BKMT READING GUIDES



 
Dramatic,
Insightful,
Informative

2 reviews

The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth

Published: 200
Hardcover : 391 pages
1 member reading this now
16 clubs reading this now
3 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 2 members
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 ...
No other editions available.
Add to Club Selections
Add to Possible Club Selections
Add to My Personal Queue
Jump to

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.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

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 abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

No discussion questions at this time.

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by Elisa J. (see profile) 07/04/20

 
by Gray W. (see profile) 02/14/20

 
by Daniel W. (see profile) 02/08/20

 
by Carrie H. (see profile) 11/27/18

 
  "The Plot Against America"by Barbara K. (see profile) 05/02/13

A plausible what-if scenario with the most evil regime on the planet conquering civilization during the period of the late 30s. A unique perspective through the eyes of the author as a child living in... (read more)

 
  "It is important to remember --"by Jeanine B. (see profile) 10/26/12

that history could always have taken other directions...

Rate this book
MEMBER LOGIN
Remember me
BECOME A MEMBER it's free

Now serving over 80,000 book clubs & ready to welcome yours. Join us and get the Top Book Club Picks of 2022 (so far).

SEARCH OUR READING GUIDES Search
Search


FEATURED EVENTS
PAST AUTHOR CHATS
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...