Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Plot Against America" (Book)

Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) an exceedingly well-plotted and meticulously researched (if also too predictable and cautiously written) alternative history of the 1940s. Instead of Roosevelt assuming third term as president, as we remember from our history books, Republican candidate Charles Lindbergh is innaugurated January 1941. Burton Wheeler is his vice president, Henry Ford is senior cabinet member.

Roth's narrator is 8 or 9 year old Philip, with insurance salesman father Herman, and mother Bess. Orphaned cousin Alvin, who lives with him, joins Canadian army to help fight Germans, loses lower half of left leg in grenade explosion. Brother Sandy, a gifted portrait artist, cajoled into becoming poster-boy for relocation/absorption program "Just Folks", where jewish youth are sent away to live with 'real' Americans on farms in the heartland.

Lionel Bengelsdorf is celebrity rabbi, eventual husband to Philip's Aunt Evelyn, director of the Office of American Absorption (which sponsors relocation and deracination programs), and eventual (Rasputin-like?) spokeman for first lady, Ann Morrow. Both Lionel and Evelyn are star-struck by Joachim von Ribbentrop, Germany's minister for foreign affairs (and signatory to 1939 non-aggression pact with Molotov of USSR) during reception at White House. Incrementally, civil rights of American Jews are eroded, leading up to relocations and pogroms in 1942. News reporter Walter Winchell, reviled as a muckraker, but respected as cultural whistleblower and political conscience, tries to wake up fellow citizens to encroaching fascism. Another hero of story, Fiorello La Guardia (born to Jewish mother and Italian father), mayor of New York, major opponent to Lindbergh.

True facts described in story, and confirmed in postscript: Regarding Lindbergh: after having flown the Spirit of St. Louis 33 1/2 hours non-stop from Long Island to Paris in 1927, viewed across country and around world as hero. Married Anne Morrow in May 1929. Two-year-old son Charles kidnapped, found dead May 1932. October 1938 Lindbergh receives Service Cross of the German Eagle "by order of the Fuhrer" (as does his friend, owner of Dearborn Independent, and publisher of 91-article series "The International Jew: The World's Problem", Henry Ford). By 1938, viewed by many Jewish families with the same trepidation as his friend Father Charles Coughlin, Catholic priest radio commentator from Detroit, editor of weekly Social Justice.

October 1940, America First Committtee founded at Yale Law School to promote isolationism, with major address by Lindbergh who advocates American recognition of "the new powers in Europe." Also October 1940, Anne Morrow Lindbergh publishes best-selling The Wave of the Future, condemned by Secretary of Interior Harlod Ickes as "the Bible of every American Nazi". September 11, 1941 Lindbergh delivers speech "Who Are the War Agitators" to America First Rally in Des Moines, eliciting applause from 8 thousand attendees when citing "the Jewish race" as major cause for American war involvement. Following December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor, however, America First Committee disbanded.

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