An investigative history of the Hartford Circus Fire of July 6th, 1944. Nominated for a Fringe First at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In the twilight of his life, famed photographer Matthew Brady must choose between the life he has built and the legacy he wants to leave behind.
Renowned prose author Joyce Carol Oates explores honesty, perspective, and denial through one couple's harrowing attempt to save the person they love
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The Nazi Question
So on Monday night, Jess, Erin and I went to the Short Form meet-and-greet. Towards the end of the night, I got into a conversation with Peter, one of the curators, about Lindbergh. After a little back and forth about all the weird dramaturgical detritus I was collecting, Peter told me that he'd always thought of Lindbergh as one of the great villains of American history. This wasn't the first time I've heard this. In fact, nearly every time I tell someone my new play is about Charles Lindbergh, the Nazi question comes up. There's been a real backlash against Lindbergh in recent years, the most visible example being Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. The 2003 revelation that Lindbergh had a secret German family probably didn't help matters much either.
But was Lindbergh actually a Nazi? Well, no. But he came pretty close.
Here's the deal: In 1938, Lindbergh co-wrote a book with Dr. Alexis Carrel that more or less promoted eugenics. Later that same year, Hermann Göring (yes, that Göring) presented Lindbergh with the Service Cross of the German Eagle. Once World War II started heating up, Lindbergh still refused to return the medal because he thought it would be an insult to the German government. But most damning, on September 11, 1941 (eerie how history seems to echo sometimes), Lindbergh, as a spokesman for the non-interventionist America First Committee, gave the following speech in Des Moines, Iowa:
I've listened to this speech over and over again. This is the man whose story I want to tell?
It's certainly no secret that our plays are attracted to historical figures with severe dichotomies (see: Mathew Brady: a pioneer of photography and a terrible husband; P.T. Barnum: a wise, omniscient spirit and flippant jackass), but an anti-Semitic aviator might be taking things to a new low.
And yet, I'm not satisfied with simply writing Lindbergh off as simply anti-Semitic. Even though I wholly reject hero worship and the Great Man theory of history (more on this later, I imagine), I can't help but be amazed by Lindbergh's story. His journey across the Atlantic is a gripping narrative even when you know he's going to make it safely in the end, the loss of his son is certainly heartbreaking, and his later work with Dr. Alexis Carrel has a certain quixotic pathos to it.
I listen to his America First speech and I try to square that voice with the boy F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing about when he said: In the spring of '27, something bright and alien flashed across the sky. A young Minnesotan who seemed to have nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought their old best dreams
On a good day, I can reconcile the two in my mind for a moment.
When my 80 year old Iowa-bred grandmother heard about my new play at Thanksgiving, she begged me to leave the America First speech out. She told me that I should treat Lindbergh like a hero, not the villain historical revisionism has made him out to be. I don't know if I can do that. But I don't know if I can condemn him either.