Drooling on the Pillow

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sometimes You Have To Fight 

I just finished Philip Roth's The Plot Against America last night and I can't recommend it too highly.

I suppose you'd have to call it alternative history, but you're not in Harry Turtledove's hands here, but rather a true master.

The premise is that F.D.R. is thwarted in his bid for a third term in 1940 by the charismatic Charles Lindbergh who establishes a cordial relationship with the Third Reich and begins laying the groundwork for a soft Final Solution here in the States as the Japanese extend their sway over all of Asia and the Soviets and Great Britain struggle to hold on against the Nazis.

It's told, mostly, from the perspective of a boy named Philip Roth, growing up in comfortable, yet struggling circumstances in Newark, NJ in the late '30s and early '40s.

The book is terribly unfair, of course, to Lindbergh, the national Republican Party and, oddly, to liberals.

Lindbergh was undeniably anti-Semitic in a cerebral, yet clueless way and Roth uses a number of direct quotes to establish the fact. His portrait of Lindbergh shows a man without any personal animus toward Jews, in fact an admirer of the Jewish 'race', but one who firmly believes that the interests of the Jews and those of 'Americans' conflict. Charles Lindbergh, meet Patrick Buchanan.

'History' lessons are interjected into the story of the Roths and, while these are necessary to the plot, they are the weakest parts of the book. Lindbergh has nothing but his celebrity, charisma and glamour to push his agenda, but during his long assault on the Constitution and the American way, almost no one stands up to him or even seriously questions what is going on. Only Walter Winchell and the old liberal New York paper PM were screaming. F.D.R. barely rouses himself. Northern liberals of neither party are heard from. One has to accept that the desire to stay out of the European war was so powerful in this country in the late 1930s that all it needed was a leader to translate that desire into national power. And if that leader kept his promise, the average American was willing to accept fundamental changes in the way the nation conducted itself. I'm not going to make the mistake of saying it couldn't happen here, but I do protest that it couldn't happen that easily or noiselessly.

Perhaps. Roth makes as good a case as can be made, but he can only make it by silencing the many powerful interests and groups who would have opposed it.

The reason I unhesitatingly recommend the book is that Roth is one of the greatest of all American writers and his command and power grows with every book. The story of the Roth family is deep, rich and engrossing. The paranoia that is central to the book is not just 'Jewish' or Liberal, but fundamental to the perspective of a nine-year old during tumultuous times. It's not a large book, but it's a remarkably populated and convincing canvas.

I can't resist comparing the America First movement portrayed in the book to the liberal opposition to the war in Iraq. It's no secret that F.D.R. did want us in WWII and most people would concede that he maneuvered with Japan with that in mind. Only a fool believes that he knew about Pearl Harbor in advance, but if he was not looking for a confrontation with Japan, many of his actions make no sense. And, yes, he did lie about his intentions with respect to the war. Let's not forget that the Germans, whom he was most eager to take on, never attacked us and did not pose a threat to us, imminent or not.

I happen to believe he was correct in every particular. There are times when you have to fight and that certainly was one. Remarkably, many of today's America Firsters also point to the sly oriental finger of the Jews as guiding the powerful secret cabal sending our boys off to die in a pointless foreign war. In the '30s not one American had lost their life to the enemy when America First organized itself around the principle of isolationism. Today's isolationists demand retreat despite thousands of lives lost and dozens of attacks. Despite a large, wealthy enemy's repeated vow to destroy us, backed up with countless acts.

This is another time to fight. If the Democrats have a plausible alternative, let them say it. If the isolationists have a case to make, let them organize it around a principle other than America's sins. But, for God's sake, don't blame the Jews.

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com Listed on BlogShares