‘The Plot Against America’ explores the alternate history of our world in which fascism took over the country after Roosevelt’s loss of the presidency to Charles Lindbergh. The show, which seems eerily familiar in current times, focuses on the wave of hatred that takes over America and turns it into yet another hell for the Jewish community. While it chills one to think of such possibility, several questions also arise, the first of which is, who is this man that defeated FDR? Was Charles Lindbergh real or a figment of Philip Roth’s imagination? Let’s find out.
Who was Charles Lindbergh?
It was in 1927 that Lindbergh first became a household name. He made the first solo nonstop flight of 33 1⁄2-hours from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis, a single-engine monoplane. He shot to stardom after this feat and even received the Medal of Honor, United States’ highest military decoration. Following this, there was an unprecedented interest in the field and his exploit is said to have revolutionised it completely. Lindbergh, too, spent a great deal of effort to keep this attention towards aviation and bring some necessary changes to it.
All of this made him a celebrated hero and he received further acknowledgements, for example, the US Post Office Department issued a stamp dedicated to him (the one that Phillip Levin holds dear in the show) and Time magazine awarded him “Man of the Year”, at the age of 25, the youngest to have ever received the title. However, these glory days shifted into the background when a heart-breaking tragedy befell the Lindbergh family.
The Kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr.
On the evening of March 1, 1932, Lindbergh Jr, a 20-month-child, was abducted from his crib, and two months later, his body was found in the woods, a short distance from Lindbergh residence. Termed Crime of the Century, the case drew national attention and even led to the establishment of kidnapping as a federal law once the state lines have been crossed by the kidnapper with their victim.
The kidnapper’s demand of $50,000 as ransom was fulfilled, and it through these bills that he was eventually tracked down. In September 1934, Richard Hauptmann was arrested and more than $13,000 of the ransom bills were found in his possession. He was convicted of the crimes of kidnapping, murder and extortion levied on him and was executed by electrocution in 1936.
The frenzy surrounding the case was so high that the Lindbergh family left for Europe in 1935. The theories regarding Hauptmann’s guilt and innocence were also widely discussed and some considering Lindbergh himself to be responsible for the child’s death might also have been the distress that drove the family away. In the show as well, we discover that this particular incident is what turns around the entire life of the man who eventually goes on to become the President of the USA.
Anti-Semitism and Sympathy with Hitler
The Lindberghs returned to America in 1939 and that’s when people discovered that Charles Lindbergh had embraced a completely different world back in Europe. He openly expressed his anti-Semitic and anti-war beliefs. He was publicly against America’s intervention in Europe’s war and even seemed to be in favour of Nazi Germany. He even went as far as to say that the three most important groups who wanted America to go to war were the British, the Jews and the Roosevelt administration. He also attacked everyone from capitalists to communists for enthusing the people of the country in favour of the war.
In ‘The Plot Against America’, it is shown that despite these views, Lindbergh succeeds in winning the election. In reality, however, Lindbergh never ran for the presidency. In 1940, FDR was up against Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate who was easily defeated. However, some Republicans had considered Lindbergh for the position, and it was the bare possibility of a man like him getting a shot at the power of being the President of America that got Roth to consider this alternate reality.
How did Charles Lindbergh die?
After the War, Lindbergh moved on to other things. He wrote a couple of books, served as a consultant to the Chief of Staff in US Air Force, met with the crew of Apollo 8 before they left for their mission, among other things. He also had a number of extramarital affairs and had seven children out of three relationships. Before his death, in a letter he wrote to his mistresses, he asked them to keep their affairs a secret, even from their children. It was after a long time that one of the children made the connection through one of his pictures in a magazine or newspaper that the truth came out. In 1974, at the age of 72, Charles Lindbergh died of lymphoma in Maui, the Hawaiian island that had been his home in the last years of his life.