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Those Angry Days

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As Olson notes in this absorbing chronicle, the bitterness of that debate has been obscured in postwar histories that focus on American unity and resolve after Dec. 7, 1941. In “Those Angry Days,” she assigns herself the task of recreating the splintered political climate of 1939-1941, when American policy toward the war was very much in a state of flux.

“Those Angry Days” promises to benefit from some good timing, coming as it does on the heels of “Lincoln,” the widely discussed Steven Spielberg film in which a compelling moral ideal – in this case, racial equality – operates against a backdrop of political expedience and sordid compromises. In Olson’s story, the evolution of America’s role in World War II, a conflict now remembered as "The Good War" fought by "The Greatest Generation," reveals equally imperfect political realities.

Some of the most unflattering episodes in “Those Angry Days” involve Charles Lindbergh, the celebrated American aviator who used his international stature to argue against early American participation in the war. The book’s period photos include a snapshot of Lindbergh and wife Anne visiting Nazi Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering, one of numerous occasions in “Those Angry Days” when the reader winces at the thought of global terrors to come – and Lindbergh’s apparent blindness to the full implications of the Nazi regime. Even more unsettling is Olson’s detailed account of Lindbergh’s casual anti-Semitism, as when he blamed fledgling American pro-war sentiment at least partly on a Jewish media cabal.

But rather than demonizing Lindbergh, Olson parses the nuances of his early isolationism, noting that his reluctance to fight the Germans grew from several factors, including his conclusion that Nazi air power made diplomacy, rather than confrontation, the most practical way for Americans to address the European conflict before Pearl Harbor.

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