Book review: Those Angry Days

My last book review dealt with the United States’ and its allies’ D-Day Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, to the end of the Third Reich on May 8, 1945. While the country was totally supportive of President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) and his war efforts once war was declared during December of 1941, the road leading to this declaration of war was not smooth for the President and this country from 1939 until December of 1941.

This reluctance of our country to enter World War II is described in the book titled Those Angry Days by Lynne Olson. It was published in 2013, and it is available in hard cover (461 pages), paperback and electronically.

While the period covered in this book was from 1939 to late 1941, it proved to be the most controversial period in our history after the Civil War, up to and including the present time, according to the author. People on all sides of the issue felt so strongly, unreasonably and hatefully about their positions that negotiations, mediation and compromise were not even tried.

The controversy revolved around whether the United States should remain neutral and stay out of the European war, which commenced in September of 1939, or intervene with aid and/or boots on the ground, on behalf of Great Britain. Ultimately, that country was the only remaining European democracy fighting Hitler and the Nazi takeover of most other countries in Europe.

On one side of this dispute was Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 became a national and an international super hero and celebrity after his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He also received the sympathy of the world because of the kidnap and murder of his infant son. However, because of his outspoken opposition to assisting in the European conflict, and his frequent visits to Germany and friendship with Hitler during this period, Lindbergh’s popularity was fast declining, and there were growing accusations that he was a Nazi sympathizer.

Lindbergh’s views against the Jewish struggles in Europe, as expressed in several of his national radio addresses and speeches, also gave him the label of being anti Semitic. Actually, his opposition to the settling of Jewish refugees here from other European countries controlled by Nazi Germany was shared by many others in this country. For example, while Great Britain allowed 9,000 Jewish refugee children to enter its country during this period, the United States allowed only 240 of them to enter.

Lindbergh also felt, and openly expressed his opinion, that the United States had been tricked into World War I in 1917, which he felt resulted in the loss of some 50,000 young American lives.

On the other side was FDR, who easily won his second term election in 1936, primarily because of his efforts directing the country’s recovery from the “Great Depression.” His popularity and his work projects were then at an all time high.

This popularity began to subside when FDR attempted to stack the Supreme Court after his re-election. That defeat, together with other issues in this country, caused FDR to start paying closer attention to national polls to better perceive the pulse of the country, especially with respect to Europe’s problems both before and after 1939.

There were organizations being formed like “America First” to keep this country neutral as the European problems developed, and there were federal laws such as the “Neutrality Act,” which prohibited sending any aid to Great Britain, irrespective of its struggles against Nazi Germany.

There were student revolts and rioting here in opposition to a newly imposed military draft law. In addition, there were newspaper publishers, including Robert McCormick and his Chicago Tribune, strongly advocating the continuation of this country’s isolation.

Finally, as the election of 1940 was approaching, there was a movement within the Democratic Party to deny FDR an unprecedented third term.

All of this led FDR to announce before the 1940 Democratic Convention in Chicago that he would not seek a third term. However, after several ballots at the convention without the nomination of a candidate, there came a lone voice over the loud speaker saying “We want Roosevelt.” Soon this voice was joined by more and more cries for FDR until the whole convention hall called for his nomination to a third term.

As a side note, this lone voice on the loudspeaker was that of the Chicago Superintendent of Sewers, who was sent to the basement of the convention hall by Mayor Edward J. Kelly to start this chant.

FDR went on to be elected to a third term in 1940 against Wendall Wilkie, who, by the way, was openly in favor of intervention in the European war at that time.

The anger and division in this country came to an abrupt end with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. FDR immediately went before Congress requesting a declaration of war, which he easily received, but only against Japan. However, because of his pact with Japan, Hitler then declared war against the United States on December 11, 1941. Thus, when FDR again went before Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, both Houses of Congress unanimously (with one abstention) voted in favor of war against Germany as well.

With the declaration of war by the United States against both Germany and Japan, New Deal projects and civil liberties and rights took back seats to the war effort.

Because of our defense boom, unemployment dropped from 14% to less than 2% during the war’s three and a half years.

FDR was also elected to a fourth term in 1944 but, in 1945, he died in office shortly after his inauguration.

The book’s final chapter summarizes Lindbergh’s remaining years after 1941 until his death in 1974, and his somewhat public reinstatement. It also discloses his various extra-marital affairs, with three German women, resulting in at least seven children he fathered, all of which was not made public until 2003, some two years after his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, death.

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October 2016Volume 8Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)