リンドバーグ〈上〉―空から来た男 (角川文庫) 文庫 – 2002/6
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In this fine (but necessarily incomplete--more on that later) biography by A. Scott Berg, the modern reader is transported back to the beginning of the 20th century when aviation was still in its infancy, hazardous and somewhat miraculous. Berg naturally begins with Lindy's upbringing in Minnesota where the staunchly midwestern values imparted to him as a child and young man would form the principles of modesty, humbleness, practicality and stoicism that guided him for much of his adult life. A relatively poor student with middling academic talents, Lindbergh found his calling in mechanical interests that eventually led him to aviation. Never completing a college degree, he instead pursued a career as an air mail and stunt show pilot, eventually becoming enthralled with the challenge of the Orteig Prize offered for the first successful crossing of the Atlantic by plane.
The story of the Atlantic crossing by a solitary 25 year old pilot is, of course, dramatic and interesting in itself, but of greater significance to Lindbergh was the life-altering impact that the crossing would have on his life. Upon landing in Le Bourget, France, he was immediately subjected to a level of celebrity, stardom and public adoration that is even now, in the media-saturated 21st century, difficult to imagine. The relentless attention and hounding of the press that scrutinized his every move thereafter bred a deep resentment within in Lindbergh that would last for the rest of his life. Given the descriptions of media scum-baggery chronicled in the book, including completely fabricated stories, bogus quotations, stalking and worse, it's easy enough to understand.
While this is a biography of Charles Lindbergh, it's quite nearly a biography of his wife as well. Anne Morrow, daughter to a wealthy family whose patriarch was serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico at the time of her marriage to Lindbergh features prominently throughout the book as his steadfast partner, first in glamorous flying adventures around the world and later as fellow parent to six children, one of whom would be killed during a botched kidnapping and ransom scheme. The media circus surrounding the trial of perpetrator Bruno Hauptmann would further cement Lindbergh's disgust with the American press. Following the trial and unwilling to bear the continued pressures of living in a fish bowl of publicity, he and Anne would flee to England for several years to raise their second son.
Lindbergh remained a prominent figure in American public life long after his youthful conquest of the Atlantic, often to his detriment. His first public feud was with none other than president Franklin D. Roosevelt whom he took to task for summarily ending government contracts with private firms hired to deliver air mail throughout the country. FDR thought the contracts were won through shady, possibly illegal dealings. Lindbergh, in one of his earliest stands on principle, argued that not only were the contracts won fairly but that the use of inexperienced Army pilots in the place of veteran air mail carriers was the direct cause of pilot deaths, a claim well borne out by the alarming fatality statistics among the replacement pilots. Lindbergh would become persona non grata to FDR forever after.
The far more damaging public dispute would come in the form of the "Great Debate" in which Lindbergh took a firm stand for isolationism in the period preceding World War II. While it's largely forgotten now, prior to the bombing of Pearl harbor by the Japanese, many Americans, chastened by the experience of World War I and eager to avoid further European adventures, supported the view that the war was not in the country's best interests. Given his star power, Lindbergh became the public face of what was known as the "America First" movement. Not only did it further damage his standing with the U.S. administration (especially when he resigned his officer's commission to protest what he saw as FDR's war propaganda), it also significantly tarnished his previously heroic reputation with large swaths of the public ("from Jesus to Judas" as his wife would record). During this time, Lindbergh was especially damaged by his previous trip to Germany while working for the U.S. military to gain intelligence on the Luftwaffe, one of many such trips he would make to europe on behalf of the Army. While there, he received a medal from Hermann Goering and while the bestowment of medals in such diplomatic meetings was routine, this event would never be forgotten by the American people. Lindbergh further damaged himself by refusing to later return the medal.
Taken out of context, a few of his statements suggested to some that he supported the Nazi regime. While his true beliefs were largely misrepresented and misinterpreted in the press, he would be thought an anti-semitic racist for many years afterward. It's clear from Berg's detailed review of this period that Lindbergh, while strangely avoiding public criticism of the brutal aspects of Nazi government, was neither a supporter of fascism nor a Nazi-sympathizer. Rather, he appears to have been extremely naive about America's ability to avoid involvement in another European war...and extremely stubborn about ever backing down from that position. When the Pearl Harbor attack eventually came, he threw his full backing behind the national war effort. Because of his earlier political position, he was unacceptable as an officer but he found other ways of serving, going so far as to "secretly" fly combat missions in the Pacific while officially categorized as an "observer."
In his post-war life, his reputation was rehabilitated. Following FDR's death, and as war fever subsided, he returned to the good graces of the federal government, becoming a valued consultant to the newly-formed Strategic Air Command. In fact, he was so trusted, that he had full security clearance including access to materials considered "Top Secret."
In his later life, horrified by the prospect of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, he grew wary of mankind's relationship to technology. Once a pioneer of aviation and a staunch proponent of its advancement, he began to seriously question whether easy air travel and advanced technologies were advancing humanity's cause or simply hastening its destruction. His personal awakening in the 1960s coincided with that of many of his countrymen. He would spend his later years on exotic expeditions to some of the mos tremote locations of the earth, meeting with tribes that time had forgotten and speaking out on their behalf with local governments who had the power to save their way of life. His pleas often resulted in tangible legislation that helped preserve isolated peoples and endangered animal species.
Now for the problem with this biography...the 800 pound gorilla between the pages. It was written in the late 90s just prior to the stunning revelations that Lindbergh, while described as an imperfect though caring father as well as a loving but absentee husband who suffered from a perpetual wanderlust, had actually fathered an astonishing seven additional children with three different German women during those periods of "wanderlust." Berg, working only from what was publicly known about Lindbergh at the time, casts him as an imperfect but morally upstanding man with a firm commitment to high standards. While appearing to model them himself and demanding the same from those around him, we now know that Lindbergh was in fact an enormous hypocrite, shattering many of the theses of Berg's otherwise excellent book. How can these two Charles Lindberghs be reconciled? Only a future biography can help us answer that question.