Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1929-1941
Lynne Olson copyright 2013, Library of Congress ISBN 978-1-4000-6974-3; eBook ISBN 978-0-679-60471-6; Published by Random House.
Includes Bibliographical references and index.
This book is 462 pp of fascinating insight into characters and their roles in the two years leading up to the United States getting into World War II. It starts with a biography of Charles A. Lindbergh and his flight across the Atlantic, goes on to his marriage to Anne Morrow and the kidnapping of their baby boy Charles Jr. by Bruno Hauptman, and how much the publicity of both of those events badly affected his, and their, lives. We get a good feel for the kind of person Lindbergh was. They lived 1937-38 in England, and most of 1939 in France. During their time in France, they spent a lot of time in Germany, where they became good friends with Goebbels, and Lindbergh was awarded a medal for his work with their airplane building programs. It would come back to haunt him.
We get backgrounds on Franklin Roosevelt and his work from the time he was elected first in 1932, and how he worked to get the US out of the depression of the 30s.
We get a little background then on Hitler, when he started out by invading Czechoslovakia, and later when he invades Poland. There are comments on Kristallnacht, and the beginnings of the pogram against the Jews.
But from there, when Germany overruns France, and then starts on England, politics in this country got really sticky. There was great animosity between the isolationists, led by Lindbergh, and the interventionists, led by Roosevelt and his minions. Lindbergh was the beginning of the organization America First, which included Burton Wheeler, and was in the lead of saying we had to stay out of the war. Winston Churchill was a friend of Roosevelt, and he was continually begging the help of America. There wasn’t a lot of hostile interplay, though, until 1940, when Germany began its blitz of London, when Lindbergh decided we couldn’t go to war because England was going to lose, and he thought they should make peace with Germany. Hitler toward the end of 1940 turned around and went after Russia. Roosevelt spent a good part of 1940 running for re-election, his opponent being Wendell Wilkie. When he won, he worked with Cordell Hull, Frank Knox, the War Secretay, Stimson, who was Defense Secretary, and others in his administration. His close friend Harry Hopkins was with him in this wanting to intervene. Lindbergh’s friendship with Goebbels, and the medal he was awarded, but never wore, gave him a reputation of being a friend of Nazis, and it turned the American people against him. This reputation stayed with him up until the time we went to war with Japan.
One reason many citizens of America did not want to go to war in Europe was because they didn’t want to be seen as working with Russia, nor did they want to be seen as enemies of Russia. Germany’s attacking Russia put them in a strange sort of imbalance with a country who did not back either Hitler or Stalin. It was toward the end of the war that Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt made their little peace pacts, but that was not covered in this book. Indeed, this book really does end when Hitler declared war on the US, other than the Afterword, which was strictly about the players, and not the war.
Soon after that, at the beginning of 1941, and forward, Roosevelt seemed to lose his interest in helping England. He did get Lend-Lease approved by Congress, and then did absolutely nothing. He took time off, he went to Georgia, he went to Hyde Park, he stayed in seclusion for days at a time. He simply was lethargic about the whole thing. In the meantime Lindbergh and his cronies kept making speeches about how we could not help England because she was going to lose anyway, and he didn’t want us building a war machine to give to them only to lose it all. As I read the last third of this book, I began to grow angry with Roosevelt.
As well, there was so much parallel with what is going on in Congress today, with a do-nothing Congress, and a president who seems to have lost his will to argue with them. At least President Obama does not hide behind locked doors, but I am convinced that Roosevelt had a more hostile Congress than Obama is dealing with. Now I don’t think there were the so-called scandals that the tea partiers are pulling these days, but the hostility was certainly there. Oh yeah, the Democratic party of today was the Republican party of the 1940s. And vice versa. The Democrats were the conservatives, and the Republicans were the liberals.
As 1941 went on, the American peoples started worrying about Japan, and Roosevelt did not want to deal with Japan at all. He did finally get some convoys set up to help the Brits cross the Atlantic without having all their merchant ships sunk, and got some food into their country, which was practically starving. The Brits seemed to be on their last legs, and perhaps were truly about to lose their war.
Anti-Semitism became a great problem in the US, which meant that they were not going to let any more Jews find sanctuary here. I was amazed at the amount of anti-Semitism there was going on. Among the biggest names who joined in with Lindbergh on this subject was Henry Ford, who was well known for his hatred of Jews. There was also a great protest over the draft that had begun in 1940, for just one year, with all the servicemen anxious to get out of the Army and home, as they were promised, but were now being told they needed to carry over.
On December 4, 1941, newspapers brought up a scandal to hurt Roosevelt, and took his mind off the war. And as I write this, I have to admit that I don’t remember what it was, and I have taken the book back to the library for the next person on the waiting list. Also, I didn’t want the book around as I wrote this because I didn’t want to be guilty of copying anything out of the book since I have not requested permission to do so. Which is why I am sitting here straining to remember what it was that the newspapers brought up, and cannot.
Anyway, the penultimate chapter of the book was about the attack on Pearl Harbor, the disbelief from Roosevelt that they would actually declare war on the US, the jubilation of Churchill that America would finally be brought into the war, and Roosevelt’s choice to declare war only on Japan. Once Pearl was attacked though, most isolationists turned to the interventionists sides, young men lined up to enter the military, and the manufacture of the war machine ramped up. Hitler was happy that Roosevelt did not declare against Germany, but when Germany, Russia, and Japan signed their tripartite agreement (before Germany turned and attacked Russia), Germany promised to come to Japan’s aid if the US ever got into the war.
As it turned out, once Hitler declared war on the US on December 11, 1941, Germany could not come to Japan’s aid because she was having enough trouble keeping up with what was now three fronts, England, Russia, and America, coming up from the south. Lindbergh, once he realized the US was going to war, stopped his agitating against it and went to work in industry, testing aircraft, and helping those who were building them. It brought him some forgiveness for his prior reputation.
This is an excellent book. I recommend everyone read it. If nothing else, you will learn what it was like for a president to have to fight a nay-saying Congress, and I fervently hope it will not take a war to bring this country together under our president today.
I give it an A++++ for keeping your interest, and for teaching you something.
And oh yes, the final chapter in the book simply tells where all of the main players ended, and what they did. Of course, Roosevelt died soon after his fourth election, and Harry Truman took over as president, with the eventual end of the wars on both fronts, and the atomic bomb. To my amusement, I learned that even though Lindy and Anne had five more children, he fathered seven more children by three women in Europe, all three of them German.
Lindy wanted twelve children, and he got them. Little Charles, who was murdered, would have made it 13. To me, that was just an amusing footnote to his life story.
I do love history, especially when it ties in with present days.