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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.

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I thought there would be a fair amount of militarism in the military, but a lot of the big brass in the military were very much against going into the war. They thought we should focus on defending ourselves.

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They leaked information from within their own services to isolationist members of Congress and to Charles Lindbergh.
Q: Who were the isolationists, those who wanted the US to mind its own business?
A: The isolationist movement was very complex.

When people think of isolationists, they think of Midwesterners – conservatives, mostly Republican – who lived in a part of the country that didn't have much to do with the rest of the world.

In fact, isolationists were found in every spectrum of the political landscape.

Many were pacifists. They believed war would destroy the domestic reforms of the New Deal, and civil liberties would be severely curbed.

College students were also against the war. Now we think of World War II as the good war, the just war, the war that we had to get into. But back then, there was an anti-war movement on college campuses, just like during Vietnam, made up of young men who knew they would be on the front lines.

One of the interesting things I discovered is that the America First organization, the most influential isolationist group in the country, was founded by campus leaders who were mostly Republican but certainly not conservative.

They included men who went on to have illustrious careers: Gerald Ford, Sargent Shriver, Potter Stewart.
Q: What was President Franklin Roosevelt up to during this time?
A: His main goal was to help keep Britain afloat and surviving.

In the summer of 1940, Great Britain was vastly outnumbered and very close to going down to defeat. He didn't want to go war, certainly in terms of sending an army, but FDR was intent on keeping Britain alive by sending as much aid as he possibly could.
Q: Lindbergh himself is a complicated character. What did you find intriguing about him?
A: He's one of the strangest, most conflicted men I've ever written about.
Q: Was he truly a bigot?
A: He was a racist and felt the white race was superior to every other, and we shouldn't get in a war in other countries that were the right race.
Q: What about his sympathy toward the Nazis?
A: He'd been very impressed by Germany when he went there to visit in the 1930s and he felt they couldn't be beaten. He was a real technocrat and saw that the Germans as being technical experts. He had no empathy for human beings at all. He was really blinkered.

The weird thing about all this is that he hated politics and hated publicity. But he felt that he had to try to do everything to keep the US out of the war, and he was willing to enter this publicity cauldron to do that.
Q: Could he have landed in the White House?
A: There was all this speculation about his running for president, and Philip Roth wrote a novel based on that, but he never would have done it.


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