War is Peace.
In the book--written in the style of a childhood memoir--Jewish youths are conscripted in a forcible assimilation program called "Just Folks," in which they are sent to live and work with rural farm families. Amid eruptions of anti-Semitic violence nationwide, President Lindbergh makes the U.S. a satellite of Nazi Germany, before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The president's disappearance triggers a reign of terror, with prominent Jewish Americans--including several members of FDR's "Brain Trust"--being rounded up and detained as suspects in a coup. Hundreds more are murdered by Klansmen and assorted violent bigots.
The coup, in fact, was apparently staged by Lindbergh's vice president, former Montana Democratic Senator Burton K. Wheeler. Roth depicts Wheeler --who, like Lindbergh, was a leader of the nonpartisan America First movement--as a pillar of malice and corrupt ambition. Wheeler's conniving is rewarded when he becomes president.
His success is short-lived, however, because Lindbergh's wife becomes disgusted with Wheeler and throws her support behind a special presidential election in 1942, returning FDR and his cabinet to power. Immediately after the election, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, leading to American entry in the war and an Allied victory over the Axis.
It is eventually revealed that the Lindbergh baby, rather than being murdered in 1932, had been taken to Germany, where he was used as blackmail leverage against his father. Lindbergh, at the time the most popular man in America, was forced to use his celebrity to serve Nazi interests, first as a leader of the America First movement and then as a quisling president, leading a puppet government.
The moral of Roth's exercise in "alternate history" seems to be that unless Americans are forced to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, they will become monstrous themselves. This is difficult to reconcile with the fact that foreign wars abet both the growth of the hatred that fuels persecution of minorities and the government power necessary to turn persecution into genocide.
The Plot Against America could be considered the literary descendant of The Authoritarian Personality, a post-WWII study published by a group of Marxist academics led by Theodor Adorno. That work purported to document that the American "bourgeois" exemplifies the personality type most likely to succumb to the ideological appeal of fascism.
"The purpose of [the Adorno study] dictated the conclusion that prejudice, a psychological disorder rooted in the 'authoritarian' personality structure, could be eradicated only by subjecting the American people to what amounted to collective psychotherapy--by treating them as inmates of an insane asylum," recalled the late sociologist Christopher Lasch. Adorno and his associates "defended Liberalism not on the grounds that Liberal policies served the ends of justice and freedom, but on the grounds that other positions had their roots in personal pathology."
As the late Murray Rothbard pointed out, Adorno's work was used to imply "in the name of psychological 'science,' that [liberals'] opponents were, well, kind of crazy." Thus, opposition to the welfare state and foreign entanglements was not worthy of at least a polite hearing, but rather a symptom of a psychological disorder --or, in Roth's treatment, a token of coven Nazi tendencies.
Like other leftists of his vintage, Roth is at once incurably indignant about pre WWII "isolationism" and dogmatically blind to his own isolationism--the cultural provincialism of a Manhattan intellectual who looks westward with a mixture of fear and contempt. One memorably spiteful passage in his book describes a typical Kentucky farmer as a crude, vulgar specimen of the "Anglo-Saxon Protestants who ran America and would always run it," someone who "was able to make a living right out of the earth ... eat only food that he himself had raised."
Such dangerously independent people, Roth's novel makes clear, must either be reduced to dependence on government or, better still, be treated as raw material for the state's mission of redemptive violence through warfare. A similar point was stated more elegantly centuries ago by the Duke of Sully, chief minister of France under King Henry IV: "The true means of setting the realm at rest is by keeping up a foreign war, towards which one can direct, like water in a gutter, all the turbulent humors of the kingdom."
Orwell's Big Brother encapsulated that worldview in the cynical slogan "War is Peace." Ironically, this is entirely true for those seeking to put down potential threats to the power of the Total State.
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|Title Annotation:||The Last Word|
|Author:||Grigg, William Norman|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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