A Strange Echo of 1917

Dorothy Thompson

Oakland Tribune/August 2, 1936

Colonel Lindbergh’s Talk to Berlin Stirs Strange Echo of 1917, Dorothy Thompson Says

Writer Goes Back to Incidents Attendant Upon American Entrance Into Great War, Including Political Oblivion for Some

What moved me most about Colonel Lindbergh’s speech in Berlin the other day was the memory of another Charles Augustus Lindbergh. Noting the date—July 23, 1936—I thought of the date April 6, 1917. At that time the United States, by a combination of moves, influences, propaganda and events—the facts about which we are only now beginning objectively to realize—had drifted to the point where war was inevitable. A country which three years earlier had been unanimously of the opinion that the war which had begun in Europe was no concern of ours; a country which, 3000 miles removed from the trenches, was overwhelmingly in favor of neutrality, had gradually become obsessed with the war spirit until the few protestant voices were being over-shouted by the would-be warriors, who claimed for themselves a monopoly of patriotism.

I am neither so young nor so old but that those days seem but yesterday in my mind. Still I can see the great mass meeting in Buffalo which I, a young girl just out college, attended. Still I can hear the speeches, and still I can remember the resolution put to the crowd. “We call upon the Senate of the United States to declare war upon Germany. All those in favor will say ‘aye’ while we play the Star-Spangled Banner.” There was no choice. Either one voted for resolution to bring down Prussianism by the methods of Prussia, on one sat and insulted one’s national anthem. The die was already cast. We were already at war.

Message Of War

It was in such an America that Charles Augustus Lindberg, who had just been defeated for re-election to Congress by his Minnesota constituency, saw the United States swept onward into the war, which he had stoically opposed. The new Congress had convened to hear the war message, “the galleries crowded,” writes Walter Millis “by brilliant assemblage . . . the Supreme Court, seated . . . before the Speaker’s desk; the Cabinet on one side, while behind them the Diplomatic Corps, in full evening dress occupied a place upon the floor of the House for the first time in any one’s memory.”

It was in the midst of an ovation unprecedented in American history that President Wilson read to that assemblage his message declaring war. The tense enthusiasm and emotion of the assemblage hardly permitted him to read the message through and the declaration of war ended in “a hurricane of cheering.” Those were the days in which anyone who still had doubts of the war to make the World Safe for Democracy read himself out of history as a traitor. And it was then that Charles Augustus Lindberg, sire of the trans-Atlantic flyer, stood together with six out of 88 Senators, and 50 out of 423 Congressmen, who voted: No.

Rushing To Brink

Colonel Lindberg spoke in Germany words which were carried around the world. He spoke in the midst of a Europe which is no longer drifting, which is rushing, toward war. With simplicity and candor he addressed his hosts, and especially his fellow airmen of “our responsibility in creating a great force for destruction.” He begged that aviation justify the combination of Power and Intelligence. He prayed for a new type of security, “which rests in intelligence, and not in forts.”

To his words a far-off echo sounds from the dusty pages of the Congressional Record of March 1, 1917, March 1st was the day on which the Zimmermann note to Mexico had burst into headlines throughout the United States, accompanied by public indignation against Germany unequalled up to that time. It revealed that Germany would, in the event of war, attempt to enlist Mexico against us and to invite Japan. True, as we look at it now, the note was in preparation for the event of war, which Count Bernstorff, in America, was desperately trying to stave off.

But to the American public the enemy was already within the gates. And on that day Charles August Lindbergh senior went on record:

“Is civilization breaking down? The facts upon their face show that it is, or else that we have never had a civilization. ‘The Law’ has failed, and shall we now plunge into war in order to maintain the law, and to make its failure more complete, or shall we pick up the few remaining threads of reason and build anew and better? The President asks us to give him authority to enforce the law” (to arm the merchant marine.)

“Let us inquire what the law is . . . ‘The Law’ takes the products of our country to foreign lands for barter, trade, and speculation . . . The privilege of barter and exercising the rights of profit  . . . are abstract rights, but they are not the rights that lead to the exercise of civilization, but the rights that lead to barbarism. It is those abstract rights that we are asked to enforce, instead of dealing with them by common-sense methods. The man who stands by his country today is tagged by the war jingoes as pro-German. But that does not make him so.”

At Cost Of Career

Colonel Lindbergh was a fifteen-year-old lad when his father stated these words, and took the action which cost him his political career. A book which the father wrote on the economics of the struggle was destroyed by the federal censors. In it, I am told, he prophesied the breakdown of the international banking system as a result of the war.

After his fatal stand against the United States entering the war, he could not speak in public without being threatened by mobs. In 1918, when he ran for governor on the ticket of the Non-partisan League; he was howled down as a pro-German and a traitor.

Nearly twenty years later when he was dead his son was to take off alone for a flight across the ocean, which was to make him a world hero and win him a fortune. But which takes greater courage: To risk death as a hero, or to risk calumny as a traitor? Perhaps the elder Lindberg thought of his son when he heard his colleague, Representative Kitchin of North Carolina, another of the ‘wilful men,’ say:

“I know that for my vote I shall be not only criticized but denounced from one end of the country to the other. The whole yelping pack of defamers and revilers in the nation will at once be set upon my heels. My friends, I cannot leave my children riches. I cannot leave them fame, but I can leave them the name of an ancestor who, mattering not the consequences to himself, never dared to hesitate to do his duty as God gave him to see it.”

Divided By Fascism

Who today, looking about upon a world disintegrated by unemployment, divided by fascism and communism with arms, can utter without choking the words “to make the world safe,” “the war to end war?” To find words which still ring true one must go back to that speech of Wilson’s for which he was most damned, and read again:

“It must be peace without victory. Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory, upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last.”

That was prophecy. The older Lindbergh stuck obstinately to the sense of that speech when its author had been driven to reject it.

The Colonel spoke bravely in the midst of the quicksands, with the backing and aid of world prestige and world renown. But it was from his father, whom the war drove into obscurity, that he inherited both the courage and the right to speak as he did and where he did. There is some justice in history. .And “as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.”

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