In 1936, the American embassy in Berlin became increasingly alarmed at the rapid rearmament of Germany, especially the German Air Force. Their intelligence was sketchy at best, and they needed to find out more soon. But how? The Nazi government was loath to trust American diplomats, let alone give them a tour of the German military.
So the embassy came up with a brilliant idea. Send Charles Lindbergh. The American celebrity-hero. If anyone could find out what they were up to, it would be him. After all, the Germans were enthralled with the world’s most famous aviator and with any luck would show him what they had.
That’s exactly what happened.
Reich Marshall Hermann Göring showed Lindbergh not only their latest planes, but tanks, guns, weapons factories. In short, the whole German military infrastructure.
Göring was so enamored with Lindbergh that he even presented him with Germany’s highest medal for aviation.
From there, we have the premise of the HBO miniseries, “The Plot Against America.” Lindbergh the Nazi sympathizer is elected president and wreaks havoc on American Jewry.
All the rest, as the saying goes, is commentary.
Yet there’s a lot to comment about this miniseries adapted from the Phillip Roth novel.
At the outset, we’re brought into the real world of 1940 as the Nazis are wreaking havoc on Britain. The America First movement, tasked with keeping the country out of another world war, is spearheaded by Charles Lindbergh.
From here the alternative history curtain rises with the pro-Nazi German-American Bund on the move, American Jews under siege, and the country on the brink of war. Lindbergh wrestles the Republican nomination away from Wendell Wilkie and catapults his way into the presidency to the horror of much of American Jewry.
The series focuses on the Levin family and their neighbors in Jewish blue-collar Newark, N.J., now mortified that their Jewish-loving Franklin Roosevelt (he wasn’t) is defeated by the likes of the Jewish-hating Charles Lindbergh (he wasn’t.)
From there, it’s all downhill for America’s Jews. Bess Levin, the wife and mother, sees a Jew-hating America closing in on her, as husband Herman refuses to give up. “This is our country,” he blurts out to an unconvinced Bess, who wants to flee with her neighbors to that latest land of milk and honey to the north, Canada.
Bess’s sister Evelyn, played by Winona Ryder, hooks up with Lindbergh’s insufferably doting rabbi—a Republican, of course, whose father was a Confederate officer in the Civil War. He’s being used by the devious Lindberg as window dressing to trick the Jews into believing that the new Republican President is really their friend.
Would Hollywood have it any other way?
As 1941 churns on, President Lindbergh signs a neutrality treaty with Adolf Hitler, essentially throwing Britain to the German wolves. Lend Lease never happened, and America never enters the war. The series makes few references to the war after that other than implying that by 1942, Britain is still afloat and Russia is on the attack.
With America on the sidelines covertly supplying Germany, Britain would have been isolated, starved and probably overrun by then. And Russia? It’s doubtful that even Moscow could have held out.
No matter. This is alternative history, and we’re expected to ride with it, regardless of where the ride turns.
With the help of his court rabbi, Lindbergh and his genuinely anti-Jewish Interior Secretary Henry Ford come up with a plan called “Just Folks” to relocate East Coast Jews into the interior of the country to try to assimilate them since they figure that Jews will stay in their ghetto enclaves unless enticed (read, coerced) to go elsewhere.
Evelyn, who like her now-rabbi fiancé has fallen under Lindbergh’s spell, runs the “Just Folks” program and enlists her very willing nephew to the horror of his parents, Herman and Bess. Not only that, but at a White House reception for (and I kid you not) German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, Evelyn is actually (gasp) photographed dancing on the ballroom with him. Translation: The Nazis don’t really hate Jews, newsreels of persecuted Jews in Germany be damned, even as President Lindbergh snubs her and her fawning rabbi beau at the reception.
In Lindbergh’s America the country is adamantly pro-German and anti-British. And becoming increasingly anti-Jewish, too. But it was always there, don’t you know, waiting to rear its ugly head. Christian America just needed the right leader to help unleash their anti-Semitic proclivities and found it in Herr Lindbergh.
Walter Winchell, the famed news anchor, has had enough and mounts an early run for the presidency. The Bund, now heavily reinforced under the anti-Jewish Lindbergh, attacks Winchell’s rallies with the prodding of that vile anti-Communist J. Edgar Hoover … but, of course.
Unrest spreads throughput the country, the Ku Klux Klan is on the move, and America’s Jews are suddenly in peril. As the Klan led mobs burn and pillage, Winchell is assassinated.
Meanwhile, British agents, from a country still inexplicably in the war, hatch a plot to shoot down Lindy’s plane that he’s so fond of flying himself. To do that, they recruit Herman Levin’s nephew Alvin, who lost his leg fighting in the Canadian Army against the Nazis a year before. Alvin is a radar expert, and they task him with tracking Lindbergh’s plane.
The sleek British operatives abruptly send Alvin on his way home, and he learns that Lindy’s plane is missing. Hitler declares that the plane was shot down by a British-Canadian-Jewish conspiracy. Oddly enough, this time he’s right.
Pogroms erupt across America as the Pittsburgh Jewish section is seen burning by Herman Levin, who’s driving to Kentucky to rescue a boy whose mother, a former neighbor relocated there through the “Just Folks” program, was killed in a Louisville pogrom.
And on it goes.
It’s clear that the series producers tried to depict as bleak a scenario as possible if the iconic Roosevelt had been defeated in 1940 by the dastardly Lindbergh. Yet it’s based on their misguided premise that Lindbergh was pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic. He was neither.
Before the war, Lindbergh served as an U.S. agent to assess German war capability, which he did with alarming accuracy. He concluded that the Nazis would rampage through Europe soon, and nothing short of America could stop them. And stopping America from entering the impending war was exactly what he set out to do by leading the America First movement.
Like millions of Americans at the time Lindbergh advocated for strict neutrality when the war finally erupted in 1939. For more than two years, his America First held sway over a large swath of the country fearful of involvement in another world war.
Pearl Harbor changed that.
The American Bund disbanded. America First shut down. And when Lindbergh sought a commission as a combat pilot, he was curtly rebuffed by Roosevelt himself. After which he retired to a quiet life until his death in Maui in 1974.
At most, Charles Lindbergh can be accused of naïveté, even gross negligence, in championing the cause of neutrality while Hitler was rampaging through Europe and beyond. His callous indifference to the plight of Europe and the countless victims of Nazism is appalling. And in the end, his the-war-is-not-our-problem dictum didn’t hold up.
The Nazi evil needed to be confronted, fought and defeated. Lindbergh wanted none of that. The vast oceans would protect America. They didn’t, and America fought the necessary war to crush the Nazi and Japanese enemy.
There’s no doubt that Lindbergh was a patriot, albeit a misguided one. Yet so were the millions of Americans who followed him, but then followed Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor.
The series depicts the unseen FDR as the protector and dear friend of the Jews. He was neither. He shut down Jewish immigration from Europe even as the Nazi persecution became evident. He blocked entry of the refugee ship St. Louis, with its Jews sent back to their demise in Europe. He refused to permit U.S. planes to bomb or even slightly interrupt the death camp slaughter.
Roosevelt was never a champion of the Jews, but neither was Lindbergh their foe. Yet the series recklessly depicts him as such, when, in fact, he was a genuine American hero, to non-Jew and Jew alike.
Even the mere speculation of American pogroms has no basis in fact. There has never been such a tragedy in American history. Dark depictions of America exist only in the mindset of biased, liberal Hollywood producers, with their preferred villain: an American celebrity icon turned Republican president who’s also a closet anti-Semite. Sound familiar?
Despite the myths propagated by the left, there’s not an undercurrent of Jew-hatred in this country. Never was. But Hollywood wants you to believe that there was and probably still is. Which is why “The Plot Against America” is a such shameful experience.
Tom Mountain is vice chair of the Massachusetts Republican Jewish Committee.