A fully fleshed-out portrait of the battle between the interventionists and isolationists in the 18 months leading up to Pearl Harbor.
Former Baltimore Sun White House correspondent Olson (Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour, 2010, etc.) looks closely at both sides of the U.S. debate about whether to support Britain against the onslaught of Nazi Germany or remain aloof from the European conflict, epitomized by the two prominent personalities of the respective camps, President Franklin Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh. The author clarifies “those angry days,” so-called by Arthur Schlesinger, and the deep, searing divisions within the country: from FDR, his hands tied to aid Britain materially by Senate Midwestern leaders like Burton Wheeler and Gerald Nye, who deeply resented the growing power of the presidency; to pro-German, frankly racist Lindbergh, whose trips to Germany and radio broadcasts helped sharpen the public outcry, gave fodder to prescient journalists like Dorothy Thompson and alienated his own long-suffering wife, Anne Morrow. Once viewed as America’s great hero for his solo trans-Atlantic flight, Lindbergh spiraled into controversy with his public argument against aiding the English, his rationalization of German aggression and espousal of racial purity. Ostracized by the Europeans, who had not long before sheltered him and his wife after the kidnapping of his son, and excoriated by the press and the East Coast moneyed establishment, Lindbergh took up with the reactionary American First campaign and was increasingly regarded as traitorous. Roosevelt, in turn, warned the country about the “perils of complacency” in his State of the Union speech of 1940 as events in Europe heated up, and he was not averse to stoking fears of “Fifth column” infiltration and restricting civil liberties in garnering support for his policies. Throughout, Olson adroitly sifts through the many conflicting currents.
A vivid, colorful evocation of a charged era.