Excerpt from The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Plot Against America

by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2005, 400 pages

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"But can the company fire you for turning them down?"

"Honey, I did what I did. That's the end of it."

But she didn't believe what he'd told her the Boss had said; she believed that he was making up what the Boss had said to get her to stop blaming herself for refusing to move her children to a Gentile town that was a haven for the German-American Bund and by doing so denying him the opportunity of his lifetime.

The Lindberghs returned to resume their family life in America in April 1939. Only months later, in September, having already annexed Austria and overrun Czechoslovakia, Hitler invaded and conquered Poland, and France and Great Britain responded by declaring war on Germany. Lindbergh had by then been activated as a colonel in the Army Air Corps, and he now began traveling around the country for the U.S. government, lobbying for the development of American aviation and for expanding and modernizing the air wing of the armed forces.  When Hitler quickly occupied Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Belgium, and all but defeated France, and the second great European war of the century was well under way, the Air Corps colonel made himself the idol of the isolationists—and the enemy of FDR—by adding to his mission the goal of preventing America from being drawn into the war or offering any aid to the British or the French. There was already strong animosity between him and Roosevelt, but now that he was declaring openly at large public meetings and on network radio and in popular magazines that the president was misleading the country with promises of peace while secretly agitating and planning for our entry into the armed struggle, some in the Republican Party began to talk up Lindbergh as the man with the magic to beat "the warmonger in the White House" out of a third term. The more pressure Roosevelt put on Congress to repeal the arms embargo and loosen the strictures on the country's neutrality so as to prevent the British from being defeated, the more forthright Lindbergh became, until finally he made the famous radio speech before a hall full of cheering supporters in Des Moines that named among the "most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war" a group constituting less than three percent of the population and referred to alternately as "the Jewish people" and "the Jewish race."

"No person of honesty and vision," Lindbergh said, "can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them." And then, with remarkable candor, he added:

A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not . . .We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we must also look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction. 

The next day the very accusations that had elicited roars of approval from Lindbergh's Iowa audience were vigorously denounced by liberal journalists, by Roosevelt's press secretary, by Jewish agencies and organizations, even from within the Republican Party by New York's District Attorney Dewey and the Wall Street utilities lawyer Wendell Willkie, both potential presidential nominees. So severe was the criticism from Democratic cabinet members like Interior Secretary Harold Ickes that Lindbergh resigned his reserve commission as an Army colonel rather than serve under FDR as his commander in chief. But the America First Committee, the broadest-based organization leading the battle against intervention, continued to support him, and he remained the most popular proselytizer of its argument for neutrality. For many America Firsters there was no debating (even with the facts) Lindbergh's contention that the Jews' "greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government."  When Lindbergh wrote proudly of "our inheritance of European blood," when he warned against "dilution by foreign races" and "the infiltration of inferior blood" (all phrases that turn up in diary entries from those years), he was recording personal convictions shared by a sizable portion of America First's rank-and-file membership as well as by a rabid constituency even more extensive than a Jew like my father, with his bitter hatred of anti-Semitism—or like my mother, with her deeply ingrained mistrust of Christians—could ever imagine to be flourishing all across America.

>From The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.  Copyright by Philip Roth 2004.  All rights reserved.

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