Micah Reader In September 2017 by Brenda Levenson
The 2013 book by Lynne Olson provides a history of Lindbergh’s journey from hero to villain and of the reluctant entry of the United States in World War II. The concise style in which it is written makes for easy reading.
Lindbergh became an instant celebrity after his flight across the Atlantic, but the price he and his wife, Anne Murrow, paid in terms of the loss of privacy, not to mention the kidnap and murder of their first child led them to find refuge in England and in France for a number of years. By then, Hitler was in power, and Lindbergh’s attraction to fascism fed into the isolationism of the American people, as Great Britain and France were ravaged by the war with Germany that began with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939.
As the spread of the war appeared to be inevitable, Lindbergh and his family returned to the US, where his goal was to convince Americans to remain neutral, a position that would persist in spite of Winston Churchill’s calls for help from the United States and his “friend” Franklin Roosevelt. In a letter to the British ambassador in Washington, Lord Lothian, Churchill wrote “up till April, US officials were so sure that the Allies would win that they did not think help necessary. Now they are so sure we shall lose that they do not think it possible.” Lord Lothian, flying back to New York from yet another trip to London to reassess the situation, had this to say to the journalists waiting for him: “well boys, Britain’s broke, its your money we want.” The undiplomatic words would help change to a certain degree Roosevelt’s “perplexing.lethargy.” The United States was finally drawn into the war when German submarines attacked American ships, and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Our group’s discussion was among the liveliest and heated ones we have had over the years. While some viewed President Roosevelt as “extremely cautious” in his response to Winston Churchill’s repeated calls for help, others thought of him as “naïve” and even “weak”. With convincing passion, one reader defended Roosevelt’s reluctance to enter in another war that few Americans wanted, she noted, so soon after the first world war that the United States joined in 1917, helping the exhausted troops from Great Britain and France win against Germany. The First World War was believed to be “The War That Ended Peace” (to borrow the title of Margaret MacMillan’s book) but instead it led to another conflict. A lengthy discussion focused about the two extremes, isolationism and interventionism that divided the United States in the early 1940. One member of our group expressed the general opinion that Lynne Olson captured the sociological and historical aspects of America at the time, referring to “the American Myth”, while others called it “democracy”.
Anti-Semitism was discussed at some length, several of our readers sharing memories of the unwritten rules that applied to Jews decades ago. Much has changed, but not all. The East we call home is in a part of the country that is a nation in itself, linked to the West Coast in terms of liberalism and internationalism, but it is distinct from the deep Midwest and from the South, all of which challenges the idea of a “United States” which is in effect not quite as “united” as we like to think.
Lynne Olson’s book is well researched and was acclaimed by our entire group who declared unanimously that “we learned a lot,” even when some of us “thought we knew it all!”