Strange Bedfellows,

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 great man."

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 Germany.

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 that year.

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 best-seller list.

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 way.

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 you!""

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 1936 visit.

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 appeal:

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 good."

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 Austria.

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 heavily.

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

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