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The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth

Published: 200
Hardcover : 391 pages
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A BookPage Notable Title
In this alternate history, Pulitzer Prize-winner Roth considers what it would be like for his Newark family--and for a million such families all over the country--during the menacing years of a Charles Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be ...
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Introduction

A BookPage Notable Title
In this alternate history, Pulitzer Prize-winner Roth considers what it would be like for his Newark family--and for a million such families all over the country--during the menacing years of a Charles Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews would have every reason to expect the worst.

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Excerpt

Chapter 1
June 1940–October 1940
Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War

Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of
course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I
would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t
been president or if I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.
When the first shock came in June of 1940—the nomination for
the presidency of Charles A. Lindbergh, America’s international
aviation hero, by the Republican Convention at Philadelphia—my
father was thirty-nine, an insurance agent with a grade school education,
earning a little under fifty dollars a week, enough for the
basic bills to be paid on time but for little more. My mother—
who’d wanted to go to teachers’ college but couldn’t because of the
expense, who’d lived at home working as an office secretary after
finishing high school, who’d kept us from feeling poor during the
worst of the Depression by budgeting the earnings my father
turned over to her each Friday as efficiently as she ran the household
—was thirty-six. My brother, Sandy, a seventh-grader with a
prodigy’s talent for drawing, was twelve, and I, a third-grader a
term ahead of himself—and an embryonic stamp collector inspired
like millions of kids by the country’s foremost philatelist,
President Roosevelt—was seven.

We lived in the second-floor flat of a small two-and-a-half-family house on a
tree-lined street of frame wooden houses with redbrick
stoops, each stoop topped with a gable roof and fronted by a
tiny yard boxed in with a low-cut hedge. The Weequahic neighborhood
had been built on farm lots at the undeveloped southwest
edge of Newark just after World War One, some half dozen of the
streets named, imperially, for victorious naval commanders in the
Spanish-American War and the local movie house called, after
FDR’s fifth cousin—and the country’s twenty-sixth president—
the Roosevelt. Our street, Summit Avenue, sat at the crest of the
neighborhood hill, an elevation as high as any in a port city that
rarely rises a hundred feet above the level of the tidal salt marsh to
the city’s north and east and the deep bay due east of the airport
that bends around the oil tanks of the Bayonne peninsula and
merges there with New York Bay to flow past the Statue of Liberty
and into the Atlantic. Looking west from our bedroom’s rear window
we could sometimes see inland as far as the dark treeline of
the Watchungs, a low-lying mountain range fringed by great estates
and affluent, sparsely populated suburbs, the extreme edge
of the known world—and about eight miles from our house. A
block to the south was the working-class town of Hillside, whose
population was predominantly Gentile. The boundary with Hillside
marked the beginning of Union County, another New Jersey
entirely.

We were a happy family in 1940.My parents were outgoing, hospitable
people, their friends culled from among my father’s associates
at the office and from the women who along with my mother
had helped to organize the Parent-Teacher Association at newly
built Chancellor Avenue School, where my brother and I were
pupils. All were Jews. The neighborhood men either were in business
for themselves—the owners of the local candy store, grocery
store, jewelry store, dress shop, furniture shop, service station, and
delicatessen, or the proprietors of tiny industrial job shops over by
the Newark-Irvington line, or self-employed plumbers, electricians,
housepainters, and boilermen—or were foot-soldier salesmen
like my father, out every day in the city streets and in people’s
houses, peddling their wares on commission. The Jewish doctors
and lawyers and the successful merchants who owned big stores
downtown lived in one-family houses on streets branching off
the eastern slope of the Chancellor Avenue hill, closer to grassy,
wooded Weequahic Park, a landscaped three hundred acres whose
boating lake, golf course, and harness-racing track separated the
Weequahic section from the industrial plants and shipping terminals
lining Route 27 and the Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct east of
that and the burgeoning airport east of that and the very edge of
America east of that—the depots and docks of Newark Bay, where
they unloaded cargo from around the world. At the western end of
the neighborhood, the parkless end where we lived, there resided
an occasional schoolteacher or pharmacist but otherwise few professionals
were among our immediate neighbors and certainly
none of the prosperous entrepreneurial or manufacturing families.
The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week;
the women worked all the time, with little assistance from laborsaving
devices, washing laundry, ironing shirts, mending socks,
turning collars, sewing on buttons, mothproofing woolens, polishing
furniture, sweeping and washing floors, washing windows,
cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets, and stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing
the sick, shopping for food, cooking meals, feeding relatives, tidying
closets and drawers, overseeing paint jobs and household repairs,
arranging for religious observances, paying bills and keeping
the family’s books while simultaneously attending to their
children’s health, clothing, cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct,
birthdays, discipline, and morale. A few women labored
alongside their husbands in the family-owned stores on the nearby
shopping streets, assisted after school and on Saturdays by their
older children, who delivered orders and tended stock and did the
cleaning up.

It was work that identified and distinguished our neighbors for
me far more than religion. Nobody in the neighborhood had a
beard or dressed in the antiquated Old World style or wore a skullcap
either outdoors or in the houses I routinely floated through
with my boyhood friends. The adults were no longer observant in
the outward, recognizable ways, if they were seriously observant at
all, and aside from older shopkeepers like the tailor and the kosher
butcher—and the ailing or decrepit grandparents living of necessity
with their adult offspring—hardly anyone in the vicinity spoke
with an accent. By 1940 Jewish parents and their children at the
southwestern corner of New Jersey’s largest city talked to one another
in an American English that sounded more like the language
spoken in Altoona or Binghamton than like the dialects famously
spoken across the Hudson by our Jewish counterparts in the five
boroughs.Hebrew lettering was stenciled on the butcher shop window
and engraved on the lintels of the small neighborhood synagogues,
but nowhere else (other than at the cemetery) did one’s
eye chance to land on the alphabet of the prayer book rather than
on the familiar letters of the native tongue employed all the time
by practically everyone for every conceivable purpose, high or low.
At the newsstand out front of the corner candy store, ten times
more customers bought the Racing Form than the Yiddish daily,
the Forvertz.

Israel didn’t yet exist, six million European Jews hadn’t yet ceased
to exist, and the local relevance of distant Palestine (under British
mandate since the 1918 dissolution by the victorious Allies of the
last far-flung provinces of the defunct Ottoman Empire) was a
mystery to me. When a stranger who did wear a beard and who
never once was seen hatless appeared every few months after dark
to ask in broken English for a contribution toward the establishment
of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, I, who wasn’t an
ignorant child, didn’t quite know what he was doing on our landing.
My parents would give me or Sandy a couple of coins to drop
into his collection box, largess, I always thought, dispensed out of
kindness so as not to hurt the feelings of a poor old man who,
from one year to the next, seemed unable to get it through his head
that we’d already had a homeland for three generations. I pledged
allegiance to the flag of our homeland every morning at school. I
sang of its marvels with my classmates at assembly programs. I ea-
gerly observed its national holidays, and without giving a second
thought to my affinity for the Fourth of July fireworks or the
Thanksgiving turkey or the Decoration Day double-header. Our
homeland was America.

Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything
changed.

For nearly a decade Lindbergh was as great a hero in our neighborhood
as he was everywhere else. The completion of his thirtythree-
and-a-half-hour nonstop solo flight from Long Island to
Paris in the tiny monoplane the Spirit of St. Louis even happened
to coincide with the day in the spring of 1927 that my mother discovered
herself to be pregnant with my older brother. As a consequence,
the young aviator whose daring had thrilled America and
the world and whose achievement bespoke a future of unimaginable
aeronautical progress came to occupy a special niche in the
gallery of family anecdotes that generate a child’s first cohesive
mythology. The mystery of pregnancy and the heroism of Lindbergh
combined to give a distinction bordering on the divine to
my very own mother, for whom nothing less than a global annunciation
had accompanied the incarnation of her first child. Sandy
would later record this moment with a drawing illustrating the
juxtaposition of those two splendid events. In the drawing—completed
at the age of nine and smacking inadvertently of Soviet
poster art—Sandy envisioned her miles from our house, amid a
joyous crowd on the corner of Broad and Market. A slender young
woman of twenty-three with dark hair and a smile that is all robust
delight, she is surprisingly on her own and wearing her floral-patterned
kitchen apron at the intersection of the city’s two busiest
thoroughfares, one hand spread wide across the front of the apron,
where the span of her hips is still deceptively girlish, while with the
other she alone in the crowd is pointing skyward to the Spirit of St.
Louis, passing visibly above downtown Newark at precisely the
moment she comes to realize that, in a feat no less triumphant for
a mortal than Lindbergh’s, she has conceived Sanford Roth.
Sandy was four and I, Philip, wasn’t yet born when in March
1932, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s own first child, a boy
whose arrival twenty months earlier had been an occasion for national
rejoicing, was kidnapped from his family’s secluded new
house in rural Hopewell, New Jersey. Some ten weeks later the decomposing
body of the baby was discovered by chance in woods a
few miles away. The baby had been either murdered or killed accidentally
after being snatched from his crib and, in the dark, still in
bedclothes, carried out a window of the second-story nursery and
down a makeshift ladder to the ground while the nurse and mother
were occupied in their ordinary evening activities in another part
of the house. By the time the kidnapping and murder trial in Flemington,
New Jersey, concluded in February 1935 with the conviction
of Bruno Hauptmann—a German ex-con of thirty-five living in
the Bronx with his German wife—the boldness of the world’s first
transatlantic solo pilot had been permeated with a pathos that
transformed him into a martyred titan comparable to Lincoln.
Following the trial, the Lindberghs left America, hoping through
a temporary expatriation to protect a new Lindbergh infant from
harm and to recover some measure of the privacy they coveted.
The family moved to a small village in England, and from there,
as a private citizen, Lindbergh began taking the trips to Nazi Germany
that would transform him into a villain for most American
Jews. In the course of five visits, during which he was able to
familiarize himself at first hand with the magnitude of the German
war machine, he was ostentatiously entertained by Air Marshal
Göring, he was ceremoniously decorated in the name of the
Führer, and he expressed quite openly his high regard for Hitler,
calling Germany the world’s “most interesting nation” and its
leader “a great man.” And all this interest and admiration after
Hitler’s 1935 racial laws had denied Germany’s Jews their civil, social,
and property rights, nullified their citizenship, and forbidden
intermarriage with Aryans.

By the time I began school in 1938, Lindbergh’s was a name that
provoked the same sort of indignation in our house as did the
weekly Sunday radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin, the Detroit-area
priest who edited a right-wing weekly called Social Justice and
whose anti-Semitic virulence aroused the passions of a sizable audience
during the country’s hard times. It was in November 1938—
the darkest, most ominous year for the Jews of Europe in eighteen
centuries—that the worst pogrom in modern history, Kristallnacht,
was instigated by the Nazis all across Germany: synagogues
incinerated, the residences and businesses of Jews destroyed, and,
throughout a night presaging the monstrous future, Jews by the
thousands forcibly taken from their homes and transported to
concentration camps.When it was suggested to Lindbergh that in
response to this unprecedented savagery, perpetrated by a state on
its own native-born, he might consider returning the gold cross
decorated with four swastikas bestowed on him in behalf of the
Führer by Air Marshal Göring, he declined on the grounds that for
him to publicly surrender the Service Cross of the German Eagle
would constitute “an unnecessary insult” to the Nazi leadership.
Lindbergh was the first famous living American whom I learned
to hate—just as President Roosevelt was the first famous living
American whom I was taught to love—and so his nomination by
the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as
nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security
that I had taken for granted as an American child of American
parents in an American school in an American city in an America
at peace with the world.
The only comparable threat had come some thirteen months earlier
when, on the basis of consistently high sales through the worst
of the Depression as an agent with the Newark office of Metropolitan
Life,my father had been offered a promotion to assistant manager
in charge of agents at the company’s office six miles west of
our house in Union, a town whose only distinction I knew of was
a drive-in theater where movies were shown even when it rained,
and where the company expected my father and his family to live
if he took the job. As an assistant manager, my father could soon
be making seventy-five dollars a week and over the coming years
as much as a hundred a week, a fortune in 1939 to people with our
expectations. And since there were one-family houses selling in
Union for a Depression low of a few thousand dollars, he would be
able to realize an ambition he had nurtured growing up penniless
in a Newark tenement flat: to become an American homeowner.
“Pride of ownership” was a favorite phrase of my father’s, embodying
an idea real as bread to a man of his background, one having
to do not with social competitiveness or conspicuous consumption
but with his standing as a manly provider.
The single drawback was that because Union, like Hillside, was
a Gentile working-class town, my father would most likely be the
only Jew in an office of some thirty-five people, my mother the
only Jewish woman on our street, and Sandy and I the only Jewish
kids in our school.
On the Saturday after my father was offered the promotion—a
promotion that, above all, would answer a Depression family’s
yearning for a tiny margin of financial security—the four of us
headed off after lunch to look around Union. But once we were
there and driving up and down the residential streets peering out
at the two-story houses—not quite identical but each, nonetheless,
with a screened front porch and a mown lawn and a piece of
shrubbery and a cinder drive leading to a one-car garage, very
modest houses but still roomier than our two-bedroom flat and
looking a lot like the little white houses in the movies about smalltown
salt-of-the-earth America—once we were there our innocent
buoyancy about the family ascent into the home-owning class was
supplanted, predictably enough, by our anxieties about the scope
of Christian charity.My ordinarily energetic mother responded to
my father’s “What do you think, Bess?” with enthusiasm that even
a child understood to be feigned. And young as I was, I was able to
surmise why: because she was thinking, “Ours will be the house
‘where the Jews live.’ It’ll be Elizabeth all over again.”
Elizabeth, New Jersey, when my mother was being raised there
in a flat over her father’s grocery store, was an industrial port a
quarter the size of Newark, dominated by the Irish working class
and their politicians and the tightly knit parish life that revolved
around the town’s many churches, and though I never heard her
complain of having been pointedly ill-treated in Elizabeth as a girl,
it was not until she married and moved to Newark’s new Jewish
neighborhood that she discovered the confidence that led her to
become first a PTA “grade mother,” then a PTA vice president in
charge of establishing a Kindergarten Mothers’ Club, and finally
the PTA president, who, after attending a conference in Trenton on
infantile paralysis, proposed an annual March of Dimes dance on
January 30—President Roosevelt’s birthday—that was accepted by
most Newark schools. In the spring of 1939 she was in her second
successful year as a leader with progressive ideas—already supporting
a young social studies teacher keen on bringing “visual education”
into Chancellor’s classrooms—and now she couldn’t help
but envision herself bereft of all that had been achieved by her becoming
a wife and a mother on Summit Avenue. Should we have
the good fortune to buy and move into a house on any of the
Union streets we were seeing at their springtime best, not only
would her status slip back to what it had been when she was growing
up the daughter of a Jewish immigrant grocer in Irish Catholic
Elizabeth, but,worse than that, Sandy and I would be obliged to relive
her own circumscribed youth as a neighborhood outsider.
Despite my mother’s mood, my father did everything he could
to keep up our spirits, remarking on how clean and well-kept
everything looked, reminding Sandy and me that living in one of
these houses the two of us would no longer have to share a small
bedroom and a single closet, and explaining the benefits to be derived
from paying off a mortgage rather than paying rent, a lesson
in elementary economics that abruptly ended when it was necessary
for him to stop the car at a red light beside a parklike drinking
establishment dominating one corner of the intersection.
There were green picnic tables set out beneath the shade trees full
with foliage, and on this sunny weekend afternoon there were waiters
in braided white coats moving swiftly about, balancing trays
laden with bottles and pitchers and plates, and men of every age
gathered at each of the tables, smoking cigarettes and pipes and cigars
and drinking deeply from tall beakers and earthenware mugs.
There was music, too—an accordion being played by a stout little
man in short pants and high socks who wore a hat ornamented
with a long feather.
“Sons of bitches!” my father said. “Fascist bastards!” and then
the light changed and we drove on in silence to look at the office
building where he was about to get his chance to earn more than
fifty dollars a week.
It was my brother who, when we went to bed that night, explained
why my father had lost control and cursed aloud in front
of his children: the homey acre of open-air merriment smack in
the middle of town was called a beer garden, the beer garden had
something to do with the German-American Bund, the German-
American Bund had something to do with Hitler, and Hitler, as I
hadn’t to be told, had everything to do with persecuting Jews.
The intoxicant of anti-Semitism. That’s what I came to imagine
them all so cheerfully drinking in their beer garden that day—like
all the Nazis everywhere, downing pint after pint of anti-Semitism
as though imbibing the universal remedy.
My father had to take off a morning of work to go over to the
home office in New York—to the tall building whose uppermost
tower was crowned with the beacon his company proudly designated
“The Light That Never Fails”—and inform the superintendent
of agencies that he couldn’t accept the promotion he longed
for.
“It’s my fault,” announced my mother as soon as he began to recount
at the dinner table what had transpired there on the eighteenth
floor of 1 Madison Avenue.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” my father said. “I explained before I left
what I was going to tell him, and I went over and I told him, and
that’s it. We’re not moving to Union, boys. We’re staying right
here.”
“What did he do?”my mother asked.
“He heard me out.”
“And then?” she asked.
“He stood up and he shook my hand.”
“He didn’t say anything?”
“He said, ‘Good luck, Roth.’”
“He was angry with you.”
“Hatcher is a gentleman of the old school. Big six-foot goy.
Looks like a movie star. Sixty years old and fit as a fiddle. These are
the people who run things, Bess—they don’t waste their time getting
angry at someone like me.”
“So now what?” she asked, implying that whatever happened as
a result of his meeting with Hatcher was not going to be good and
could be dire. And I thought I understood why. Apply yourself and
you can do it—that was the axiom in which we had been schooled
by both parents. At the dinner table, my father would reiterate to
his young sons time and again, “If anybody asks ‘Can you do this
job? Can you handle it?’ you tell ’em ‘Absolutely.’ By the time they
find out that you can’t, you’ll already have learned, and the job’ll
be yours. And who knows, it just might turn out to be the opportunity
of a lifetime.” Yet over in New York he had done nothing
like that.
“What did the Boss say?” she asked him. The Boss was how the
four of us referred to the manager of my father’s Newark office,
Sam Peterfreund. In those days of unadvertised quotas to keep
Jewish admissions to a minimum in colleges and professional
schools and of unchallenged discrimination that denied Jews significant
promotions in the big corporations and of rigid restrictions
against Jewish membership in thousands of social organizations
and communal institutions, Peterfreund was one of the first
of the small handful of Jews ever to achieve a managerial position
with Metropolitan Life. “He’s the one who put you up for it,” my
mother said. “How must he feel?”
“Know what he said to me when I got back? Know what he told
me about the Union office? It’s full of drunks. Famous for drunks.
Beforehand he didn’t want to influence my decision. He didn’t
want to stand in my way if this was what I wanted. Famous for
agents who work two hours in the morning and spend the rest of
their time in the tavern or worse. And I was supposed to go in
there, the new Jew, the big new sheeny boss the goyim are all dying
to work for, and I was supposed to go in there and pick ’em up off
the barroom floor. I was supposed to go in there and remind them
of their obligation to their wives and their children. Oh, how they
would have loved me, boys, for doing them the favor. You can
imagine what they would have called me behind my back. No, I’m
better off where I am.We’re all better off.”
“But can the company fire you for turning them down?”
“Honey, I did what I did. That’s the end of it.”
But she didn’t believe what he’d told her the Boss had said; she
believed that he was making up what the Boss had said to get her
to stop blaming herself for refusing to move her children to a Gentile
town that was a haven for the German-American Bund and by
doing so denying him the opportunity of his lifetime.
The Lindberghs returned to resume their family life in America in
April 1939. Only months later, in September, having already annexed
Austria and overrun Czechoslovakia, Hitler invaded and
conquered Poland, and France and Great Britain responded by declaring
war on Germany. Lindbergh had by then been activated as
a colonel in the Army Air Corps, and he now began traveling
around the country for the U.S. government, lobbying for the
development of American aviation and for expanding and modernizing
the air wing of the armed forces.When Hitler quickly occupied
Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Belgium, and all but defeated
France, and the second great European war of the century
was well under way, the Air Corps colonel made himself the idol of
the isolationists—and the enemy of FDR—by adding to his mission
the goal of preventing America from being drawn into the war
or offering any aid to the British or the French. There was already
strong animosity between him and Roosevelt, but now that he was
declaring openly at large public meetings and on network radio
and in popular magazines that the president was misleading the
country with promises of peace while secretly agitating and planning
for our entry into the armed struggle, some in the Republican
Party began to talk up Lindbergh as the man with the magic to beat
“the warmonger in the White House” out of a third term.
The more pressure Roosevelt put on Congress to repeal the arms
embargo and loosen the strictures on the country’s neutrality so as
to prevent the British from being defeated, the more forthright
Lindbergh became, until finally he made the famous radio speech
before a hall full of cheering supporters in Des Moines that named
among the “most important groups who have been pressing this
country toward war” a group constituting less than three percent
of the population and referred to alternately as “the Jewish people”
and “the Jewish race.”
“No person of honesty and vision,” Lindbergh said, “can look on
their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved
in such a policy both for us and for them.” And then, with
remarkable candor, he added:
A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed
to intervention. But the majority still do not . . .We
cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to
be their own interests, but we must also look out for ours.
We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of
other peoples to lead our country to destruction.
The next day the very accusations that had elicited roars of
approval from Lindbergh’s Iowa audience were vigorously denounced
by liberal journalists, by Roosevelt’s press secretary, by
Jewish agencies and organizations, even from within the Republican
Party by New York’s District Attorney Dewey and the Wall
Street utilities lawyer Wendell Willkie, both potential presidential
nominees. So severe was the criticism from Democratic cabinet
members like Interior Secretary Harold Ickes that Lindbergh resigned
his reserve commission as an Army colonel rather than
serve under FDR as his commander in chief. But the America First
Committee, the broadest-based organization leading the battle
against intervention, continued to support him, and he remained
the most popular proselytizer of its argument for neutrality. For
many America Firsters there was no debating (even with the facts)
Lindbergh’s contention that the Jews’“greatest danger to this country
lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures,
our press, our radio, and our government.”When Lindbergh
wrote proudly of “our inheritance of European blood,” when he
warned against “dilution by foreign races” and “the infiltration of
inferior blood” (all phrases that turn up in diary entries from those
years), he was recording personal convictions shared by a sizable
portion of America First’s rank-and-file membership as well as by
a rabid constituency even more extensive than a Jew like my father,
with his bitter hatred of anti-Semitism—or like my mother, with
her deeply ingrained mistrust of Christians—could ever imagine
to be flourishing all across America.

The 1940 Republican Convention. My brother and I went to sleep
that night—Thursday, June 27—while the radio was on in the living
room, and our father, our mother, and our older cousin Alvin
sat listening together to the live coverage from Philadelphia. After
six ballots, the Republicans still hadn’t selected a candidate. Lindbergh’s
name was yet to be uttered by a single delegate, and because
of an engineering conclave at a midwestern factory where he’d
been advising on the design of a new fighter plane, he wasn’t present
or expected to be.When Sandy and I went to bed the convention
remained divided among Dewey, Willkie, and two powerful
Republican senators, Vandenberg of Michigan and Taft of Ohio,
and it didn’t look as though a backroom deal was about to be brokered
anytime soon by party bigwigs like former president Hoover,
who’d been ousted from office by FDR’s overwhelming 1932 victory,
or by Governor Alf Landon, whom FDR had defeated even
more ignominiously four years later in the biggest landslide in
history.

Because it was the first muggy evening of the summer, the win-
dows were open in every room and Sandy and I couldn’t help but
continue to follow from bed the proceedings being aired over our
own living room radio and the radio playing in the flat downstairs
and—since an alleyway only barely wide enough for a single car
separated one house from the next—the radios of our neighbors to
either side and across the way. As this was long before window air
conditioners bested the noises of a neighborhood’s tropical nights,
the broadcast blanketed the block from Keer to Chancellor—a
block on which not a single Republican lived in any of the thirtyodd
two-and-a-half-family houses or in the small new apartment
building at the Chancellor Avenue corner. On streets like ours the
Jews voted straight Democratic for as long as FDR was at the top
of the ticket.

But we were two kids and fell asleep despite everything and
probably wouldn’t have awakened till morning had not Lindbergh
—with the Republicans deadlocked on the twentieth ballot—made
his unanticipated entrance onto the convention floor at 3:18 a.m.
The lean, tall, handsome hero, a lithe, athletic-looking man not yet
forty years old, arrived in his flying attire, having landed his own
plane at the Philadelphia airport only minutes earlier, and at the
sight of him, a surge of redemptive excitement brought the wilted
conventioneers up onto their feet to cry “Lindy! Lindy! Lindy!”
for thirty glorious minutes, and without interruption from the
chair. Behind the successful execution of this spontaneous pseudoreligious
drama lay the machinations of Senator Gerald P. Nye of
North Dakota, a right-wing isolationist who quickly placed in nomination
the name of Charles A. Lindbergh of Little Falls, Minnesota,
whereupon two of the most reactionary members of Congress
—Congressman Thorkelson of Montana and Congressman
Mundt of South Dakota—seconded the nomination, and at precisely
four a.m. on Friday, June 28, the Republican Party, by acclamation,
chose as its candidate the bigot who had denounced Jews
over the airwaves to a national audience as “other peoples” employing
their enormous “influence . . . to lead our country to
destruction,” rather than truthfully acknowledging us to be a small
minority of citizens vastly outnumbered by our Christian countrymen,
by and large obstructed by religious prejudice from attaining
public power, and surely no less loyal to the principles of
American democracy than an admirer of Adolf Hitler.
“No!” was the word that awakened us, “No!” being shouted in a
man’s loud voice from every house on the block. It can’t be. No.
Not for president of the United States.
Within seconds, my brother and I were once more at the radio
with the rest of the family, and nobody bothered telling us to go
back to bed. Hot as it was, my decorous mother had pulled a robe
over her thin nightdress—she too had been asleep and roused by
the noise—and she sat now on the sofa beside my father, her fingers
over her mouth as though she were trying to keep from being sick.
Meanwhile my cousin Alvin, able no longer to remain in his seat,
set about pacing a room eighteen-by-twelve with a force in his gait
befitting an avenger out searching the city to dispose of his nemesis.
The anger that night was the real roaring forge, the furnace that
takes you and twists you like steel.And it didn’t subside—not while
Lindbergh stood silently at the Philadelphia rostrum and heard
himself being cheered once again as the nation’s savior, nor when
he gave the speech accepting his party’s nomination and with it the
mandate to keep America out of the European war.We all waited
in terror to hear him repeat to the convention his malicious vilifi-
cation of the Jews, but that he didn’t made no difference to the
mood that carried every last family on the block out into the street
at nearly five in the morning. Entire families known to me previously
only fully dressed in daytime clothing were wearing pajamas
and nightdresses under their bathrobes and milling around in their
slippers at dawn as if driven from their homes by an earthquake.
But what shocked a child most was the anger, the anger of men
whom I knew as lighthearted kibbitzers or silent, dutiful breadwinners
who all day long unclogged drainpipes or serviced furnaces
or sold apples by the pound and then in the evening looked
at the paper and listened to the radio and fell asleep in the living
room chair, plain people who happened to be Jews now storming
about the street and cursing with no concern for propriety,
abruptly thrust back into the miserable struggle from which they
had believed their families extricated by the providential migration
of the generation before.
I would have imagined Lindbergh’s not mentioning the Jews in
his acceptance speech to be a promising omen, an indication that
he had been chastened by the outcry that had caused him to relinquish
his Army commission or that he had changed his mind since
the Des Moines speech or that he had already forgotten about us
or that secretly he knew full well that we were committed irrevocably
to America—that though Ireland still mattered to the Irish and
Poland to the Poles and Italy to the Italians, we retained no allegiance,
sentimental or otherwise, to those Old World countries
that we had never been welcome in and that we had no intention
of ever returning to. If I could have thought through the meaning
of the moment in so many words, this is probably what I would
have been thinking. But the men out on the street thought differently.
Lindbergh’s not mentioning the Jews was to them a trick
and no more, the initiation of a campaign of deceit intended both
to shut us up and to catch us off guard. “Hitler in America!” the
neighbors cried. “Fascism in America! Storm troopers in America!”
After their having gone without sleep all night long, there
was nothing that these bewildered elders of ours didn’t think and
nothing that they didn’t say aloud, within our hearing, before they
started to drift back to their houses (where all the radios still blared
away), the men to shave and dress and grab a cup of coffee before
heading for work and the women to get their children clothed and
fed and ready for the day.

Roosevelt raised everyone’s spirits by his robust response on learning
that his opponent was to be Lindbergh rather than a senator of
the stature of Taft or a prosecutor as aggressive as Dewey or a bigtime
lawyer as smooth and handsome as Willkie.When awakened
at four a.m. to be told the news, he was said to have predicted from
his White House bed, “By the time this is over, the young man will
be sorry not only that he entered politics but that he ever learned
to fly.”Whereupon he fell immediately back into a sound sleep—
or so went the story that brought us such solace the next day. Out
on the street, when all anyone could think about was the menace
posed to our safety by this transparently unjust affront, people had
oddly forgotten about FDR and the bulwark he was against oppression.
The sheer surprise of the Lindbergh nomination had activated
an atavistic sense of being undefended that had more to
do with Kishinev and the pogroms of 1903 than with New Jersey
thirty-seven years later, and as a consequence, they had forgotten
about Roosevelt’s appointment to the Supreme Court of Felix
Frankfurter and his selection as Treasury secretary of Henry Morgenthau,
and about the close presidential adviser, financier Bernard
Baruch, and about Mrs. Roosevelt and Ickes and Agriculture
Secretary Wallace, all three of whom, like the president,were known
to be friends of the Jews. There was Roosevelt, there was the U.S.
Constitution, there was the Bill of Rights, and there were the papers,
America’s free press. Even the Republican Newark Evening
News published an editorial reminding readers of the Des Moines
speech and openly challenging the wisdom of Lindbergh’s nomination,
and PM, the new left-wing New York tabloid that cost a
nickel and that my father had begun bringing home with him after
work along with the Newark News—and whose slogan read, “PM
is against people who push other people around”—leveled its assault
on the Republicans in a lengthy editorial as well as in news
stories and columns on virtually every one of its thirty-two pages,
including anti-Lindbergh columns in the sports section by Tom
Meany and Joe Cummiskey. On the front page the paper featured
a large photo of Lindbergh’s Nazi medal and, in its Daily Picture
Magazine, where it claimed to run photographs that other papers
suppressed—controversial photos of lynch mobs and chain gangs,
of strikebreakers wielding clubs, of inhuman conditions in America’s
penitentiaries—there was page after page showing the Republican
candidate touring Nazi Germany in 1938, culminating in the
full-page picture of him, the notorious medal around his neck,
shaking the hand of Hermann Göring, the Nazi leader second only
to Hitler.
On Sunday night we waited through the lineup of comedy programs
for Walter Winchell to come on at nine. And when he did
and proceeded to say what we had hoped he would say just as
contemptuously
as we wanted him to say it, applause erupted from
across the alleyway, as though the famous newsman weren’t walled
off in a radio studio on the far side of the great divide that was the
Hudson but were here among us and fighting mad, his tie pulled
down, his collar unbuttoned, his gray fedora angled back on his
head, lambasting Lindbergh from a microphone atop the oilcloth
covering on the kitchen table of our next-door neighbor.
It was the last night of June 1940. After a warm day, it had grown
cool enough to sit comfortably indoors without perspiring, but
when Winchell signed off at nine-fifteen, our parents were moved
to go outside for the four of us to take in the lovely evening together.
We were just going to walk to the corner and back—after
which my brother and I would go to sleep—but it was nearly midnight
before we got to bed and by then sleep was out of the question
for kids so overcome by their parents’ excitement. Because
Winchell’s fearless bellicosity had propelled all of our neighbors
outdoors as well, what had begun for us as a cheerful little evening
stroll ended as an impromptu block party for everyone. The men
dragged beach chairs from the garages and unfolded them at the
foot of the alleyways, the women carried pitchers of lemonade
from the houses, the youngest of the children ran wildly from
stoop to stoop, and the older ones sat laughing and talking off by
themselves, and all because war had been declared on Lindbergh
by America’s best-known Jew after Albert Einstein.
It was Winchell, after all, whose column had famously ushered
in the three dots separating—and somehow magically validating—
each hot news item ever so tenuously grounded in fact, and it was
Winchell who’d more or less originated the idea of firing into the face of the
credulous masses buckshot pellets of insinuating gossip
—ruining reputations, compromising celebrities, bestowing
fame, making and breaking showbiz careers. It was his column
alone that was syndicated in hundreds of papers all across the
country and his Sunday-night quarter of an hour that was the
country’s most popular news program, the rapid-fire Winchell delivery
and the pugnacious Winchell cynicism lending every scoop
the sensational air of an exposé.We admired him as a fearless outsider
and a cunning insider, a pal of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the
FBI, as well as a neighbor of the mobster Frank Costello and a con-
fidant of Roosevelt’s inner circle, even a sometimes guest invited to
the White House to amuse the president over a drink—the in-theknow
street fighter and hardboiled man about town whom his enemies
feared and who was on our side. Manhattan-born Walter
Winschel (a.k.a.Weinschel) had transformed himself from a New
York vaudeville dancer into a callow Broadway columnist earning
big money by embodying the passions of the cheesiest of the new
subliterate dailies, though ever since the rise of Hitler, and long before
anyone else in the press had the foresight or the wrath to take
them on, fascists and anti-Semites had become his number one
enemy. He’d already labeled as “ratzis” the German-American
Bund and hounded its leader, Fritz Kuhn, over the air and in print
as a secret foreign agent, and now—after FDR’s joke, the Newark
News editorial, and the thoroughgoing denunciation by PM—Walter
Winchell had only to disclose Lindbergh’s “pro-Nazi philosophy”
to his thirty million Sunday-evening listeners and to call
Lindbergh’s presidential candidacy the greatest threat ever to American
democracy for all the Jewish families on block-long little
Summit Avenue to resemble once again Americans enjoying the vitality
and high spirits of a secure, free, protected citizenry instead
of casting themselves about outdoors in their nightclothes like inmates
escaped from a lunatic asylum.
My brother was known throughout the neighborhood for being
able to draw “anything”—a bike, a tree, a dog, a chair, a cartoon

character like Li’l Abner—though his interest of late was in real
faces. Kids were always gathering around to watch him wherever he
would park himself after school with his large spiral pad and his
mechanical pencil and begin to sketch the people nearby. Inevitably
the onlookers would start to shout, “Draw him, draw her,
draw me,” and Sandy would take up the exhortation, if only to stop
them from screaming in his ear. All the while his hand was working
away, he’d look up, down, up, down—and behold, there lived
so-and-so on a sheet of paper.What’s the trick, they all asked him,
how’d you do it, as if tracing—as if outright magic—might have
played some part in the feat. Sandy’s answer to all this pestering
was a shrug or a smile: the trick to doing it was his being the quiet,
serious, unostentatious boy that he was. Compelling attention
wherever he went by turning out the likenesses people requested
had seemingly no effect on the impersonal element at the core of
his strength, the inborn modesty that was his toughness and that
he later sidestepped at his peril.
At home, he was no longer copying illustrations from Collier’s or
photos from Look but studying from an art manual on the figure.
He’d won the book in an Arbor Day poster contest for schoolkids
that had coincided with a citywide tree-planting program administered
by the Department of Parks and Public Property. There’d
even been a ceremony where he’d shaken the hand of a Mr. Bannwart,
who was superintendent of the Bureau of Shade Trees. The
design of his winning poster was based on a red two-cent stamp in
my collection commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Arbor
Day. The stamp seemed to me especially beautiful because visible
within each of its narrow, vertical white borders was a slender tree
whose branches arched at the top to meet and form an arbor—and
until the stamp became mine and I was able to examine through
my magnifying glass its distinguishing marks, the meaning of
“arbor” had been swallowed up in the familiar name of the holiday.
(The small magnifying glass—along with an album for twenty-five
hundred stamps, a stamp tweezers, a perforation gauge, gummed
stamp hinges, and a black rubber dish called a watermark detec-
tor—had been a gift from my parents for my seventh birthday. For
an additional ten cents they’d also bought me a small book of
ninety-odd pages called The Stamp Collector’s Handbook, where,
under “How to Start a Stamp Collection,” I’d read with fascination
this sentence: “Old business files or private correspondence often
contain stamps of discontinued issues which are of great value, so
if you have any friends living in old houses who have accumulated
material of this sort in their attics, try to obtain their old stamped
envelopes and wrappers.” We didn’t have an attic, none of our
friends living in flats and apartments had attics, but there’d been
attics just beneath the roofs of the one-family houses in Union—
from my seat in the back of the car I could see little attic windows
at either end of each of the houses as we’d driven around the town
on that terrible Saturday the year before, and so all I could think of
when we got home in the afternoon were the old stamped envelopes
and the embossed stamps on the prepaid newspaper wrappers
secreted up in those attics and how I would now have no
chance “to obtain” them because I was a Jew.)

The appeal of the Arbor Day commemorative stamp was greatly
enhanced by its representing a human activity as opposed to a famous
person’s portrait or a picture of an important place—an activity,
what’s more, being performed by children: in the center of
the stamp, a boy and a girl looking to be about ten or eleven are
planting a young tree, the boy digging with a spade while the girl,
supporting the trunk of the tree with one hand, holds it steadily in
place over the hole. In Sandy’s poster the boy and the girl are repositioned
and stand on opposite sides of the tree, the boy is pictured
as right-handed rather than left-handed, he wears long pants instead
of knickers, and one of his feet is atop the blade pressing it
into the ground. There is also a third child in Sandy’s poster, a boy
about my age, who is now the one wearing the knickers. He stands
back and to the side of the sapling and holds ready a watering
can—as I held one when I modeled for Sandy, clad in my best
school knickers and high socks. Adding this child was my mother’s
idea, to help distinguish Sandy’s artwork from that on the Arbor
Day stamp—and protect him from the charge of “copying”—but
also to provide the poster with a social content that implied a
theme by no means common in 1940, not in poster art or anywhere
else either, and that for reasons of “taste” might even have proved
unacceptable to the judges.

The third child planting the tree was a Negro, and what encouraged
my mother to suggest including him—aside from the desire
to instill in her children the civic virtue of tolerance—was another
stamp of mine, a brand-new ten-cent issue in the “educators
group,” five stamps that I’d purchased at the post office for a total
of twenty-one cents and paid for over the month of March out of
my weekly allowance of a nickel. Above the central portrait, each
stamp featured a picture of a lamp that the U.S. Post Office Department
identified as the “Lamp of Knowledge” but that I thought
of as Aladdin’s lamp because of the boy in the Arabian Nights
with the magic lamp and the ring and the two genies who give
him whatever he asks for. What I would have asked for from a
genie were the most coveted of all American stamps: first, the celebrated
1918 twenty-four-cent airmail, a stamp said to be worth
$3,400, where the plane pictured at the center, the Army’s Flying
Jenny, is inverted; and after that, the three famous stamps in the
Pan-American Exposition issue of 1901 that had also been mistakenly
printed with inverted centers and were worth over a thousand
dollars apiece.

On the green one-cent stamp in the educators group, just above
the picture of the Lamp of Knowledge, was Horace Mann; on the
red two-cent,Mark Hopkins; on the purple three-cent, Charles W.
Eliot; on the blue four-cent, Frances E.Willard; on the brown tencent
was Booker T. Washington, the first Negro to appear on an
American stamp. I remember that after placing the Booker T.
Washington in my album and showing my mother how it completed
the set of five, I had asked her, “Do you think there’ll ever be
a Jew on a stamp?” and she replied, “Probably—someday, yes. I
hope so, anyway.” In fact, another twenty-six years had to pass, and
it took Einstein to do it.

Sandy saved his weekly allowance of twenty-five cents—and
what change he earned shoveling snow and raking leaves and washing
the family car—until he had enough to bicycle to the stationery
store on Clinton Avenue that carried art supplies and, over a
period of months, to buy a charcoal pencil, then sandpaper blocks
to sharpen the pencil, then charcoal paper, then the little tubular
metal contraption he blew into to apply the fine fixative mist
that prevented the charcoal from smudging. He had big bulldog
clips, a masonite board, yellow Ticonderoga pencils, erasers, sketchpads,
drawing paper—equipment that he stored in a grocery carton
at the bottom of our bedroom closet and that my mother,
when she was cleaning, wasn’t permitted to disturb. His energetic
meticulousness (passed on from our mother) and his breathtaking
perseverance (passed on from our father) served only to magnify
my awe of an older brother who everyone agreed was intended for
great things, while most boys his age didn’t look as though they
were intended even to eat at a table with another human being. I
was then the good child, obedient both at home and at school—
the willfulness largely inactive and the attack set to go off at a later
date—as yet altogether too young to know the potential of a rage
of one’s own. And nowhere was I less intransigent than with him.
For his twelfth birthday, Sandy had gotten a large, flat black
portfolio made of hard cardboard that folded along a sewn seam
and was secured at the top edge with two attached lengths of ribbon
that he tied in a bow in order to fasten the leaves. The portfolio
measured about two feet by a foot and a half, too big to fit
into the drawers of our bedroom dresser or to be stacked upright
against the wall in the crowded bedroom closet he and I shared.He
was allowed to store it—along with his spiral sketchpads—laid out
flat beneath his bed, and in it he saved the drawings he considered
his best, beginning with his compositional masterwork of 1936, the
ambitious picture of our mother pointing overhead at the Parisbound
Spirit of St. Louis. Sandy had several large portraits of the
heroic aviator, in both pencil and charcoal, stowed away in his
portfolio. They were part of a series he was assembling of promi-
nent Americans that concentrated primarily on those living eminences
most revered by our parents, such as President and Mrs.
Roosevelt, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, United Mine
Workers president John L. Lewis, and the novelist Pearl Buck,
who’d won the Nobel Prize in 1938 and whose picture he copied
from the jacket of one of her bestsellers. A number of drawings in
the portfolio were of family members, and of those at least half
were of our sole surviving grandparent, our paternal grandmother,
who, on the Sundays when my uncle Monty brought her around to
visit, would sometimes serve Sandy as a model. Under the sway of
the word “venerable,” he drew every wrinkle he could find in her
face and every gnarl in her arthritic fingers while—as dutifully as
she’d scrubbed floors on her knees all her life and cooked for a
family of nine on a coal stove—tiny, sturdy Grandma sat in the
kitchen and “posed.”

We were alone together in the house only a few days after the
Winchell broadcast when Sandy removed the portfolio from under
his bed and carried it into the dining room. There he opened it out
on the table (reserved for entertaining the Boss and celebrating
special family occasions) and carefully lifted the Lindbergh portraits
from the tracing paper protecting each drawing and lined
them up on the tabletop. In the first, Lindbergh was wearing his
leather flying cap with the loose straps dangling over each ear; in
the second, the cap was partially hidden beneath large heavy goggles
pushed up from his eyes and onto his forehead; in the third, he
was bareheaded, nothing to mark him as an aviator other than the
uncompromising gaze out to the distant horizon. To gauge the
value of this man, as Sandy had rendered him, wasn’t difficult. A
virile hero. A courageous adventurer. A natural person of gigantic
strength and rectitude combined with a powerful blandness. Anything
but a frightening villain or a menace to mankind.

“He’s going to be president,” Sandy told me. “Alvin says Lindbergh’s
going to win.”

He so confused and frightened me that I pretended he was making
a joke and laughed.

“Alvin’s going to go to Canada and join the Canadian army,” he
said. “He’s going to fight for the British against Hitler.”

“But nobody can beat Roosevelt,” I said.

“Lindbergh’s going to. America’s going to go fascist.”

Then we just stood there together under the intimidating spell
of the three portraits. Never before had being seven felt like such a
serious deficiency.

“Don’t tell anybody I’ve got these,” he said.

“But Mom and Dad saw them already,” I said. “They’ve seen
them all. Everybody has.”

“I told them I tore them up.”

There was nobody more truthful than my brother. He wasn’t
quiet because he was secretive and deceitful but because he never
bothered to behave badly and so had nothing to hide. But now
something external had transformed the meaning of these drawings,
making them into what they were not, and so he’d told our
parents that he’d destroyed them, making himself into what he
was not.

“Suppose they find them,” I said.

“How will they do that?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Right,” he said. “You don’t. Just keep your little trap shut and
nobody’ll find anything.”

I did as he told me for many reasons, one being that the thirdoldest
U.S. postage stamp I owned—which I couldn’t possibly tear
up and throw away—was a ten-cent airmail issued in 1927 to commemorate
Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. It was a blue stamp,
about twice as long as it was high, whose central design, a picture
of the Spirit of St. Louis flying eastward over the ocean, had provided
Sandy with the model for the plane in the drawing celebrating
his conception. Adjacent to the white border at the left of the
stamp is the coastline of North America, with the words “New
York” jutting out into the Atlantic, and adjacent to the border at
the right the coastlines of Ireland, Great Britain, and France, with
the word “Paris” at the end of a dotted arc that charts the flight
path between the two cities. At the top of the stamp, directly beneath
the white letters that boldly spell out united states postage
are the words lindbergh–air mail in slightly smaller type
but large enough certainly to be read by a seven-year-old with perfect
vision. The stamp was already valued at twenty cents by Scott’s
Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, and what I immediately realized
was that its worth would only continue increasing (and so
rapidly as to become my single most valuable possession) if Alvin
was right and the worst happened.

On the sidewalk during the long vacation months we played a new
game called “I Declare War,” using a cheap rubber ball and a piece
of chalk. With the chalk you drew a circle some five or six feet in
diameter, partitioned it into as many pielike segments as there were
players, and chalked into each the name of one of various foreign
countries that had been in the news throughout the year. Next,
each player picked “his” country and stood straddling the edge of
the circle, one foot inside and one out, so that when the time came
he could flee in a hurry. Meanwhile a designated player, holding
the ball aloft in his hand, announced slowly, in an ominous cadence,
“I—declare—war—on—” There was a suspenseful pause,
and then the kid declaring war would slam the ball down, in the
same instant shouting “Germany!” or “Japan!” or “Holland!” or
“Italy!” or “Belgium!” or “England!” or “China!”—sometimes even
shouting “America!”—and everybody would take off except the
one on whom the surprise attack had been launched. His job was
to catch the ball on the bounce as quickly as he could and call
“Stop!” Everybody now allied against him would have to freeze in
place, and the victim country would begin the counterattack, trying
to eliminate one aggressor country at a time by walloping each
as hard as he could with the ball, beginning by throwing at those
closest to him and advancing his position with each murderous
thwack.

We played this game incessantly. Until it rained and temporarily
the names of the countries were washed away, people had to either
step on them or step over them when they made their way down
the street. In our neighborhood there was no other graffiti to speak
of in those days, just this, the remnants of the hieroglyphics of our
simple street games.Harmless enough, and yet it drove some of the
mothers crazy who had to hear us at it for hours on end through
their open windows. “Can’t you kids do something else? Can’t you
find another game to play?”But we couldn’t—declaring war was all
we thought about too.

On July 18, 1940, the Democratic Convention meeting in Chicago
overwhelmingly nominated FDR for a third term on the first ballot.
We listened on the radio to his acceptance speech, delivered
with the confidently intoned upper-class enunciation that, for
close to eight years now, had inspired millions of ordinary families
like ours to remain hopeful in the midst of hardship. There
was something about the inherent decorum of the delivery that,
alien though it was, not only calmed our anxiety but bestowed on
our family a historical significance, authoritatively merging our
lives with his as well as with that of the entire nation when he
addressed us in our living room as his “fellow citizens.”That Americans
could choose Lindbergh—that Americans could choose anybody
—rather than the two-term president whose voice alone conveyed
mastery over the tumult of human affairs . . . well, that was
unthinkable, and certainly so for a little American like me who’d
never known a presidential voice other than his.
Some six weeks later, on the Saturday before Labor Day, Lindbergh
surprised the country by failing to appear at the Detroit
Labor Day parade, where he had been scheduled to launch his
campaign with a motorcade through the working-class heartland
of isolationist America (and the anti-Semitic stronghold of Father
Coughlin and Henry Ford), and by arriving unannounced instead
at the Long Island airfield from which his spectacular transatlantic
flight had begun thirteen years before. The Spirit of St. Louis had
been secretly trucked in under a tarp and stored overnight in a remote
hangar, though by the time Lindbergh taxied the plane onto
the field the next morning, every wire service in America and every
radio station and newspaper in New York had a reporter on hand
to witness the takeoff, westward this time across America to California
rather than eastward across the Atlantic to Europe. Of
course, by 1940, commercial air service had been hauling transcontinental
freight, passengers, and mail for more than a decade, and
doing so largely as a result of the incentive of Lindbergh’s solo feat
and his industrious efforts as a million-dollar-a-year consultant to
the newly organized airlines. But it wasn’t the wealthy advocate of
commercial aviation who was launching his campaign that day,
nor was it the Lindbergh who had been decorated in Berlin by the
Nazis, nor the Lindbergh who, in a nationwide radio broadcast,
had blamed overly influential Jews for attempting to drive the
country into war, nor was it even the stoical father of the infant
kidnapped and killed by Bruno Hauptmann in 1932. It was rather
the unknown airmail pilot who’d dared to do what had never been
done by any aviator before him, the adored Lone Eagle, boyish and
unspoiled still, despite the years of phenomenal fame. On the holiday
weekend that closed out the summer of 1940, Lindbergh came
nowhere near besting the record time for a coast-to-coast nonstop
flight that he’d himself set a decade back with an aircraft more advanced
than the old Spirit of St. Louis. Nonetheless, when he arrived
at Los Angeles Airport, a crowd consisting largely of aircraft
workers—tens of thousands of them, employed by the big new
manufacturers in and around L.A.—was as overcome with enthusiasm
as any ever to greet him anywhere.

The Democrats called the flight a publicity gimmick stage-managed
by Lindbergh’s staff, when in fact the decision to fly to California
had been made only hours earlier by Lindbergh alone and
not by the professionals who had been assigned by the Republican
Party to steer the political novice through his first political campaign
and who, like everyone else, had been expecting him to turn
up in Detroit.

His speech was unadorned and to the point, delivered in a highpitched,
flat, midwestern, decidedly un-Rooseveltian American
voice. His flight outfit of high boots and jodhpurs and a lightweight
jumper worn over a shirt and tie was a replica of the one in
which he’d crossed the Atlantic, and he spoke without removing
his leather headgear or flight goggles, which were pushed up onto
his forehead exactly as Sandy had them positioned in the charcoal
drawing hidden beneath his bed.

“My intention in running for the presidency,” he told the raucous
crowd, once they had stopped chanting his name, “is to preserve
American democracy by preventing America from taking
part in another world war. Your choice is simple. It’s not between
Charles A. Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s between
Lindbergh and war.”

That was the whole of it—forty-one words, if you included the
A for Augustus.

After a shower and a snack and an hour’s nap there at the L.A.
airport, the candidate climbed back into the Spirit of St. Louis and
flew to San Francisco. By nightfall he was in Sacramento. And
wherever he landed in California that day, it was as though the
country hadn’t known the stock market crash and the miseries of
the Depression (or the triumphs of FDR, for that matter), as
though even the war he was there to prevent us from entering
hadn’t so much as crossed anyone’s mind. Lindy flew down out of
the sky in his famous plane, and it was 1927 all over again. It was
Lindy all over again, straight-talking Lindy, who had never to look
or to sound superior, who simply was superior—fearless Lindy, at
once youthful and gravely mature, the rugged individualist, the
legendary American man’s man who gets the impossible done by
relying solely on himself.

Over the next month and a half he proceeded to spend one full
day in each of the forty-eight states, until in late October he made
his way back to the Long Island runway from which he’d taken off
on Labor Day weekend. Throughout the daylight hours he would
hop from one city, town, or village to the next, landing on highways
if there was no nearby airstrip and setting down and taking
off from a stretch of pasture when he flew to talk with farmers and
their families in the remotest of America’s rural counties. His air-
field remarks were broadcast over local and regional radio stations,
and several times a week, from the state capital where he was
spending the night, he broadcast a message to the nation. It was always
succinct and went like this: To prevent a war in Europe is now
too late. But it is not too late to prevent America from taking part
in that war. FDR is misleading the nation. America will be carried
to war by a president who falsely promises peace. The choice is
simple. Vote for Lindbergh or vote for war.
As a young pilot in aviation’s early, novelty days, Lindbergh,
along with an older, more experienced sidekick, had entertained
crowds throughout the Midwest by skydiving in a parachute or
walking out parachuteless onto the plane’s wing, and the Democrats
were now quick to belittle his barnstorming in the Spirit of St.
Louis by likening it to these stunts. At press conferences, Roosevelt
no longer bothered to make a derisive quip when questioned by
newsmen
... view entire excerpt...

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