected items of occurrence become, as Max Weber concluded, the facts of history.

So, too, in writing of the moment, as in a diary or journal, an act of selection takes place. One must decide what was significant in the course of a day before he can keep a reasonably short record of its passing. Yet the journal becomes, in the hands of a serious and candid person, an exceptional means by which events can be depicted literally, which is to say depicted with both accuracy of account and a consistency of view. This one recognises, casting back, in the journals of John Wesley, of Thoreau, and of General Charles (“Chinese”) Gordon, among a few other. It may be seen, now, in the wartime journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, which are here published twenty-five years after the last of the entries was written.’

Jovanovich also included a letter he received from Lindbergh. 
Jovanovich asked what Lindbergh had concluded on rereading the diaries, and Lindbergh replied: ‘We won the war in a military sense; but in a broader sense it seems to me we lost it, for our Western civilization is less respected and secure than it was before.’  In the letter, Lindbergh also summarised his reasons for writing the journal in the first place, and his reasons for agreeing to publishing it:

‘More than a generation after the war’s end, our occupying armies still must occupy, and the world has not been made safe for democracy and freedom. On the contrary, our own system of democratic government is being challenged by that greatest of dangers to any government: internal dissatisfaction and unrest. It is alarmingly possible that World War II marks the beginning of our Western civilization’s breakdown, as it already marks the breakdown of the greatest empire ever built by man. Certainly our civilization’s survival depends on meeting the challenges that tower before us with unprecedented magnitude in almost every field of modern life. Most of these challenges were, at least, intensified through the waging of World War II. Are we now headed toward a third and still more disastrous war between world nations? Or can we improve human relationships sufficiently to avoid such a holocaust? Since it is inherent in the way of life that issues will continue between men, I believe human relationships can best be improved through clarifying the issues and conditions surrounding them. I hope my journals relating to World War II will help clarify issues and conditions of the past and thereby contribute to understanding issues and conditions of the present and the future.’

The New York Times found Lindbergh’s diary fascinating. Eric Goldman, in his review, wrote: ‘Except in the limited instances where the entries concern highly technical matters, the “Wartime Journals” are fascinating, almost hypnotically so. The prose is always lean, often pungent; on occasions when Lindbergh’s mind or emotions were deeply engaged, it rises to a compelling eloquence.’ However, Goldman also finds much to question about Lindbergh’s beliefs:

‘If readers will surely be held by the volume, many will read on with decidedly mixed feelings. The integrity with which the journals have been published presents again the Charles Lindbergh who outraged millions of Americans in 1939-41. The basic issue involved in World War II, the diary repeatedly stresses, was the preservation of “civilization,” defined as the comforts and attitudes of the “Nordic,” middle-class West, against the forces of “disorder” and “leveling” threatening from within and without. The democracies were losing “character”; the “virility” of Nazi Germany was the barrier against the greatest menace, the Communism of “Asiatic” Russia. Franklin Roosevelt is pictured as a relentless schemer, distrusted by “friend or enemy,” who was quite capable of taking the nation to war out of sheer politics and vainglory. The diary show that Lindbergh had considerable compassion for the German Jews. But much more than his public charge, it attacks the “Jewish influence” in bringing war to the United States, particularly as a result of Jewish “control” of “huge part” of the mass media. A good deal of space is given to describing brutalities by U.S. troops against Japanese soldiers; the atrocities of individual Americans are equated with the official policy of the Third Reich. Not a sentence excoriates Nazism as a general credo or poses it as a menace to civilization in any tenable definition of the word, including Lindbergh’s own. Entry after entry bespeaks a preoccupation, almost an obsession, with the “race problem,” those “northern peoples” versus all others.’

Some extracts form Lindbergh’s diary can be found online at Wikiquote. Also pages from The Boyhood Diary of Charles Lindbergh 1913-1916, published by Capstone Press in 2001, can be read online at Googlebooks. Here, though, are two extracts taken from the The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh.

26 August 1938
‘Left embassy at 10:30 after usual problem of tipping the servants. More difficult here because of exchange problem and the fact that American Embassy help are mostly Italian. [. . .]

Arrived at aerodrome shortly before 11:00. Many Russians and Americans there to see us off. Impossible to keep them from doing this, although it makes extra work for them and delays us in getting started. Took off Moscow 11:15. [. . .]

We flew first to Tula, then to Orel, then to Kharkov, making our first landing at the latter place. After a half hour’s stop at Kharkov, we flew practically direct to Rostov on Don. Our routes are laid out for us by the Russian officials, and we attempt to follow them exactly. I miss the unrestricted routes of the United States. Immediately after taking off from the Moscow aerodrome, we passed over the aircraft factory I visited several days ago. A few minutes later we passed several training fields. [. . .]

We are having high oil temperatures in this hot weather. Sometimes above 90°C. Everything else is all right, except both voltmeter and ammeter are fluctuating excessively. The English mechanics don’t understand this equipment, even though Phillips & Powis are the agents for our Menasco engine. In consequence it is never properly serviced. The English regulations load you down with logbooks, licenses, and other papers, but one good American mechanic is worth all of them, ten times over, including the Air Ministry inspections. I keep up the logs only enough to get by the regulations. They are no value whatsoever from my standpoint, but if I should crash the plane I am sure the authorities would blame it on some omitted entry or a bit of overload, regardless of the actual cause.

The readiness to blame a dead pilot for an accident is nauseating, but it has been the tendency ever since I can remember. What pilot has not been in positions where he was in danger and where perfect judgment would have advised against going? But when a man is caught in such a position he is judged only by his error and seldom given credit for the times he has extricated himself from worse situations. Worst of all, blame is heaped upon him by other pilots, all of whom have been in parallel situations themselves, but without being caught in them. If one took no chances, one would not fly at all. Safety lies in the judgment of the chances one takes. That judgment, in turn, must rest upon one’s outlook on life. Any coward can sit in his home and criticize a pilot for flying into a mountain in fog. But I would rather, by far, die on a mountainside than in bed. Why should we look for his errors when a brave man dies? Unless we can learn from his experience, there is no need to look for weakness. Rather, we should admire the courage and spirit in his life. What kind of man would live where there is no daring? And is life so dear that we should blame men for dying in adventure? Is there a better way to die?

We had a good opportunity to see the collective farms and coal mines of the Ukraine. The collective farms are unlike anything I have seen elsewhere. They consist of a row of twenty or so houses, strung out along a road, with garden patches of an acre or so behind them, and large fields outside.

Landed Rostov 7:01. There was a group of people to meet us, including the mayor and the head of the local Intourist. Also the head of the flying school we came to see. Colonel Slepnev was there, having flown from Moscow ahead of us. The Russians are doing everything possible for us. I feel embarrassed because it so much. Dislike to cause so much trouble. Colonel Slepnev had only one hour’s sleep last night. We have never seen anything to exceed Russian hospitality. Also, they have been unusually considerate in not crowding our days with too many engagements.’

21 July 1944
‘The Japanese stronghold on the cliffs of Biak is to be attacked again in the morning. Several hundred Japs are still holding out in caves and crevices in an area about 300 yards wide and 1,000 yards long. So far, they have thrown back all of our attacks, and inflicted nearly one hundred casualties on our infantrymen. They have as perfect a natural defensive position as could be devised - sharp coral ridges overlooking and paralleling the coast, filled with deep and interlocking caves and screened from our artillery fire by coral ledges. This area is clearly visible from the top of the coral cliff, ten feet from the back door of the officers quarters where I am staying - a brown ridge surrounded by green jungle on the coast of Biak about three miles across the water from Owi Island.

The intense artillery fire has stripped the trees of leaves and branches so that the outline of the coral ridge itself can be seen silhouetted against the sky. Since I have been on Owi Island, at irregular intervals through the night and day, the sound of our artillery bombarding this Japanese stronghold has floated in across the water. This afternoon, I stood on the cliff outside our quarters (not daring to sit on the ground because of the danger of typhus) and watched the shells bursting on the ridge. For weeks that handful of Japanese soldiers, variously estimated at between 250 and 700 men, has been holding out against overwhelming odds and the heaviest bombardment our well-supplied guns can give them.

If positions were reversed and our troops held out so courageously and well, their defense would be recorded as one of the most glorious examples of tenacity, bravery, and sacrifice in the history of our nation. But, sitting in the security and relative luxury of our quarters, I listen to American Army officers refer to these Japanese soldiers as “yellow sons of bitches.” Their desire is to exterminate the Jap ruthlessly, even cruelly. I have not heard a word of respect or compassion spoken of our enemy since I came here.

It is not the willingness to kill on the part of our soldiers which most concerns me. That is an inherent part of war. It is our lack of respect for even the admirable characteristics of our enemy - for courage, for suffering, for death, for his willingness to die for his beliefs, for his companies and squadrons which go forth, one after another, to annihilation against our superior training and equipment. What is courage for us is fanaticism for him. We hold his examples of atrocity screamingly to the heavens while we cover up our own and condone them as just retribution for his acts. [. . .]

We must bomb them out, those Jap soldiers, because this is war, and if we do not kill them, they will kill us now that we have removed the possibility of surrender. But I would have more respect for the character of our people if we could give them a decent burial instead of kicking in the teeth of corpses, and pushing their bodies into hollows in the ground, scooped out and covered up by bulldozers. After that, we will leave their graves unmarked and say, “That’s the only way to handle the yellow sons of bitches.”

Over to the 35th Fighter Squadron in the evening to give a half hour’s talk to the pilots on fuel economy and the P-38.’

The Diary Junction (see also Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

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