Hate by Proxy
excerpted from the book
The American Axis
Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh,
and the Rise of the Third Reich
by Max Wallace
St. Martin's Griffin, 2003, paper
From the moment the paths of Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh
crossed on November 28, 1930, their lives would be inextricably
linked. A year earlier, Anne's sister, Elizabeth Morrow, had developed
a bout of rheumatic fever that left her with a severely diseased
heart valve. The medical prognosis was bleak. The family was told
surgery was out of the question. Her heart could not be stopped
long enough for surgeons to work on it because the blood could
not be circulated without causing a fatal infection. Lindbergh,
whose fame was founded on daring to do the impossible, was unwilling
to accept this explanation and challenged her doctors. Why couldn't
a device be manufactured, an "artificial heart," to
pump the blood while an operation was being performed? Intrigued,
a hospital anesthetist referred him to the one man who might be
able to facilitate the creation of this invention, a Manhattan
scientist performing groundbreaking research into the cultivation
of whole organs. Lindbergh made an appointment the next day to
discuss his sister-in-law's condition. "For me," he
would later recall, "that began an association with an extraordinarily
By the time Lindbergh walked into the
Rockefeller Institute for the first time to meet the man who would
become his mentor, Alexis Carrel had already established a formidable
reputation in the field of medicine. Born in Lyons, France, in
1873, Carrel acquired his medical degree at the age of twenty-seven,
at which point he embarked on a course of medical experimentation
that has been described as a cross between "medieval alchemy
and the weird experiments of Frankenstein." After establishing
himself as a brilliant young scientist, he came to North America
in 1904 because he felt the research facilities in France were
too limiting, but was unable to find a permanent position. After
a brief stint as a cattle rancher in Canada, and a year at the
Hull Laboratory in Chicago, he was recruited for the staff of
Manhattan's newly formed Rockefeller Institute in 1906. There,
his pioneering research in suturing small blood vessels during
surgery won him the first Nobel Prize ever awarded for medicine
and physiology in 1912 after he performed the first modem transfusion
by suturing a baby's leg vein to an artery.
Since around the turn of the century, the eugenics movement had
already achieved a certain cachet in the United States, where
Social Darwinist ideas had been embraced in some intellectual
circles. Darwin's cousin Francis Galton had actually coined the
term "eugenics" in 1883, describing it as "the
science of improvement of the human race germ plasma through better
breeding." The movement's advocates believed that physical
and mental problems were caused by inferior genes, or "inheritance."
People with good genes, they argued, should be encouraged to reproduce
("positive eugenics") while people with inferior genes
should be discouraged from reproducing ("negative eugenics").
Most eugenicists, for example, believed that poverty was caused
by "biological inheritance."
The idea of sterilizing the "socially
unfit" had first gained acceptance in the United States when
a 1927 Supreme Court decision, Buck v. Bell, legitimized the procedure,
although Indiana had passed the first forced sterilization law
(for "mental defectives") as far back as 1907. "It
is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute
degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their
imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit
from continuing their kind .... Three generations of imbeciles
are enough," wrote Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
in his majority opinion. By 1931, twenty-five states had already
passed legislation allowing forced sterilization and by 1944,
more than 40,000 Americans classified as "insane" or
"feeble-minded" had undergone the procedure. 19
The movement to preserve America's "racial
stock" was accompanied by strident calls to curb immigration.
At a time of an unprecedented influx of European immigrants, there
were fears the white race would be "polluted" by foreign
blood. Among the loudest and most influential voices supporting
both the eugenics and anti-immigration movements was Margaret
Sanger, the celebrated founder of Planned Parenthood.
Sanger is often described as an inveterate
racist, whose pioneering advocacy of birth control, according
to her critics, was never meant to liberate women but rather to
discourage the poor from reproducing. In recent years, Planned
Parenthood has gone to great lengths to whitewash Sanger's early
career. And while much of the criticism has come from pro-life
groups stretching the truth in an intellectually dishonest effort
to discredit the prochoice advocacy group, Sanger's own words
speak for themselves.
"The campaign for birth control is
not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical with
the final aims of eugenics," she wrote in 1921. "As
an advocate of birth control, I wish... to point out that the
unbalance between the birth rate of the 'unfit' and the 'fit,'
admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never
be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between
these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior
classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective,
the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation."
The following year, she wrote, "Birth control must lead ultimately
to a cleaner race." A decade later, in April 1932, she advocated
a plan to "give dysgenic groups [people with bad genes] in
our population their choice of segregation or sterilization.
Thanks in part to the efforts of eugenicists
such as Sanger-who publicly opposed immigration that would pollute
"the stamina of the race ", the federal government had
effectively barred immigration into the United States with the
passage of the 1924 Immigration Act. During the period of 1900
to 1924, immigration levels averaged 435,000 per year but after
the act's passage, the rate plummeted 95 percent to 24,430. In
fact, it was the restrictions of the Immigration Act that led
to the turning away of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany
in the 193 Os. After Hitler took power in 1933, there were a number
of attempts to waive some of the restrictions that the eventual
Jewish victims of the Holocaust could find asylum.
In Germany, the Nazis had long been intrigued by eugenic ideas
pioneered in the United States. These seemed to mesh with their
own concept of racial purity and in 1934, one of Hitler's staff
members wrote to Leon Whitney of the American Eugenics Society
and requested, "in the name of the Führer," a copy
of Whitney's recently published book, The Case for Sterilization.
A few weeks later, Whitney received a personal letter of thanks
from Hitler himself. Another Society member, Madison Grant, had
written a book called The Passing Of the Great Race that analyzed
the racial basis of European history. He, too, received a personal
note from Hitler, who wrote that the book was his "Bible."
Two years after Hitler took power, the Nazis began their own forced
sterilization program, operating on more than 360,000 mentally
retarded German citizens during the 1930s. Once again, we see
the cross-pollination of racist ideas from the United States to
In 1933, just when Hitler and his party were taking power in Germany,
Dr. Alexis Carrel began work on a book that was to express his
latest musings on the nature of humankind, ones that embraced
eugenics as a tool for social improvement. In a recent paper on
sunlight's effects, he had already hinted at his racial outlook:
"We must not forget that the most highly civilized races-the
Scandinavians, for example-are white, and have lived for many
generations in a country where the atmospheric luminosity is weak
during a great part of the year .... The lower races generally
inhabit countries where light is violent and temperature equal
and warm." When a reporter asked him in a 1935 interview
whether Hitler's Germany might provide a "natural laboratory"
for developing "supermen" through a "program of
race purification," Carrel replied, "We do not really
know the genesis of great men. Perhaps it would be effective if
we could kill off the worst of these pure races and keep the best,
as we do in the breeding of dogs." This was a preview of
the ideas he would expand upon in his new book, published later
First in France, and then in the United
States, Carrel's Man the Unknown caused an immediate sensation.
The new "science," he argued, was the solution to society's
ills. "Eugenics is indispensable for the perpetuation of
the strong. A great race must propagate its best elements. 1132
The passage that ignited the biggest controversy, however, appears
in the book's final chapter, "The Remaking of Man":
There remains the unsolved problem of
the immense number of defectives and criminals. They are an enormous
burden for the part of the population that has remained normal...
Why do we preserve these useless and harmful beings? The abnormal
prevent the development of the normal. Why should society not
dispose of the criminals and the insane in a more economical manner.
Criminality and insanity can be prevented only by a better knowledge
of man, by eugenics, by changes in education and social conditions.
Meanwhile, criminals have to be dealt with effectively ... . Those
who have murdered, robbed while armed, kidnapped children, despoiled
the poor of their savings, misled the public in important matters,
should be humanely and economically disposed of in small euthanistic
institutions supplied with gases .... Modern society should not
hesitate to organize itself with reference to the normal individual.
In America, the English translation sold
900,000 copies and rose to number one on the New York Times nonfiction
After the war ended, a number of Nazi scientists and physicians
we\ put on trial at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. During
this so-called "Doctors Trial," several German racial
hygienists were accused of participating in government-sponsored
atrocities. Among those indicted was Hitler's personal physician
Karl Brandt, head of the National Socialist program for the killing
of the mentally retarded. When it came Brandt's turn to testify
in his own defense, he claimed in justification that the Nazi
program for sterilization and elimination of "defectives"
was actually based on ideas formulated in the United States. To
prove his point, he cited the passage advocating euthanasia from
Alexis Carrel's book Man the Unknown.
On March 7, 1936, Hitler stormed the Rhineland, violating the
terms of the Versailles Treaty, which had created a permanent
demilitarization of the zone. The same day, German Jews were stripped
of their right to vote in elections for the Reichstag. Throughout
the spring, the Nazis continued to build up their military machine
as Hitler announced a policy of military conscription, signaling
to the world that he might have aggressive intentions. That spring
in Berlin, a brief item in the Paris Herald caught the eye of
Kay Smith, wife of the U.S. military attaché to Germany,
as she sat reading over breakfast. Charles Lindbergh had recently
arrived in Paris, where he had been invited by the French government
on an inspection tour of its aircraft facilities. She pointed
it out to her husband, Truman Smith, and unwittingly set into
motion a relationship that would have far-reaching repercussions.
p[Truman] Smith left Germany in 1924 and
would not return in an official capacity for more than a decade.
But in December 1932, as the resident "German expert"
for the U.S. army, he wrote a strategic survey of the German political
situation during a stint at the Army War College in Washington,
D.C. In this paper, he wrote that the Nazis were a spent political
force, past their peak, and unlikely to take power. He doubted
that Hitler had the necessary "political genius" to
take over the country. Three weeks later, President Hindenburg
appointed Hitler Chancellor and the Third Reich was born.
The gaffe doesn't appear to have hurt
Smith's career, as he was appointed U.S. military attaché
to Germany two years later. In August 1935, he returned to Berlin
in his new capacity; where his prime responsibility was to gather
intelligence on the growth of the German military, including new
weapons development." Despite the restrictions imposed by
the Versailles Treaty, it was clear that Germany was rapidly rearming.
According to Smith, Washington did not grasp the magnitude of
the "revolution" in military methods currently under
Smith's predecessor as military attaché,
Colonel Jacob Wuest, was repulsed by what he described as the
"terroristic methods" of the Third Reich-the "fanatical
attack and hatred against Jews since the new regime took power.""
In contrast, Smith would describe the "mild anti-Semitism"
of the Nazis' early years in a report he wrote to Washington."
By this time, he had reversed his conclusion of a decade earlier
and now recognized that "Hider was ardent in his racial and
anti-Semitic ideology. " But Smith did not believe analysis
of the "Jewish question" fell within his area of responsibility
and cautiously de-emphasized political reporting "to avoid
a possible conflict of views with the Embassy." He was likely
referring to what he would later call his "extreme difficulty"
with U.S. ambassador William E. Dodd, a liberal New Dealer and
an ardent anti-Nazi whom Smith derided as a "pacifist"
who paid little attention to military matters." Again, his
judgment was less than astute. In fact, Dodd was horrified by
the excesses of the Nazi regime, especially its treatment of the
Jews, and later ardently supported U.S. military intervention.
Hardly the position of a pacifist. It is more likely that Smith's
distaste for Dodd stemmed from the fact that the ambassador was
not diplomatic enough for the attaché's liking and made
no secret of his distaste for the Nazi regime. Smith later questioned
Dodd's "fitness for the Ambassadorial post. "
By the time he assumed his new post in
1935, Smith's own opinions of the Jews appear to have sharpened
since his initial tour of Germany a decade earlier. A sampling
of his correspondence, official reports, and internal memos reveals
that, while he did not personally approve of the Nazis' brutal
treatment of German Jews, he certainly shared some of their thinking
on the Jewish Question. Smith clearly believed that "International
Jewry" wielded too much power. Its influence, he would note,
permeated American society where Jews exercised significant "control."
Nazi racial philosophy was not so outlandish,
he concluded. In a detailed 1939 analysis on the subject of National
Socialist racial doctrine, he compares the Nazis to "the
average white inhabitant of Alabama or Georgia but with a racial
feeling towards the Jew rather than towards the Negro. "
... Houston Stewart ... Chamberlain was an English Germanophile
and the son-in-law of the notoriously anti-Semitic composer Richard
Wagner. In 1899 he wrote the Foundations, one of the works long
credited with helping the Nazis form their racial theories about
the Jews. The Germans, Chamberlain wrote, are a "superior
race" destined to rule the world; the Jews, by contrast,
are a mongrel race and the corrupters of German culture. In 1923,
Chamberlain wrote Hitler a letter of near ecstatic admiration.
"At one blow you have transformed the state of my soul,"
he wrote. "That Germany in her hour of need has produced
a Hitler testifies to its vitality. Now at last I am able to sleep
peacefully and I shall have no need to wake up again. God protect
Years later, Truman Smith would express
admiration for Chamberlains work in a letter to his friend John
Beaty, himself an influential anti-Semitic writer who believed
that "world Zionist leaders had seized control of Christendom."
In his letter, Smith urged Beaty to read the Foundations of the
Nineteenth Century and singled out the chapter on the Jews as
"definitive. "99 In this chapter, entitled "The
Entrance of the Jew in History," Chamberlain condemns the
Jews as "an Asiatic race," the natural enemy of all
Aryans, who are engaged with Jews in a racial and spiritual war
for the survival of Western civilization.
While he was digesting the Foundations' noxious ideas and rationalizing
Hitler's anti-Semitic program, Smith's wife, Kay, appears to have
formed her own favorable impression of the Reich. In the diary
she kept during her German sojourn, she complains that Americans
always expected her to "describe horrors" of Nazi Germany
whenever she returned to the United States. She attributed this
to the media's tendency to stress only the "Jewish troubles"
while ignoring the "favorable side" of Germany. After
all, she notes, Germany is safe again because "all the drunks,
bums, homosexuals, etc. had been put in concentration camps. She
seems to share some of her husbands anti-Semitic views as well:
"I am beginning to think Hitler is right: a jew is after
all a jew and a national only when his interests are involved.
Certainly the Jews in America, where we have given them everything,
now that the test has come, are proving themselves Jews and not
Americans." Like both Lindbergh and her husband, she appears
to regard the Jews as an alien race, un-American and unpatriotic
because they were attempting to draw America into a war with Hitler.
As in his prior posting, Truman Smith
wasted no time renewing old acquaintances and making new friends
among his counterparts in the German officer corps. To some extent,
this was probably a strategic approach. The best intelligence
could often be gathered while socializing over drinks or at one
of the cocktail parties to which he and Kay were invited every
evening. But Smith also had a genuine fondness for Germans and
admired their way of doing things. One of his duties as military
attaché was to gather information about the growing strength
of the Luftwaffe, the German air force led by Hermann Goring.
Smith believed he had an accurate assessment of the German army's
expansion-battle charts, units identified, lists of officers,
etc. But he had been much less successful obtaining similar data
regarding the German Air Force. What information he had was "fragmentary
and unsystematic at He was deeply concerned, convinced "that
Goring planned a mighty Luftwaffe," and that the day was
not far off when modern airplanes with powerful new engines would
make their appearance in the German
So when he heard the news that Charles
Lindbergh had visited a French airplane factory in the spring
of 1936, Truman Smith sensed an opportunity.
On May 25, 1936, just over two months before the scheduled Olympic
opening ceremony, Truman Smith wrote a letter to Lindbergh, whom
he had never met. "In the name of General Goring and the
German Air Ministry," Lindbergh was duly invited to inspect
the new German "civil and military establishments."
From an American point of view, Smith wrote, "I consider
that your visit here would be of high patriotic benefit. I am
certain that they will go out of their way to show you even more
than they will show us."
Lindbergh was clearly excited at the prospect, writing to his
mother, "Comparatively little is known about the present
status of Aviation in Germany, so I am looking forward with great
interest to going there."
In the face of international opposition to what the world was
calling "the Nazi Olympics," Hitler's regime desperately
craved legitimacy and Smith knew better than anybody that Lindbergh
could provide it.
The Germans were desperate to avoid alienating international visitors,
deliberately downplaying the darker side of their regime. In preparation
for the Games, the Nazis had removed all visible signs of their
anti-Jewish j measures in an effort to put the best face forward
for the world.
For the next ten days, Lindbergh was dogged
by reporters and photographers determined to record his every
move during a full itinerary of social visits and inspection tours
of important aircraft factories. It was the first time any American
had been permitted to see the Germans' new state-of-the-art dive
bombers-seemingly impressive evidence of Goring's growing air
arsenal. Among the journalists reporting on Lindbergh's visit
was a German reporter named Bella Fromm, a columnist for Berlin's
Vossiche Zeitung newspaper. When she returned to her apartment
each evening, she recorded the day's events in her diary. In her
July 26 entry, Fromm describes a Lindbergh apparently basking
in the attentions of his Nazi hosts:
The Colonel seemed completely spellbound
by the honors showered upon him since his arrival in Germany.
I overheard several of his conversations. It was obvious he enjoyed
the limelight. His words lead to the conclusion that he not only
thinks highly of German aviation, but also unmistakably sympathizes
with the new Germany... They are making wisecracks in the Ministry
of Aviation. They say he dislikes publicity but that he enjoyed
being snapped with the German and American officers .... Alex
[von Blomberg, son of the Minister of the Reichswehr] told me
that all the officers who had been in touch with Lindbergh reported
unanimously that he is very naive and is deeply impressed by the
to-do Berlin put on for him .... One officer with an especially
sharp tongue said: "If they had a National Socialist party
over there and an SA and SS, Lindbergh would certainly run around
as group leader."
Noting the unprecedented access Lindbergh
had been granted to German aircraft installations, Truman Smith
would later portray Lindbergh's first trip to Germany as a "tremendous
success" and an "intelligence coup." He appears
never to have questioned why the Nazis magnanimously granted this
unique access in the first place.
On August 1, a day before his revised
departure date, Lindbergh took his seat in Goring's Olympic Stadium
box as 100,000 fans roared their excitement at the magnificent
spectacle of the Opening Ceremony taking place on the field below.
As the parade of nations marched in, the only athlete of Jewish
descent representing Germany was the half Jewish fencer Helene
Mayer, who was allowed to compete as a gesture to mollify the
'West. Mayer would eventually claim a silver medal in the women's
individual foil competition and, like all other German medalists,
gave the Nazi salute on the podium."' A few rows away from
where Lindbergh watched the pomp on the field, Adolf Hitler sat
in his own box. In his letter to Smith, Lindbergh had expressed
a desire to meet Hitler, but there's no record that they ever
met. Two days earlier, the Führer had confided to his chief
architect, Albert Speer, "In 1940 the Olympic Games will
take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany
for all time to come, in this stadium. "
On August 2, Charles and Anne left Germany,
clearly invigorated by Leir eleven-day visit to the Reich.
But nobody appeared more impressed by what he had witnessed than
Lindbergh himself. His defenders would later claim that, at the
time, Lindbergh had little knowledge of the brutality of the Nazi
regime. It was only after Kristallnacht, the argument goes, that
the world understood the true extent of Hitler's brutality. But
there is considerable evidence that Lindbergh was in fact well
versed in the odious nature of the regime by the time of his July
In a series of correspondence following his 1936 German visit,
Lindbergh hints for the first time at his contempt for democracy
and his admiration for dictatorship, expressing an attitude that
would seem to echo the opinions of his ideological mentor Alexis
Carrel, who believed in "rule by elites." "What
measures the rights of man or of a nation?" Lindbergh wrote
Davison. "Are we deluding ourselves when we attempt to run
our governments by counting the number of heads, without a thought
of what lies within them?"
Most of his biographers and a number of
historians have attempted to discern how Lindbergh could have
come away from his first visit to Germany so impressed by Hitler
and the accomplishments of the Third Reich. In 1998, after conducting
ten extensive interviews with Anne Morrow Lindbergh-the woman
who knew him best-Anne's biographer Susan Hertog explained the
Clearly, Charles saw the Third Reich as
the embodiment of his values: science and technology harnessed
for the preservation of a superior race, physically able and morally
pure .... Social and political equality, together with an ungoverned
press, had produced a quality of moral degeneracy . . . . He did
not disdain democracy so much as he did the common man-the uneducated
and enfeebled masses .... To Charles, Germany under Hitler was
a nation of true manhood-virility and purpose. The strong central
leadership of a fascist state was the only hope for restoring
a moral world order.
In 1933, five weeks and 4,000 miles apart, two men assumed the
leadership of their respective countries. Adolf Hitler, appointed
chancellor of Germany on January 30; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
inaugurated president of the United States on March 4.
The Depression had devastated the economies
of both countries and played a decisive role in the elevation
of the two leaders. Germans were convinced the Nazis' prescription
of fascism and militarism would cure their economic misery; Americans
were promised a "New Deal" to lift them out of their
own. But while Germans had no opportunity to express their opposition
to the new regime-with the Nazis imposing a brutal totalitarian
dictatorship soon after taking power-the United States experienced
the birth of dozens of organizations opposed to Roosevelt, many
of them dedicated to bringing Hitler's brand of fascism to the
shores of America. Coincidentally or not, many of them happened
to be based in Detroit, Henry Ford's backyard.
The threat of Nazism had hardly permeated
the American consciousness. But in the heartland of America, a
shadow was being cast that would be felt for years to come. As
early as 1924, America had witnessed its first sign of native
fascism when four German immigrants founded the Free Society of
Teutonia in Detroit." The club soon raised a platoon of brownshirts
modeled after Hider's storm troopers." During the next two
years, the Society attracted hundreds of new members, most of
them German immigrants, many of them formerly active in Hitler's
circle. By 1932, the Teutonians had established branches in five
American cities. Less than a year before Hitler took power, Teutonia
changed its name to the "Friends of the Hitler Movement"
and became increasingly strident in its American political activities,
regularly attacking Jews, communism, and the Versailles Treaty.
In May 1933, Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess-seeking
to establish an international base for the newly ascendant Nazi
regime-authorized a German immigrant named Heinz Spanknobel, a
longtime member of the Teutonia Society, to form a new American
Nazi organization, which would come under the direct command of
the German leadership. The result was a small, but amply funded,
group known as the Friends of New Germany (FONG).39 When Spanknobel
assumed leadership of the new organization, he already had a day
job. Like many of his fellow Teutonians, he was on the payroll
of the Ford Motor Company.
By the mid-thirties, the enlightened labor policies that had earned
Ford his near-mythical reputation were a thing of the past. Both
General Motors and Chrysler paid higher wages and treated their
workers with considerably more humanity. Ford had incurred the
wrath of the Roosevelt administration and had publicly shunned
the New Deal by refusing to sign the automobile code of the National
Recovery Administration, which stipulated that employees had a
right to organize. Conditions in the Ford plant, meanwhile, were
abysmal and safety standards were lax. According to the account
of one assembly-line worker, any infraction of the plant's "1,001
petty tyrannies" was punishable by instant dismissal: "If
you stay too long in the toilet, you're fired. If you eat your
lunch on a conveyor, you're fired; if you eat it on the floor,
you're fired; if you wait to return stock to the tool crib, you're
fired; if you talk to men coming on the next shift, you're fired."
Speeded-up quotas, he explained, "combined with the nervous
tension present in the plant, results in a high accident rate.
No outsider hears of these accidents, for Ford has his own hospital.
The substandard conditions made the company
a prime target for unionization and both the CIO and the United
Auto Workers (UAW) had long set their sights on organizing Ford's
80,000 employees. To Henry Ford, this meant all-out war. Labor
organizations, he declared, "are the worst things that ever
struck this earth .... We'll never recognize the United Automobile
Workers Union or any other union." To lead the battle, Ford
needed a general and, as his biographer David L. Lewis notes,
"A fiction writer would be hard put to devise a more picaresque
or colorful character than the man Ford had designated to handle
the union problem."
Harry Bennett claimed to be closer to
Henry Ford than any man alive. The former sailor, who had established
a reputation as an amateur boxer in the Navy, had been plucked
out of the company's art department in 1917 by Ford himself, who
asked the burly brawler to be his "eyes and ears" around
the plant. Gradually, the assignment was expanded and Bennett
was instructed to keep the Ford workers in line. He understood
well that this meant keeping them out of the union, which Bennett
once described as "irresponsible, un-American and no god-damn
To accomplish this task, the ruthless
Bennett established an internal paramilitary force, blandly known
as the Ford Service Department, and to man it, he embarked on
a novel recruiting drive. Explaining to the media that he was
deeply committed to "the highest social motive" of giving
"unfortunates another chance," Bennett recruited more
than 3,000 excons to staff his new service department. Impressed
by his apparent social conscience, the Detroit News ironically
named him one of the industry's "Good Samaritans "
But it soon became apparent that "Bennett's
boys" were committed to a policy of intimidation and force
to crush the union and keep the workers in their place. Spies
were placed everywhere throughout the plant to report any hint
of union activity. Workers who showed the least sign of dissent
were mercilessly beaten, then fired. In 1932, the American Civil
Liberties Union wrote to Henry Ford complaining that "Harry
Bennett see s clearly committed to a policy of violence, espionage
and lawlessness. It has been charged on reliable authority that
your police force is connected with gangsters and racketeers of
the underworld. The company's brutal labor policies exploded onto
the front pages in May 1937 when a group of UAW organizers distributing
union literature outside the gates of Ford's Rouge River plant
were badly beaten by Bennett's goons.
In the late 1930s, one of the company's
former labor spies recalled his ten years working for what he
called Ford's "Gestapo." Bennett's Service Department,
charged Ralph Rimar, "covered Dearborn with a thick web of
corruption, intimidation and intrigue. The spy net was all embracing.
To those who have never lived under dictatorship, it is difficult
to convey the sense of fear which is part of the Ford system."
Rimar explained that he had joined Bennett's spy ring because
he believed he was helping to prevent Communist unions from taking
over the plant. But before long, he discovered that fascism, not
Communism, was the prime menace. "Pro-fascist ideas flourished
in the Ford labor spy ring," he recalled. "Everyone
knew that Nazis could be relied upon to fight the CIO; that men
with pro-fascist sympathies would hinder, never help, unionism."
Indeed, the Ford plant was a totalitarian
state in miniature. Each afternoon, under the watchful eye of
Bennett's Service Department, workers coming out of the factory
would be greeted by signs in the parking lot reading: "Jews
teach Communism; Jews teach Atheism; Jews destroy Christianity;
Jews control the Press; Jews produce filthy movies; Jews control
money." As one New York newspaper later pointed out, similar
signs preceded the Nazi conquest of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and
Ford's war against the unionizers intensified throughout the decade
but it soon became apparent that even Harry Bennett's goons could
not permanently stem the labor tide. The Ford Motor Company began
studying the more sophisticated union-busting tactics of its arch-rivals
Chrysler and General Motors. Both automakers had successfully
installed puppet unions to head off the United Auto Workers' efforts.
These unions would sprout up overnight and claim to be "for
the worker" but opposed to "radical activities."
Each was tightly controlled from corporate headquarters to prevent
infiltration by legitimate unionists.
Now, Ford realized that he would have
to swallow his fierce opposition to labor organizations of any
kind and establish his own puppet union if he was to prevent the
UAW from taking control. To accomplish this task, he turned to
a soon-to-be-notorious Detroit priest named Charles Coughlin.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1891, Coughlin
had started out as a small-town Canadian parochial school teacher
before he was granted his own parish in Michigan during the early
twenties. In 1926, he was reassigned to the Royal Oak Parish just
outside Detroit where his church became known as the Shrine of
the Little Flower. When a local Detroit radio station gave him
broadcasting time to boost church attendance, it was the start
of a hugely successful career in radio. His populist style and
Irish brogue were ideal for the new medium; Coughlin soon had
so many listeners that he began to purchase radio time in other
cities. He called it the Radio League of the Little Flower. Before
long, he was a national figure, broadcasting to sixteen stations
over the CBS radio network.
Initially, Coughlin's radio shows were
aimed at children, combining lessons in religion with some rudimentary
politics and economics .17 But as his fame increased, he began
to assail bankers, communists and capitalistic greed. The sermons
of the "Radio Priest" took on the tone of a crusade.
Coughlin had firmly supported the President
during the first years of the Roosevelt administration and labeled
the New Deal "God's Deal." But he soon turned on Roosevelt
with a vengeance, apparently convinced that Jews were controlling
the White House. By this time, Coughlin's network and influence
were reaching more than twenty million listeners across the country-an
enormous platform for the priest's increasingly extreme views.
He began to express the belief that capitalism was doomed and
hardly worth saving. Like many American extremists during the
1930s, he believed that Roosevelt-who he privately referred to
as "Rosenfeld"-was secretly a Jew. He began to speak
out against the New Deal and proposed a set of fascist controls
that he called "Social Justice." To spread his message,
he set up a monthly magazine under this name, eventually achieving
a circulation of more than a million copies. As the Depression
worsened, his followers needed a scapegoat for their economic
and social problems. Coughlin provided it for them. Communist
Jews, he proclaimed, were behind all Americas troubles.
ln one of his diary entries, Roosevelt Secretary of the Interior
Harold Ickes noted that "rich people in the country who are
said to include Henry Ford and other automobile manufacturers...
are helping to finance Father Coughlin .. . . He is making a particular
drive in New York City and undoubtedly someone is financing him
In 1938, Coughlin stepped up his anti-Semitic
rhetoric considerably, both in his weekly sermons and in the pages
of Social Justice. According to the study Organized Anti-Semitism
in America, the most distinct characteristic of his propaganda
during this period was "the directness of his quotation from
Nazi propaganda material. 1185 Indeed, this observation is borne
out by the striking resemblance between Nazi texts and numerous
Coughlin diatribes. On September 13, 1935, Nazi Propaganda Minister
Josef Goebbels spoke before the 7th National Socialist Congress
at Nuremberg, bitterly attacking the Jews. The speech was later
reprinted in English and distributed for publication in English-speaking
countries. On December 5, 1938, an article entitled "Background
For Persecution" ran in Social Justice under Coughlins byline.
The article appears to have been lifted almost verbatim from the
translation of Goebbels's 1935 Nuremberg speech. By the spring
of 1938, Coughlin and Liebold had become regular lunch companions.
At least once a month, the priest dropped by Dearborn for a chat
with Henry Ford, whom later described as a "sincere man who
knew the truth when he saw it." Praise for Adolf Hitler soon
became a regular feature of Coughlin's sermons. Although the priest
occasionally acknowledged Jewish persecution in Germany, he maintained
that the Jews deserved no pity because they had "shown no
sympathy for the persecuted in their own lands." Soon, Coughlin's
efforts were indistinguishable from those of the young American
Brownshirts who idolized the German Nazi Party. He had become
an enormously influential national figure who was using his platform
to disseminate wholesale Nazi propaganda to an audience numbering
in the tens of millions.
Who was Coughlin's audience, and why were
millions of Americans so receptive to his hate-laced sermons?
According to historian Joshua Krut, the Depression alone could
not explain the appeal of the Radio Priests message. Rather, he
argues, it was the result of social trends under way for decades,
as the United States was transformed from a largely rural and
diffuse society to a highly urban, industrial nation linked by
a network of large institutions. Many Americans, explains Krut,
felt threatened by the intrusion of new, urban values into their
lives, and they responded with increased intolerance of difference,
whether it was political, religious, or ethnic."
In a profile of Father Coughlin published
in the fall of 1938, Look magazine revealed a close friendship
between the Radio Priest and Nazi Bund leader Fritz Kuhn. To those
familiar with Ford's close relationship to both men, it appeared
that the industrialist was quietly abetting the construction of
a Nazi Fifth Column in the United States at the same time as he
courted the American Jewish community and attempted to convince
his critics that he had changed his views.
On July 30, 1938, not long after the Protocols resurfaced in the
pages of Social Justice, Henry Ford turned seventy-five. For his
many admirers, it was a time to celebrate. Congratulatory telegrams
poured in from around the globe and several Michigan towns even
declared a holiday. In Dearborn, the occasion was festive. As
Ford and his wife rode in an ancient 1908 Model T, eight thousand
local schoolchildren sang "Happy Birthday" at the County
Fair grounds, where the public was invited to share a giant birthday
cake and celebrate the milestone. Hardly anybody noticed when
Ford briefly slipped away from the festivities without explanation.
He had to keep a scheduled appointment at his office with two
distinguished foreign guests.
That afternoon, as Ernest Liebold and
William Cameron beamed and a company photographer snapped photos,
Ford was presented with an award from a longtime admirer. At Dearborn
to present Ford with the prestigious decoration was Karl Kapp,
German consul-general of Cleveland, and his colleague Fritz Hailer,
the German consul of Detroit. On his seventy-fifth birthday, Henry
Ford became the first American recipient of the Grand Cross of
the Supreme Order of the German Eagle, created by Adolf Hitler
a year earlier as the highest honor Germany could give a distinguished
foreigner. The medal had previously been bestowed on only four
other individuals, including Benito Mussolini.
The American Axis