FDR vs. Lindbergh: Lynne Olson discusses America's debate over WWII
'Those Angry Days' examines the battle over whether America should enter the international conflict.
There may have been no war more necessary than World War II. But the Americans who lived in the late 1930s and early 1940s couldn't see into the future, and many believed Germany and Japan didn't pose a major threat. War, they argued, would be a disaster.Skip to next paragraph
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As author Lynne Olson writes in her new book, a roiling debate erupted across the US, pitting two of the nation's most admired men against each other. Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, captures a forgotten battle over the country's role in the world and the lives of American soldiers.
The Monitor's Danny Heitman called "Those Angry Days" an "absorbing chronicle." Olson has plenty of experience writing about international affairs: In 2010, I wrote in the Monitor that there was "plenty to appreciate" in Olson's previous book, "Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour."
In an interview, I asked Olson about the fiery movement against the war, the bizarre personality of Charles Lindbergh, and the lessons of the big debate today.
Q: It took the United States more than two years to enter World War II. Why were Americans so unwilling to protect Europe – including friends like the UK and France – from a rampaging Germany?
A: The US has had an isolationist tradition from the beginning. There was an old idea that we had established ourselves as a country to get away from Europe and stay away from all the entanglements in Europe and the rest of the world.
We got into World War I, but that was an anomaly, and most Americans believed the result was not very good: We'd gone into a war to save the UK and other allies from Germany, to make the world safe for democracy, and it didn't work. We got Adolf Hitler.
We were quite slow in coming around to the idea that this was a different threat that Hitler was posing, that we probably should get in.
Q: What surprised you the most about this great debate over whether the US should enter the war?
A: This debate was bitter and passionate.
Most Americans don't really know that much about this period of 1939-1941. We skip over it and go straight to Pearl Harbor.
Actually, it was a very hard-fought nasty fight that really involved millions of Americans. That really surprised me.
Also, a large group of military leaders – many if not most of the high-ranking officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force – were trying to sabotage FDR's policy, especially helping England.