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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He was an independent guy who valued his own beliefs, and he would not bow or kowtow to anybody. That's the way he felt.
Q: One of the amazing things about Lindbergh, who seems callous and robotic, is the fact that he landed a warm and sensitive wife. Anne Morrow Lindbergh would become a celebrity herself, beloved for her many books. She'd live into the 21st century. Did she bear the burden of all the humanity in their marriage?
A: It's a very strange relationship.
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She was really his opposite. He was tone deaf to other people; she was very emotional and sensitive, a reader and a brilliant writer.
He valued action, she valued the life of the mind.
At the beginning, she had a major inferiority complex. She got tired of his control of her life, but could never really do anything about it.
Q: To make matters even more complicated, her family supported the British. How did that play out?
A: She was really caught in the middle. While she was supporting Lindbergh, her mother was a big activist in the interventionist movement and her sister Constance was married to one of the biggest British propagandists in New York.
Q: Now we think of Lindbergh as misguided and brainwashed. But what about the other side of the story? Was he actually onto something?
A: Part of what Lindbergh was saying was perfectly understandable. Then the racist and anti-Semitic comments really hurt him.
Q: Did he ever have any second thoughts?
A: There is no sign that he regretted anything he said.
It's just extraordinary. Even after the war, when the Holocaust and all the atrocity came to light, he refused to admit this was a necessary war for the US to be in. He kept insisting we should have not gone to war. He never could acknowledge, as far as I know, that he was wrong.
However, Anne did say that they had been very blind to what Hitler was doing.
Q: What do you think of him personally?
A: I certainly don't admire him, but I have some sympathy for him.
He was never happier then when he was in a cockpit, and that's where he should have remained. But he was caught up in this world of celebrity in his mid-20s and had absolutely no preparation, nor the personality for it.
Someone said to me, "Nobody was less equipped to be Charles Lindbergh than Charles Lindbergh. No one was less equipped to be the most famous man than him."
He never could cope with it, and then the kidnapping and murder of his son created this huge psychological wound that he never recovered from.
I feel somewhat sorry for him, but it doesn't excuse the reprehensible things he did.
Q: How does the battle over getting into World War II matter now?
A: It's always important to understand the complexity of history, to know that things are not often what they seem.
What impressed me was how this was a really full-throated national debate. This debate did not just go on in the White House and Congress. It went on in classrooms and bars and beauty parlors. People were actively involved on either side.
It was bitter and nasty, but it was a real exercise in democracy.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.