When Is a Nazi Salute Not a Nazi Salute?Historians in the News
tags: Nazism, America First, Charles Lindbergh
The photograph above appeared with Sarah Churchwell’s recent article for the Daily, “American Fascism: It Has Happened Here” (June 22). 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.