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Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 - Lynne Olson

”All that noise you hear...is death coming to London. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don’t tune me out---this is a big story and you’re part of it…. The lights are all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning….Hang on to your lights, they’re the only lights left in the world.”
Foreign Correspondent Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Joel McCrea and Laraine Day in Foreign Correspondent.

It was serendipitous that last week I happened to watch Foreign Correspondent on TCM’s salute to Alfred Hitchcock . I’ve seen the movie before and each time I watch it I like it even more. I didn’t realize until I read this book that this movie has importance beyond just a Hitchcockian thriller. This movie was the first American made movie to encourage America to enter the war. The movie was released in 1940 after the events at Dunkirk when an armada of ships and private boats were sent to the coast of France to bring what was left of the British army away before they were annihilated by advancing German troops. This was after the collapse of the French army. This was after the bombs began to fall on London. If you talk to people who were around during this period of time they will tell you it was, even for Americans, one of the most stressful times in their lives.

The war that we wanted to avoid was not going the way we wanted it to go.

Roosevelt dithered.

He had a split country of interventionists and isolationists and both groups were inflamed with reckless rhetoric. The interventionists were mostly East coast anglophiles led by the Century Club of which FDR was a member. They included artists, writers, and even industrial leaders as part of their membership. They thought of themselves as bohemians, but they did not, for instance, invite Walt Whitman to join because they didn’t think he was “clubbable”.

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Poor Walt he was too bohemian for the “bohemians”.

The most famous member of the isolationist movement was Charles Lindbergh. He was of course the first person to cross the Atlantic with a plane. He was a hero of the world. He inspired generations of boys to gaze with wonder and with thoughts of daring at the sky. Most of the isolationist movement came from the Midwest and Lindbergh grew up in Minnesota and certainly reflected that geography in his opposition to Roosevelt and any plans the President may have had to bring America into the war. Lindbergh gave several hard hitting speeches that lit a fire in the movement and gave plenty of ammunition to his enemies. His speeches smacked of anti-semitism and certainly reflected his admiration for Hitler and the German people. He insisted for the rest of his life that was not the case, After the war he had three German mistresses and had SEVEN children out of wedlock. He was attempting to build the master race singlehandedly. Including his son Charles, who was tragically kidnapped and killed, he had SIX children with Anne Morrow.

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Lindbergh giving one of his speeches supporting isolationism.

I like Charles Lindbergh considerably less after reading this book. I like Franklin Delano Roosevelt less after reading this book. I sympathize with Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I found myself liking Wendell Willkie and as sacrilegious as it is, being a lifelong Democrat, I even had to consider the possibility that Willkie might have made a better president in 1940. I found myself loathing a congress that forced Britain to give up ownership of all their remaining assets in the United States to pay their war debt and then sold those assets to bankers who turned around and resold them at huge profits.

Now even though a majority of Republicans may have been isolationists and the majority of Democrats may have been interventionists it was not that simple. Wendell Willkie was an interventionist which it is still amazing that he won the Republican nomination in 1940. Robert Taft (son of William Howard Taft) and Thomas Dewey both commanded larger followings at the convention. So even though he didn’t believe in the party platform he won the nomination because the men pulling the strings thought he had the best chance to defeat Roosevelt and anyone even a near turncoat was better than having that bastard Roosevelt in for another term.

If Wendell Willkie had won the nomination and he stayed true to his principles America would have been in the war sooner.

Captain America even beat us into the war. He was created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.

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”Captain America Comics #1 — cover-dated March 1941 and on sale December 20, 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but a full year into World War II — showed the protagonist punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the jaw; it sold nearly one million copies. While most readers responded favorably to the comic, some took objection. Simon noted, "When the first issue came out we got a lot of... threatening letters and hate mail.” Wikipedia.

Historically comic books are usually ahead of the general population on social and political issues.

Roosevelt did not take the opportunities that were available to him to help Britain sooner with more than just leaky warships and leftover supplies from WWI. He did not use his political clout and considerable charm to convince a country that we must for the sake of democracy enter the war.

He didn’t.
He could have.

And yet I can’t refute the results. Germany was on the verge of imposing their will on the world. The Yanks turned them back. Those beautiful damn Yanks. The world owes Churchill gratitude beyond anything that can be expressed for keeping the faith, for not suing for peace after Dunkirk, and for giving those inspirational speeches that turned the tide of support in many households all over America.

Fantastic book about the state of mind of the American public, and how events flipped public opinion back and forth as the pendulum of war gripped the national consciousness.