U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (shown left in photo) and American aviator Charles Lindbergh were the two greatest American icons of the first half of the 20th century. One led America throughout the Great Depression and WWII; the other gained fame when he risked his life to be the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, crossing between New York and Paris.
According to major media and many history books, President Roosevelt became more and more a statesman in office after being elected, and was largely responsible for America recovering from the Great Depression and for the Allies winning WWII, consequently spreading “democracy” throughout the world. Yet Lindbergh’s life after gaining public prominence was a study in wreck and ruin, with his son being kidnapped and murdered and Lindbergh becoming a speaker for an “isolationist” movement.
But the actual histories of the men suggest that “history” is often little more than propaganda that has been oft repeated. An accounting of the quality of the men’s judgments, their standards of behavior in interpersonal conflicts, and their personal accomplishments makes it logical that American history should, instead, laud Lindbergh while recoiling from Roosevelt.
Into Acclaim and Controversy
Modern Americans can scarcely imagine the emotion and awe with which peoples across the world regarded Lindbergh, who was widely christened “The Lone Eagle” following his pioneer 1927 transatlantic solo flight in the Spirit of St. Louis, just two decades after the first flight in history. Six world-renowned aviators had already died trying to accomplish the epic feat. When the shy, soft-spoken, boyishly handsome 25-year-old Midwesterner did it, his fame soared to greater heights perhaps than that of the astronauts who landed on the moon in a later generation. As chronicled in James P. Duffy’s Lindbergh vs. Roosevelt: The Rivalry That Divided America, hundreds of thousands of Parisians cheered him on. Thousands of police and 5,000 soldiers restrained crowds from him in Brussels. The English king and U.S. President Calvin Coolidge received him. Time magazine named him its first “Man of the Year.”
When his infant son was kidnapped and murdered in 1932, it was America’s crime of the century. Many considered it the worst crime since the crucifixion of Christ. The heart of the country beat as one with Charles Lindbergh and his brilliant, lovely wife, Anne.
Roosevelt’s rise to the national and international stage was not as sudden. He capitalized on the fact that his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most admired U.S. presidents and managed to become governor of New York. After winning two gubernatorial terms, “FDR” parlayed his own handsome visage, galvanizing charisma, and message of hope for Great Depression-ravaged America into the presidency in 1933 — and soon came into conflict with Lindbergh.
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Photos of FDR and Lindbergh: AP Images