Those Angry Days: Roo­sevelt, Lind­bergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939 – 1941

Lynne Olson
  • Review
By – August 7, 2013

In some ways, it’s remark­able that Charles Lind­bergh remains such a bogey­man for Amer­i­can Jews. He was not a polit­i­cal, mil­i­tary, or reli­gious leader who per­se­cut­ed Jews; the famous avi­a­tor nev­er had any pow­er to wield. Unlike Hen­ry Ford or Charles Cough­lin, he did not repeat­ed­ly ham­mer home attacks on the Jew­ish peo­ple in radio or in print. Lindbergh’s noto­ri­ous anti-Semit­ic remarks came as a small part of his speech­es oppos­ing Amer­i­can inter­ven­tion in World War II, most infa­mous­ly, in a speech in Des Moines.

But Lindy” remains an endur­ing sym­bol to Jews, large­ly, as Lynne Olson’s new book sug­gests, because of how he con­tin­ues to be the lead­ing exam­ple of those who opposed Amer­i­can entry into the war in the twen­ty-sev­en months between the time Ger­many invad­ed Poland and Japan attacked Pearl Har­bor. Her book looks at the role Lind­bergh played in the iso­la­tion­ist move­ment, attempt­ing to counter and stop Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and the nation’s inter­ven­tion­ists. Lind­bergh is by no means the only iso­la­tion­ist dis­cussed — John F. Kennedy and Ger­ald Ford were some of the movement’s more famous grad­u­ates” — nor is he the most pro­nounced anti-Semi­te, but Olson wraps her nar­ra­tive around him, his wife Anne, and his family.

Inter­est­ing­ly, just as the aloof Lind­bergh comes off as ill-fit­ted for his role — his inabil­i­ty to gauge or absorb pub­lic reac­tion made him the wrong per­son to be a cen­tral fig­ure in a polit­i­cal move­ment — Roo­sevelt doesn’t come off well, either. Skit­tish about fight­ing with Con­gress after los­ing his court-pack­ing fight, FDR was reluc­tant to push too fast too soon; he would make soar­ing state­ments that would rouse the nation into action and then fol­low that with inac­tion. It took Pearl Har­bor to ful­ly wake Roosevelt’s sleep­ing tiger for one of the nation’s great­est chal­lenges ever.

Besides dis­cussing the era’s extreme nas­ti­ness, Olson lays out how the bat­tle was a pre­lude for the nasty post-war fight over Com­mu­nism. The names changed (some of them any­way) but the rhetoric of 1939 – 41 about un-Amer­i­can activ­i­ties set up sim­i­lar­ly vicious fights as the Cold War reshaped glob­al bat­tle lines. And cer­tain­ly the min­ions of Joseph McCarthy were aid­ed by the types of covert tac­tics employed dur­ing these years to smear one’s foes. That bridge across eras is one of the more com­pelling rev­e­la­tions of this gen­uine­ly com­pelling book. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, end­notes, index, photos.

Relat­ed: The Plot Against Amer­i­ca by Philip Roth

David Cohen is a senior edi­tor at Politi­co. He has been in the jour­nal­ism busi­ness since 1985 and wrote the book Rugged and Endur­ing: The Eagles, The Browns and 5 Years of Foot­ball. He resides in Rockville, MD.; his wife, Deb­o­rah Bod­in Cohen, writes Jew­ish children’s books.

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