NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

A review: HBO’s “Plot Against America”

The Plot Against America

This speech might be pulled from an alt-right rally but it’s not, this speech was given on September 11, 1941 by American Aviator, Charles Augustus Lindberg, during an America First Rally in Des Moines, Iowa: “The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration…The second major group is the Jewish. It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany…A few far Jewish people realized this and stands opposed to intervention. But the vast majority still do not… We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to their own interests, but we must also look out for ours.  We can allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.”

In an alternate timeline this speech was in 1940 at the same rally. This speech carved a path towards the White House where Augustus became the opposing candidate against the incumbent President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Lindbergh wins the 1940 election and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish people increase and some of the families are being separated.                     

This is the synopsis of Phillp Roths National Best Seller The Plot Against America,” now it is being adapted to a tv show on HBO.

The series is viewed through the eyes of the Levin Family who are inspired by Philips Roths own family. The family are Jewish and working class, they live in Newark, New Jersey. In the first episode we see the dynamics of the family. Herman Levin is the father of Philip and his brother, Sandy, and is played by Morgan Spector. He played Frank Capone, Al Capones brother, in HBOs production of Boardwalk Empire”.  He is an insurance agent and is very passionate about his faith and his American pride.

 When Lindbergh gave his speech titled Who Are the War Agitators?” he is enraged about it and shows concern about his family. He knows what is happening to the Jews overseas in Germany, Poland and the rest of the European continent. He is married to his wife Elizabeth Levin, nicknamed Bess, who is the mother of young Phillip and Sandy. She is the stay-at-mom and she attends the local Parent Teachers Association meetings. She is played by Zoe Kazan.

 She has a sister named Evelyn Finkel who is unmarried and trying to find her place in the world. She takes care of her mother who is living with her. Evelyn is played by Winona Ryder who played Mina Harker in Francis Ford Coppolas adaptation of Bram Stokers Dracula”.  She is a supporter of South Carolina conservative rabbi, Lionel Bengelsdorf.  Bengelsdorf is played by John Turturro.  Turturro played Jesus Qunintana in the classic Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski” and will be playing Mafia Boss Carmine Falcone in The Batman” coming out in 2022. Bengelsdorf will become a key supporter of Charles Lindbergh and his road to the Presidency. 

Then there are the bothers Sandy and Philip who are played by new upcoming young actors Caleb Malis and Azhy Robertson. Sandy is Philips teenage older brother who is an artist and sees Lindbergh as a hero. He would be considered a rebel with a cause.  Philip is the younger son and brother of the family and has a stamp book to collect stamps. Then there is Hermans nephew, Alvin who is played by Anthony Boyle. Boyle was in films such as Tolkien” and The Lost City of Z” and the Amazon Prime series Philip K Dicks Electric Dreams”. Alvin is Hermans nephew who is the complete opposite of him.  Alvin has gripes with his family, has opposing political viewpoints and is a massive hypocrite and a thief. This eventually leads him to enlist in the British Army in Canada to fight the war in Europe.

In Episodes 2 and 3 we get to see real life events portrayed within the show. In episode two there was a massive pro-Lindbergh rally that was held in Madison Square Garden with a towering banner of George Washington. On the stage we see drummers and people holding the American flags. This draws parallels to the real life Madison Square Garden Rally that was held on February 20th 1939. The rally was hosted by the German American Bund and the main speaker of that event was the Bunds American FuhrerJulius Fritz Kuhn.  The event had over 20,000 attendees; these people were either members of the Bund, curious on lookers or anti-Nazi protesters. The protesters were on left side of the stage and being held back by the New York Police Department trying to keep the peace.

The police failed to stop one protester who jumped on to the stage and tried to attack Kuhn.  The guy was only stopped by Kuhns Brown shirted thugs who assaulted him relentlessly.  They had to pull the thugs off the poor guy and help him off the stage and the event was all caught on film.

After America enters the war in 1941, members associated with the Bund were put into internment camps, the biggest one of them was Crystal City, Texas. As for Kuhn he was denaturalized as a United States citizen in 1943. Two years later he was sent to Germany and in 1948, sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in trying to bring Nazism to US shores and having connections to Hitler. The ruling was handed down by the Germanys denazification courts which were set up after the war. Their job was to get rid of any trace of anything involved with the Nazis like the Swastika, SS runes and the SS deaths head.

Another event we see is the desecration and defacement of cemetery headstone, more specifically a Jewish cemetery.  In this episode we see Herman and his friends cleaning up the defaced headstones. The headstones had black Swastikas painted on the front of them, it was placed over the Yiddish engraved headstone. This harkens back to both modern times and what was going on to the Jewish people in Germany and right now in America.

In Germany, the Jewish people were being persecuted. The Nazi Party passed the Nuremberg Racial Laws in 1935 which directly targeted them. The German Jews couldnt get married and outlawed Jews having sexual encounters and relations and not having the same rights as German people.  After these things escalated, the Jews were getting assaulted in the streets and Jewish-owned business and store fronts were vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti and the brown-shirted thugs blocked people from entering the shops.  

Then there was Kristallnacht translated as The Night of Broken Glass in 1938. That event had The Nazi Party go out and destroy synagogues, schools and Jewish-owned shops. At the end of that night 91 people were murdered by the Nazis.  After the Nazis invaded and occupied Poland they set up the infamous camps one of these was the Plaszow concentration camp.  That camp had the tombstone road where the walkway was made up of headstones from the Jewish cemetery. This camp was made famous in 1993 with Director Steven Spielberg releasing Schindlers List, the film showed the atrocities that were done in the camp.  

In modern times the same hate is there but it has changed its shape. The acts of Desecration and Vandalism on Jewish cemeteries are on the rise. On March 19, 2019 there were 59 gravesites desecrated with their headstones knocked over. This happened in Fall River, Massachusetts.  

Overall the show is outstanding and it shows what could have been if the course of history was changed.  The series has amazing performances from the cast with realistic set pieces making you feel like this could have happened. The show immerses the audience on the nightmarish scenario of America turning into a puppet or satellite state for Nazi Germany.  The show is a nine out of ten for anyone who is either a fan of alternate history or a fan of Philip Roths writing. This show is worth the watch.