Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lone Eagle – Walter L Hixson

What follows is a rough draft of a critical analysis for my history readings seminar.

0321093232 Charles Lindbergh will forever be remembered as the hero of one of America’s greatest victories, and the victim of one of its most noteworthy crimes. The life of Lindbergh was characterized by passion and zeal, and interrupted by crushing tragedy. In his biography of the great aviator Walter L. Hixson sets out to chronicles both the high and low points of the life of Charles Lindbergh. In a mere 160 pages Hixson lays out a story that stretches from a farm in Minnesota to the palaces of Europe; from St. Louis and the birth of a legend, to a whitewashed home in Southern New Jersey and a national catastrophe. Lindbergh captured the American imagination, not only with flight, but heroism itself. In this work Hixson attempts to reignite the larger than life legend that was Charles Lindbergh, to explain the way he gripped the hearts and minds of every American, and how he fell from grace.

Currently a professor in the history department at the University of Akron, Walter L Hixson is the author of several books including a biography of George F. Kennan and politically focused history works such as: Parting the Curtain; Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War and Witness to Disintegration:

Provincial Life in the Last Year of the USSR. It comes then as no surprise the level of detail used by Hixson when delving into the political intrigue of Lindbergh’s life. Of much interest is Hixson’s recently published work The Myth of American Diplomacy, themes of which can be seen scattered throughout Lone Eagle. It is readily apparent that Hixson sympathized with Lindbergh, and from a quick glance at his other works it becomes apparent the two shared similar political ideals.

On a technical level Lone Eagle sometimes suffers from confusing word choice, poor syntax and sloppy editing. A glaring example of which can be seen in chapter five when in blatant redundancy Hixson writes “Instead of flying West, the Lindberghs would go north by the Great Circle Route. Instead of flying West, they would Fly North.”[1] On other occasions Hixson confuses groups or entities and speaks of them as if they were individuals leading the reader on a confusing backtracking expedition to sort out his train of thought.[2] Hixson is not a master of prose, but he makes up for a lack of technical writing skill with a strong grasp of ideas and their importance in the life of both Lindbergh and ordinary Americans.

Hixson does well at relating the different eras through which Lindbergh lived. He captures the spirit of the 1920s and the need for a great American hero, as well as the tense political years between the outbreak of WWII in Europe and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hixson masterfully explains the American fascination with Lindbergh, how the aviator was vaulted into legend status, he encapsulates the collective consciousness of the United States and connects it the explosions of hero worship that surrounded Lindbergh after his New York to Paris flight. Hixson also succeeds in explaining the mind of Lindbergh as he is faced with challenge upon challenge stemming from his universal adulation and the death of his first child. Lone Eagle succeeds in conveying the importance of ideas in the life of Lindbergh; how those ideas drove him from the farm in Minnesota to Paris, Mexico City, the microphone at an anti-war rally and into the cockpit of a fighter plane flying over the Pacific theater.

It is readily apparent that Hixson identifies with his subject, and perhaps the author is infected with a bit of the hero worship which he so deftly explains to the reader. He writes of Lindbergh’s disillusionment with American society. He begs for the reader to understand, not condemn, Lindbergh’s decision to flee the United States. Considering the vein of Hixson’s previous work, it is clear that he sympathized to a large extent with Lindbergh’s feelings. Both apparently share a certain cynicism regarding American culture and exceptionalism. Hixson goes so far as to contend that the American identity prescribed to by most Americans is nothing short of Mythical. With such a jaded view of American society it calls into question Hixson’s description of Lindbergh’s life and thought process. The reader cannot be sure what part of his rendition is accurate and what part is a projection of his personal bias onto the life of an American hero.

Lindbergh largely gets a pass from Mr. Hixson for a number of controversial statements and ideas. The author often seeks to explain away many of Lindbergh’s less than politically correct personal traits. A statement about building “White ramparts” against the intrusion of the “pressing sea of the Yellow, Black, and Brown” is explained away by the author as a reaction to a minor incident in China years before. Hixson repeatedly attempts to sanitize Lindbergh’s ties to the Nazi party, dismissing or explaining away every argument presented against him. Hixson admits Lindbergh believed that democracy would fall, and even though he preferred fascism to take its place, referred to Hitler as a “great man” and found a “sense of decency” in the Third Reich, Hixson, time and again, claims that Lindbergh was not a fascist. It was merely the way the “compulsive energy of the Nazi regime mirrored Lindbergh’s own personality.” Hixson calls Lindbergh’s refusal to condemn Nazi atrocities “plain speaking.” He refuses to connect Lindbergh’s hatred of communism to anything other than a fierce patriotic sentiment, leaving out his admiration for fascism, the antithesis of communism.

While Lone Eagle does laudable job at relaying the factual details of the life of an American hero, the bias shown by its author bleeds across its pages and serves to discredit any objective statement it hopes to make about the mind of Charles Lindbergh. Hixson seeks to project a certain style of thinking onto Lindbergh, a series of opinions that strikingly resemble those of Hixson as published in his later works. A questionable bias coupled with subpar narrative skill make Lone Eagle a mediocre book, at best, for the investigation of the life of Lindbergh. The most relevant part of the book for any objective study into the subject of Charles Lindbergh is found in the sources, and the notes on those sources found in the back of the book. A reader would be better served by turning to these sources for their information, free of added bias. Hixson’s Lone Eagle was a poor entry into the category of Charles Lindbergh biographies.


Post a Comment

page image stolen from Aykanozener @ Deviant Art show some love, check it out.