Sunday, April 21, 2013

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

by Lynne Olson, Random House, March 2012

...a significant book telling an important story in a very readable way.

Lynne Olson tells the story of the fight between the isolationists and the interventionists in the months leading up the the entry of the US into WWII.  This detailed history reads like a novel. 

On the isolationist side, the author has rightly centered her story around Charles Lindbergh.  Lindbergh’s character and personality is revealed through his wife Anne’e writings and the diaries of other family members and friends.  He is really a fascinating character.  All of the characteristics that made him so successful in aviation - independence, self assuredness, even arrogance were all the wrong traits to make him successful in political discourse.  Because of the issues around his son's kidnapping and death and the intense publicity that surrounded him in the US he relocated to Europe in the 1930s and became enamoured with the regimented and controlled life in Nazi Germany.  There were a few other interesting characters on the isolationist side, including some senior US military (George Marshall, Hap Arnold) and young intellectuals like John F. Kennedy, Sarge Shriver, and Brewster King.  While the debate between the two groups started in a high minded way, the isolationist’s soon attracted all kinds of crazies (radical Catholics, Communists, racial purists, Jew haters) to their cause and the debate sank to new lows (sound familiar today).

The interventionist story is centered around FDR and those advisers (Stimson, Knox) who supported the British cause.  FDR is portrayed as uncharacteristically reluctant to voice support for the interventionist cause.  What I found interesting was the role played by individual citizens in promoting the selective service act and the provision of military equipment to Britain.  Additionally the British ambassador to the US, Lord Lothian was a truly heroic character, actually sacrificing his health and life to work promoting the British cause to Americans.

I liked this book but not nearly as much as two earlier WWII books the author had - Citizens of London, and A Question of Honor.  I think the subject matter dealt with here was just less exciting that either the war in Britain or the story of the Polish aviators.  Nonetheless this is a significant book telling an important story in a very readable way.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher

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