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“Those who control the past control the future”*…

 

Lindberg

 

Matt Seaton, editor of the New York Review of Books Daily, recounts his investigation into what might seem a small issue– the wording of a photo caption…

The photograph above appeared with Sarah Churchwell’s June 22 article for the Daily, “American Fascism: It Has Happened Here.” It shows Senator Burton K. Wheeler, former aviator Charles Lindbergh, and novelist and newspaper columnist Kathleen Norris at a rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden of the isolationist America First Committee (at right, mostly cropped out in this use, is also the pacifist minister and socialist Norman Thomas). Per the information from Getty Images with this photo, one of several similar images, our original caption in the piece read thus: Senator Burton K. Wheeler, Charles Lindbergh, and novelist Kathleen Norris giving the Nazi salute at an America First Committee rally, New York, October 30, 1941. (As can still be viewed via the Wayback Machine.)

A few days after publication, I received an email from a biographer of Wheeler that insisted the senator was not giving a Nazi salute; it was, he wrote, a “Bellamy salute,” a patriotic gesture to the American flag widely used at pledge of allegiance ceremonies. We should certainly correct our caption, I was told, since it was an unmerited slur against Wheeler, who was no fascist or anti-Semite.

We do, it is true, occasionally find errors of fact with captions from Getty—hardly surprising for one of the world’s most comprehensive photo archives, with some 200 million “assets.” If we have good reason to believe there is an error, we communicate that to Getty staff; they review our report, make their own assessment, and, if need be, correct the caption.

On this occasion, however, I was not persuaded of an error. While I could see that Wheeler’s gesture appeared half-hearted and not very Nazi, Lindbergh’s salute looked full-on fash to me.

But what of this Bellamy business?

The Bellamy salute is named for Francis Bellamy, a minister who, in 1892, wrote the American Pledge of Allegiance. A socialist and internationalist, he hoped that his original wording would be adopted by all nations (the words “of the United States of America” were added after “Flag” only in 1923; and “under God” was later added after “one nation,” during the Eisenhower administration, the better to ward off godless Communists). Bellamy also described the physical gesture to accompany the pledge-taking; hence the Bellamy salute.

A quick search of Getty stock for flag salutes from the first half of the twentieth century revealed plenty of images of mainly young people saluting the flag with either a conventional military salute (crooked arm, hand to the forehead) or the also-familiar hand-on-heart; only a few showed Bellamy salutes, from around the turn of the century, with the straight, outstretched arm, though also generally with the palm open, not facing downward. So I advised the biographer that he should take up the issue directly with Getty, rather than with us. And I said the same when, a few days later, I received a similar remonstration from another teacher and author, who also happened to be a great-grandson of Burton K. Wheeler.

A couple of weeks later, I heard back from the Wheeler biographer, notifying me that Getty had agreed to amend its caption. I checked the new wording, which was now uncommonly long and detailed for an archive photo, with the following sentence added: “They are giving the Bellamy Salute, which was replaced by the hand-over-heart salute the following year, because of concerns about its similarity to the Nazi ,or fascist salute, used in Italy and Germany.” Well, I wasn’t going to quibble over a misplaced comma, and I did update the caption in Churchwell’s—by removing any statement about what kind of salute this was.

But I was perturbed: I felt that Getty had accepted too readily the lobbying of one person (or possibly two, if the Wheeler relative was also a party to the effort), and I worried that the scenario in the photograph—which seemed, on its face, dubious and equivocal at best—had been declared far too affirmatively in one direction…

And so Mr. Seaton went to work… what he learned is both historically important and painfully timely: Saluting the Flag.

* George Orwell, 1984

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As we face history, we might (or might not) send birthday greetings to Henry Ford; he was born on this date in 1863.  Founder of the Ford Motor Company, he was a chief developer of the assembly line technique of mass production.  By creating the first automobile that middle-class Americans could afford, he converted the automobile from an expensive curiosity into an accessible conveyance that profoundly impacted the landscape of the 20th century.

Ford was also a fellow-traveler of Lindbergh, a ferocious anti-Semite who used his  newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, to publish the fabricated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and a series of his own essays that were subsequently collected into a book, The International Jew, which Ford distributed in English, and had translated into German (where the subtitle “the World’s Foremost Problem” was added)– where it became a powerful influence on the development of Nazi thought.  Indeed, Ford is the only American mentioned favorably in Mein Kampf.

220px-Henry_ford_1919 source

 

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