Monday, October 25, 2004

It Could Happen

Philip Roth's book The Plot Against America is a good book. I took it with me on my trip to Florida last week and it sustained me the whole five days. I wouldn't call it an amazingly wow book that left me feeling as though I'd been run over, but it is solid, well written, and thought provoking. The story takes place in 1940 and is written from 9 year old Philip Roth's point of view. He lives in a Jewish enclave in Newark, New Jersey with his parents and older brother Sandy. The story begins at the Republican national convention when, in a sudden and dramatic way that you would never see at today's convention, national icon and aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh gets the nomination for president of the United States. Jewish communities immediately go into an uproar; Lindbergh has met Hitler, has received the Iron Cross, has said that Nazi Germany is good for Europe. In a surprise landslide victory, Lindbergh beats FDR and the Jews become divided. There are some in the Jewish community who believe that Lindbergh is not anti-semitic, that he is a good man and good for the country, he is keeping us out of the war. Then there are those in the Jewish community who don't believe it and are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And so the conflict begins and slowly and subtly things spiral out of control until finally those who were afraid of Lindbergh are proven right. Normally I'd have a few quotes for you but since I was traveling I had no extra markers and dog earring pages of books is a big no-no for me. The book as a whole, however, has stuck with me since I've finished it and I find myself thinking about it from time to time. I am not a fan of alternative histories, never understood what the point of looking at what could have happened was. But after reading this book I think I am starting to get it. I think, at least for this book, it isn't so much what might have been, but what could be. Charles Lindbergh is long dead but it's not the characters themselves that matter so much as the climate that existed that allowed the events to happen. It would have been so easy to have had an America in league with the Nazis as Roth imagined. It would be so easy for something similar to happen today. No, there are no Nazis, but I see now how easy it would be if we have another terrorist attack in this country to institute policies against Muslims whether it be making them "more American" or rounding them up in detention camps "for their own safety." The ease with which our prejudices can be exploited is astounding and terrifying. In that regard, the book sent chills down my spine. To say no, it couldn't happen here, or I would never fall for such a ploy makes you even more susceptible to collusion. I have never read Roth before, but after reading The Plot Against America I will definitely be trying some of his other books.