September 26, 2004


President Lindbergh in 2004 (Frank Rich, 9/26/04, NY Times)

PHILIP ROTH is one of America's great novelists, but you don't expect him to be barreling up the best-seller list with a book that hasn't even been published yet. "Literary fiction," as it is now stigmatized in the cultural marketplace, no longer flies off the shelves unless struck by the TV lightning of Oprah or the "Today" show. And yet there was "The Plot Against America" in the top 25 at this week, at one point the only serious contemporary American novel on the list, sandwiched between Clay Aiken's memoir and "The South Beach Diet." It ascended without benefit of a single author's interview on TV or anywhere else and with only the first few reviews, not all of them ecstatic.

Since the book isn't officially published until Oct. 5, online shoppers are quite literally judging it by its cover image, a one-cent stamp of the 1930's crisply postmarked with a swastika, and the bare bones of its story. The plot of "The Plot" belongs to a low-rent genre, "alternate history," in which novelists of Mr. Roth's stature rarely dwell. It spins a what-if scenario in which the isolationist and anti-Semitic hero Charles Lindbergh runs for president as a Republican in 1940 and defeats F.D.R. "Keep America Out of the Jewish War" reads a button worn by Lindbergh partisans rallying at Madison Square Garden. And so he does: he signs nonaggression pacts with Germany and Japan that will keep America at peace while the rest of the world, six million European Jews included, burns.

Where "The Plot Against America" fits into the hierarchy of Mr. Roth's canon, which I and so many others have followed for our entire reading lifetimes, may be beside the point over the short haul. Sometimes the public, acting on instinct, just picks up the scent of something it craves without regard for the aesthetic niceties. Whether it's major or minor Roth, this novel is on a trajectory to match the much-different "Portnoy's Complaint" in its anomalous permeation of the larger culture. That's because "The Plot Against America," set from 1940-1942, is on its face linked to the wartime of 2001-2004. It's going to be read by those who don't otherwise read Roth novels, or novels at all, as well as by those who do. Not for nothing does it sit on a best-seller list dominated, low carbs notwithstanding, by a single subject, George W. Bush.

Never mind George W. Bush, it's vile enough to reduce Lindbergh to an anti-Semitic caricature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 26, 2004 8:24 AM

"And so he does: he signs nonaggression pacts with Germany and Japan that will keep America at peace while the rest of the world, six million European Jews included, burns."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but we went to war and the 6 Million died anyway. America fought the Nazis for a lot of reasons....saving Europe's Jews was not one of them.

Posted by: Foos at September 26, 2004 11:25 AM

Indeed, FDR and others wanted the extermination kept quiet:

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2004 11:42 AM

The funny part is how I saw an article where Roth thinks he's invented this new kind of "low rent" literature with his use of historical persons involved with ahistorical events.

And what's so wrong with signing non-agression pacts? Wasn't that essentially Leftist foreign policy (first with the Communists of Russia and China and lessor areas) for decades? If we'd listened to them, the USSR would still exist. (Which come to think of it, Roth would probably think is a good idea.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 26, 2004 1:35 PM

So Roth thinks it would have been terrible if we opted out of WWII and let fascism run rampant. Fine, I agree. But he think Bush is terrible...why? Because he's fighting a war against Islamic fascists instead of letting them run rampant? I don't get it.

But then, anybody who's got Claire Bloom and then mistreats her doesn't have much judgment.

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 26, 2004 2:37 PM


Right on. I was going to ask if Roth's treatment of Claire Bloom qualifies him as an expert in "fascism".

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 26, 2004 3:56 PM

What really torques me are two things:

1) Frank Rich's characterization of AH as "low-rent";

2) The article Raoul quoted in which Roth seems to imply that he invented AH. Bet Harry Turtledove and S. M. Stirling are _real_ happy with that.

Posted by: Joe at September 26, 2004 4:10 PM

He wasn't just a Jew-hater. He was a stupid Jew-hater who got a lot of fine young American boys killed.

I suppose you could do something to try to make up for that, but it would take quite a bit of doing.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 26, 2004 5:55 PM

To the contrary, he didn't hate Jews at all and fewer Americans would have died had he prevailed in the 30s-early 40s. Of course, as soon as FDR blundered into Pear Harbor he was as gung ho as anyone.

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2004 7:53 PM

OJ: No need to guild the lilly. Lindbergh, an admirable man in many ways, was undoubtedly antisemitic, even for his day. Even Berg admits as much. What's odd is that his affection for the Germans and for the Nazis not only had nothing to do with their antisemitism, but was deterred by their antisemitism:

The Times (English) carries a long account of the Jewish troubles in Germany. I do not understand these riots on the part of the Germans. It seems so constrary to their sense of order and their intelligence in other ways. They have undoubtedly had a difficult Jewish problem, [elsewhere, Lindbergh suggests that a few Jews makes a country interesting, but too many make it weak, and the US had too many, particularly in New York] but why is it necessary to handle it so unreasonably? My admiration for the Germans is constantly being dashed against some rock such as this. What is the object in this persecution of the Jews? Do the Germans feel that in this way they can frighten all Jews sufficiently to prevent incidents such as the Herr vom Rath shooting [Vom Rath, an officer at the German embassy in Paris, was killed by a Polish Jew in retaliation for Germany's expulsion of his parents]? Or is this a countermove to the Jewish pressure on Germany? Or, by bringing up the Jewish issue and forecing German Jews into other countries, do the Germans hope to create an international anti-Jewish movement? Or is it simply an inherent German hatred of the Jews -- at least on the part of members of the present government? Probably a combination of these and other factors.

Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, Sunday, November 13, 1938, p. 115-16.

As Berg says, his original feelings towards the Jews were genteel anti-semitism. He had "good" Jewish friends, but disliking "bad" Jews whose presence would weaken the country both physically and psychicly. His real hatred of Jews came later, when he was active in America First and felt that the Jews, through their supposed control of the media and big business, were attacking him and dragging the country to war for unAmerican reasons of their own.

(By the way, I read your review of Berg's book. You've got to get over this idea that Israel doesn't recognize converts. It's just not true.)

Posted by: David Cohen at September 26, 2004 11:50 PM

p.s. At the end of the war, when Lindbergh visits the death camps, his reaction is that we did things just as bad to Japanese soldiers, and so we're no better than the Germans:

Of course, I knew these things were going on; but it is one thing to have the intellectual knowledge, even to look at photographs someone else has taken, and quite another to stand on the scene yourself, seeing, hearing, feeling with your own senses. A strange sort of disturbance entered my mind. Where was it I had felt like that before? The South Pacific? Yes; those rotting Japanese bodies in the Biak caves; the load of garbage dumped on deat soldiers in a bomb crater; the green skulls set up to decorate ready room and tents.

It seemed impossible that men-civilized men-could degenerate to such a level. Yet they had. Here at Camp Dora in Germany; there in the coral caves of Biak. But there, it was we, Americans, who had done such things, we who claimed to stand for something different. We, who claimed that the German was defiling humanity in his treatment of the Jew, were doing the same thing in our treatment of the Jap. "They really are beasts. Every one of 'em ought to be exterminated." How many times had I heard that statement made by American officers in the Pacific! "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brother's eye but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

I looked at the young Pole [who had been in the camps for three years]. Where had I seen starvation like that before? It was on Biak Island, too. The picture of a native war canoe came up in memory-paddling slowly toward the shore near our camp, the Japanese prisoners escorted from it by armed, half-naked natives, at the end of the line several so started that they could not stand to walk, thinner even than this Pole. Oh, we had not starved them in a prison camp like the Germans. We had been too "civilized," too clever for that. We had let them starve themselves in the jungle (their own fault) by simply not accepting their surrender. It was simple, and one was not bothered by burning eyes of famine or danger of disease. A few miles of jungle hid and smothered all of that. It was only necessary to shoot a few men advancing to surrender with their hands in the air. ("You can't trust a Jap to surrender. He'll throw a grenade at you. The only way is to kill him right now.") Or one could be more blunt about it and shout to an enemy emissary, as our infantry officers boasted of doing at the west caves, "Get back in there and fight it out, you sons of bitches."

. . . I look down at the pit of ashes ("twenty-five thousand in a year and a half"). This, I realize, is not a thing confined to any nation or to any people. What the German has done to the Jew in Europe, we are doing to the Jap in the Pacific. As Germans have defiled themselves by dumping the ashes of human beings into this pit, we have defiled ourselves by bulldozing bodies into shallow, unmarked tropical graves. What is barabaric on one side of the earth is still barbaric on the other. "Judge not that ye be not judged." It is not the Germans alone, or the Japs, but the men of all nations to whome this war has brought shame and degradation.

Journals, Monday, June 11, 1945, pp. 996-98.

In this, Lindbergh is a moral idiot. He is the Fisk, Moore or Pilger of his day.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2004 12:10 AM

p.p.s. Who can name the founders of America First and the hotbed of isolationism from whence they came? [Hint: There's a connection to the presidential race and the highest levels of government.]

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2004 12:20 AM


We would not have nuked white people.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2004 8:49 AM

OJ: That's quite the non sequiter, but sure we would have. Nuking white people was the whole point of developing the bomb. If anything, after Germany collapsed, there was some reluctance to bomb Japan among the Jewish scientists in the Manhattan Project.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2004 9:14 AM

The scientists didn't matter, except in that they gave the nuclear secrets to the Soviets. Fighting the Germans was very unpopular even with the armed forces. There's the famous incident of Ike walking out of the first death camp he visited and snarling at some GIs: Still having trouble hating them? We hated the Japs more easily for racial reasons--leading to rounding them up and nuking them. And would not have fought in Europe were it up to the population at large.

At any rate, to call Lindbergh an anti-Semite just because of a genteel and general anti-Semitism rather dilutes the charge. Here's what Berg has to say and Lindbergh's comments seem fair, even if they may be wrong:

-BOOKNOTES: Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg (C-SPAN, December 20, 1998 )

LAMB: But how did--how did Gerry Ford and Sergeant Shriver and Potter
Stewart and there--are there others?

Mr. BERG: Yeah, there are--there are a handful of others: Kingman
Brewster, who became president of Yale University, presiding over the
university during the gre--great Vietnam debate; also, R. Douglas
Stewart Jr., Bob Stewart, a Princetonian who went to Yale Law School
and later ran Quaker Oats--he was very active in starting this as
well; Richard Moore, who later became an ambassador to Ireland; Peter
Dominick, who became senator from Colorado.

And most of these men were young men. Most of them were college
students. And, to my amazement, America First actually began--I mean,
literally, the roots of America First were on the Yale campus in New
Haven when about a half-dozen students got together, not to protest
the war, but to say what Lindbergh believed, that, `This is a European
war going on, and the best thing America can do is stay out of it.
Let them duke it out, and let us defend America first.' Lindbergh
believed the most important thing America could be doing at this time
is building up our own armed forces, especially an air force. He felt
we had a very, very incomplete air force in 1939, 1940. And, indeed,
they--the US government was only just starting to wake up, largely
because of Lindbergh's call to arms.

LAMB: You alluded to this earlier in the discussion. I'm gonna read
something, and--and tell me where this comes from: `Stewart tells me
the--that most of the Jewish passengers are sick. Imagine the United
States taking these Jews in, in addition to those we already have.
There are too many in places like New York already. A few Jews add
strength and character to a country, but too many create chaos and we
are getting too many. This present emigration will have its

Mr. BERG: Yes, indeed. That...

LAMB: Never published.

Mr. BERG: That was never published. That w--Charles Lindbergh kept
very complete diaries from the late '30s through the war, and, indeed,
a big volume, a fat, 1,000-page volume, was published called "Wartime
Journals." I went through Lindbergh's original journals, not the
published version--or I went through both--and that passage you just
read was a paragraph that he hand wrote, but chose not to publish.
And that, to me, was extremely telling. And I found, well, four or
five such passages that he chose not to publish, all of which were
about Jews, anti-Semitism or the Third Reich.

LAMB: Where does this come from: `I'm not attacking either the
Jewish or the British people,' he said. `Both races I admire.' And I
almost want to stop and ask you, Jews a race and British a race?

Mr. BERG: Well, in Lindbergh's eyes, yes. Lindbergh, again...

LAMB: Where is he saying this, by the way?

Mr. BERG: This speech is being given in Des Moines, Iowa. It was
almost his last America First speech. It was--it was delivered in
September of '41.

LAMB: Let me--let me finish, and then you can...

Mr. BERG: Yeah, do.

LAMB: ...everybody will know what we're talking about. `But I'm
saying that the leaders of both the British and Jewish races, for
reasons which are understandable from their viewpoint as they are
inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to
involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what
they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for
ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other
peoples to lead our country to destruction.'

Mr. BERG: I think Charles Lindbergh just hanged himself.

LAMB: Is that it, after that?

Mr. BERG: That's it. That speech--again, that was an America First
speech in September, and--and we're now three months before Pearl
Harbor. The great debate of American intervention--and it was one of
the great debates in American history--was going on. Lindbergh had
been winning that debate against Franklin Roosevelt, trying to
keep--Lindbergh was trying to keep America out of the war, but was
beginning to lose ground, lose--lose popularity. And he felt he had
to kind of drop a bomb to wake everybody up, and that was what he
dropped in September of '41: naming three groups who wanted to get
in, talking about these races, the Jewish race, the British race.

LAMB: What was the reaction--you talk about a train ride. He didn't
even know what was going on.

Mr. BERG: He--and then--and then he got on a train, so, indeed--to
go back home. He was then living in Massachusetts. And he had no
idea what the reaction was until he arrived, and there was practically
a lynching mob. I mean, even people who had supported America First
suddenly distancing themselves from Charles Lindbergh. And I think
it's not only because there's something basically, deeply anti-Semitic
about those comments, really a genuine segregation in his mind of two
different Americas. `There's my America, and there's the Jewish
America.' That's one thing that's going on.

But I think--because I think this was largely an anti-Semitic nation,
I think what really done him in there was that it was un-American. It
was--it violated the melting pot theory. You know, E pluribus unum.

LAMB: You said you are Jewish. Do you think he was an anti-Semite?

Mr. BERG: I do. I--I think he was an unconscious genteel
anti-Semite. I truly believe Lindbergh believed he was not
anti-Semitic. He believed in that speech that you quoted
that--Lindbergh thought he was expressing great tolerance toward the
Jews. But just in talking about them as a secret--separate class, he
was revealing a kind of segregation, a separate but equal.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2004 9:28 AM

The severe moral dissidence of Nuking the
European homeland would have been unthinkable
for any sane American president. Maybe Soviet
Russia, but never Germany.

As it is Dresden has yet to be reconciled for
the American people as it is way down the list
of "mournful atrocities".

Believe me the true useless nature of WWII
has yet to be realized by the American people.
Tie any sort of meaning to it you wish, but
if Soviet hacks didn't run around the State Department with impunity it would have never

Posted by: J.H. at September 27, 2004 9:29 AM

People like Roth don't really hate fascism so
much as they hate nascent racial solidarity (of the gentile variety). In the 30's Fascism symbolized that. Today in a bumbling sort of way the Republicans do.

Posted by: J.H. at September 27, 2004 9:32 AM


The party of open immigration, school choice, and global democratic intervention is hardly the party of racial solidarity.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2004 9:40 AM

OJ -- Lot's of people in the '30s and '40s didn't like Jews. They didn't want to socialize with us, or golf on the same courses, or go to school with us or have the daughters marry us. And yet, when Lindbergh (as you note, celebrated in a way that had not been seen before or since) said that the Jews were a fifth column in the country trying to drag us into war against our interests, he and his organization were condemned by the public at large. Right there you have the difference between Lindbergh and the general dislike of Jews.

The idea that we would fire bomb Dresden and devastate France (a nominal ally and occupied country) but wouldn't have A-bombed Berlin in June of '44 if we had been able to, is just bizarre.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2004 10:37 AM


Except that it is not anti-Semitic to believe with Lindbergh that there were only a few groups who wanted us to enter war in Europe and that it was against our interest. He wasn't denounced in the country at large but by FDR and his allies. America First remained immensely popular, as did Lindbergh personally, until the Japanese attacked. It was very unpopular in the rest of the country to fight in Europe even after Pearl Harbor, so much so that the Democrats got crushed in the 1942 congressional midterm.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2004 11:32 AM

David is right: we would have used A-bombs on Germany if we'd needed to. Remember, the aura that has grown up around nukes didn't exist back then: it was just a new type of big bomb. Hitting a German city with one would have been seen as no different morally from sending 1,000 planes with tens of thousands of conventional bombs.

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 27, 2004 2:15 PM


That's false. Several military guys, including Ike, who knew of the weapon opposed using it because it was qualitatively different and we didn't need it to win.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2004 2:50 PM

OJ, the bomb was developed with Germany, not Japan, as the intended target!

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 27, 2004 8:21 PM


Except that it is not anti-Semitic to believe with Lindbergh that there were only a few groups who wanted us to enter war in Europe and that it was against our interest.

I agree, but that wasn't Lindbergh's point. He believed that the "bad" Jews who controlled the media couldn't be real Americans and were uninterested in American interests, rather than simply mistaken about them.

He wasn't denounced in the country at large but by FDR and his allies. Read the Berg coment you quote: And he had no idea what the reaction was until he arrived, and there was practically a lynching mob. I mean, even people who had supported America First suddenly distancing themselves from Charles Lindbergh. And I think it's not only because there's something basically, deeply anti-Semitic
about those comments, really a genuine segregation in his mind of two different Americas. 'There's my America, and there's the Jewish America.'

America First remained immensely popular, as did Lindbergh personally, until the Japanese attacked.

In fact, Lindbergh's Des Moines speech just about killed America First. The steering committee started discussing "adjourning" America First until after the '42 midterm elections and Lindbergh offered to announce that the speech was his view, not that of America First. After that, America First made its speakers agree to a code of conduct as to what they could say. In Lindbergh's Journals, the entries between Des Moines and December 7 are filled with people, from Herbert Hoover on down, telling Lindbergh that Des Moines was a mistake. Henry Ford, on the other hand, immediately offers to start funneling cash to America First.

It was very unpopular in the rest of the country to fight in Europe even after Pearl Harbor, so much so that the Democrats got crushed in the 1942 congressional midterm.

Of course the country wanted to fight Japan first. The Japanese had attacked us. The '44 elections show that we were perfectly happy to be fighting the Germans, so long as we were winning. If we look at race the way Lindbergh does -- every nation (dare I say, breeding population) a race -- than we're as likely to hate the Germans as the Japs.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2004 11:20 PM

Well, they had 800,000 members when war broke out, a huge rally in Pittsburgh (?) on December 7th and 80% of Americans opposed entering the war that day. He was doing something right.

His precise point is not anti-Semitic, even if wrong, that Jews who wanted America to fight Hitler in order to save fellow Jews were placing Jewish interests before narrow American security interests. In much the same way our war in Iraq places the interests of the Iraqi people ahead of our own. Big deal? It is even the case that the neocons obsession with the Middle East is in large part a function of the fact that Israel is there. When we deal with Iran it will be because it threatens to nuke Israel, not America. Again, big deal?

The breeding population of the U.S. was largely Anglo-Germanic, not Japanese. Most of the Japanese we'd already sent to concentration camps. It's not hard to figure out what would have happened to them had we been losing the war instead of winning it so easily.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2004 11:39 PM

He was just a Jew-hater.

What I don't understand is Orrin's obsession with faking a history for Lindbergh. Succeed, and what have you got?

A dumb, silly Jew-hater who thought the United States was too weak to fight a war.

Who thinks that now?

Lindbergh committed two crimes. One was being a Jew-hater and standing up in Madison Square Garden with 14,000 other Jew-haters and condemning himself.

The other was believing his own clippings. He knew nothing about war or policy, but that didn't stop him from offering his stupid opinions; and he expected, because of his celebrity, that the opinions would be warmly received by the perplexed, as they were, until reality broke in.

Overnight, even the dullest citizen realized that Lindbergh was a phoney and a jerk.

As late as the 1960s, Lindbergh was still traveling under assumed names -- as if anybody had cared for more than a decade. The secretaries at Boeing snickered at him.

A bathetic old Jew-hater that young girls laughed at. (And, to make Orrin's obsession even weirder, a nutcase environmentalist in the Rachel Carson mold.)

David is also quite correct about using the bomb against the Germans. This can be proved.

There were three ways to purify uranium. One started slow but after a time produced more and more concentrated U-235 (Oak Ridge). One quickly began producing concentrated U-235 in small quantities but never ramped up. The third method combined the worst features of the first two.

At one point, it was determined that by using the third method, as well as the first two, the amount needed to produce one bomb could be reached one day sooner, at a cost of $10 million.

The Manhattan Project calculated that the war was costing more than $10M a day, so decided to go ahead with all three.

The sole goal was to drop a bomb on Germany.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 28, 2004 1:10 AM


As you so often point out, he was right. Between wars America is never built up enough militarily to fight. He advocated building up long before any other Republican. He did overestimate the potential strength of fascism, as did many others, from Churchill to FDR.

He wasn't a Jew hater, just an anti-Semite, a universal affliction of his time, shared most prominently by FDR, who we have no trouble separating from .his bigotry when we consider his overall legacy.

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2004 7:24 AM

America First was not for what was called 'preparedness'

Who do you think was on the side that missed overturning conscription by one vote in 1940?

You delve overmuch in abstract political tomes, you need to study military history.

You have often said that weapons could be built in a short time.

That's sort of true, though not nearly as true as you think.

Men, however, cannot be trained in a hurry. It takes many years to develop a midlevel field commander, more years to develop a high-level general.

Because of, among many other factors, Coolidge pacifism, we sent young boys into combat led by incompetents. Lindbergh came late to that party, but he gets his share of the blame.

He set us up to lose.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 28, 2004 2:20 PM


No, it wasn't but Lindbergh was.

The military, like everything else, has its share of incompetents. They're seldom weeded out until they start losing real battles and not always then.

He set us up not to fight. We did lose.

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2004 4:03 PM

I dunno, Orrin. If you hang around with creeps, people might start to wonder if you're a creep, too.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 29, 2004 5:54 PM

Yet you're unbothered by hanging with the anti-Semite FDR and his pal Stalin? Everybody's got their own creeps.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2004 6:40 PM

Coolidge pacifism? What is that?

Not wanting to kill Nazis in 1926?

Please elaborate.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 29, 2004 9:49 PM