This song is an attack on Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974), who rose to fame after making the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris. He suffered personal tragedy when his baby son was kidnapped and murdered, a story that made worldwide headlines; German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann was tried, convicted and executed for the crime.
It was though, the Second World War that led to unwarranted attacks on Lindbergh's character. On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Nazi Germany after Hitler ignored an ultimatum to withdraw his troops from Poland, which he had invaded two days previously. From the beginning there were those who wanted the United States to stay out of the war in line with the Monroe Doctrine, but a precedent had already been set by US intervention in the Great War, albeit late in the day. Lindbergh was one of those who opposed intervention at any cost, and in a powerful speech made at Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941, he attacked those forces that were slowly but surely dragging the United States towards the conflict.
This speech was roundly condemned as anti-Semitic, but it was no such thing. In it he said: "The Roosevelt Administration is the third powerful group which has been carrying this country toward war," adding, "they have used the war to justify the restriction of Congressional power and the assumption of dictatorial procedures on the part of the President and his appointees."
Regarding the charge of anti-Semitism, Lindbergh identified three powerful groups who in his opinion were behind the drive to intervention, and voiced this opinion thus: "If any of these groups, the British, the Jewish or the Administration stops agitating for war, I believe there will be little danger of our involvement."
This statement is perfectly reasonable; Jewish groups worldwide had instituted a boycott of Nazi Germany, an action that was understandable in view of the persecution of German Jewry, and the actions of the British Government were hardly a secret.
Guthrie's take on Lindbergh though was not just that he was not simply an isolationist but a Nazi fellow traveler or even a paid agent of Hitler: "They say 'America First' but they mean 'America next!'"
This was clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. In the first place, although Guthrie was no Communist, he was certainly a fellow traveller, and had for years performed at Communist sponsored concerts and attended their rallies. And the Communists had been resolutely opposed to US intervention up until Hitler double-crossed Stalin and foolishly opened up a war on two fronts - an act which was to lead to his undoing.
These sentiments were shared by Communists in Britain even after the declaration of war. Douglas Hyde had been news editor of the Communist Daily Worker newspaper; after converting to Catholicism he wrote in his book, I Believed, "It was not our war. It was a war between rival imperialisms with several millions of workers in uniform as the unwilling pawns", adding We had more to gain by defeat than victory." When a heckler at a meeting in Southall asked if "our boys are dying for democracy", he replied they were dying for profits, and was immediately arrested.
Communist fellow traveler or not, Guthrie was at heart a loyal American, and joined the U.S. Merchant Marine; Lindbergh was no less loyal, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he joined the war in the Pacific flying some fifty combat missions, which refutes Guthrie's couplet - both stupid and cruel in equal measure:
Hitler said to Lindy: "Stall 'em all you can, Gonna bomb Pearl Harbor with the help of old Japan"
This song was not released at the time but has been issued on CD along with many of Guthrie's early works.
Suggestion credit: Alexander Baron - London, England