The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich

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9780312335311: The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich

Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh have long been exalted as two of the greatest American icons of the twentieth century. Now award-winning journalist Max Wallace uncovers groundbreaking and astonishing revelations about the poisonous effect these two so-called American heroes had on Western democracy and how the two of them---acting in league with the Nazis---almost brought democratic Europe to the verge of extinction.

With unprecedented access to declassified FBI and military intelligence files, Wallace reveals how the close friendship and ideological bond between automotive pioneer Ford and aviator Lindbergh culminated in an abuse of power that helped strengthen Hitler's regime and undermined the Allied war effort.

Devastating, thoroughly researched, and engagingly written, The American Axis is not only a mesmerizing, cautionary tale, but a compelling historical exposé.

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About the Author:

Max Wallace is a veteran journalist and Holocaust researcher. He spent three years as an interviewer for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Project, documenting the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. A winner of the Rolling Stone Magazine Award for Investigative Journalism, Wallace is the author of Who Killed Kurt Cobain? and Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight. He has also contributed to the New York Times and the BBC. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

American Axis, The
CHAPTER 1 CHRONICLER OF THE NEGLECTED TRUTH The process that brought Henry Ford's portrait to a prominent position behind Hitler's desk began during the summer of 1919, when Ford made the first public sortie in a hate-filled but distinctively American campaign that was to dominate his attention for the next eight years. In July, he announced to the New York World that "International financiers are behind all war ... they are what is called the international Jew: German Jews, French Jews, English Jews, American Jews ... the Jew is a threat."1 From any other figure, the interview might have been dismissed as the ravings of a crackpot. But these words were uttered by the man who was arguably America's most respected and celebrated figure--a man whose achievements had already permanently altered the nation's economic and industrial landscape. This was the first signal that he was about to have a profound impact on America's social character as well. By 1919, Henry Ford had already secured his place as history's most important automobile pioneer. He had not invented the car or the assembly line, as many believed, but he had revolutionized both, radically changing the country's transportation habits with the introduction of the Model T--the nation's first affordable car. After proclaiming in 1908 that he would "build a motorcar for the great multitude," Ford had by 1913 turned out more than a quarter million units of the car Americans affectionately referred to as the "Tin Lizzie." According to economist Fred Thompson, Ford's car was the chief instrument of one of history's greatest changes in the lives of the common people. Farmers were no longer isolated on remotefarms. The horse disappeared so rapidly that the transfer of acreage from hay to other crops caused an agricultural revolution. The automobile became the main prop of the American economy.2 Within a short period, Henry Ford had joined the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon as one of the country's industrial giants. Nonetheless, in 1913, five years after he first introduced the Model T, neither Who's Who nor the New York Times index contained a single reference to Ford or his company.3 His next innovation, however, was destined forever to put an end to this anonymity. At the beginning of 1914, the Ford Motor Company found itself in trouble. Two factors in particular were worrying the board of directors. Because of low wages and poor working conditions, it had become increasingly difficult to retain employees. Turnover approached 380 percent, and at one point it was necessary to hire nearly one thousand workers to keep one hundred on the payroll. More worrisome still was a campaign begun the year before by the nation's largest industrial union, the IWW, targeting Ford for unionization and encouraging the workers to stage a slowdown. Union pamphlets featuring such ditties as "The hours are long, the pay is small, so take your time and buck 'em all," had shareholders terrified for their profits.4 Ford's assembly line had revolutionized production but it was also being blamed for the increasing dehumanization of workers.5 A letter to Ford from the wife of one of his assembly-line workers provides a touchingly humble indictment of the conditions in his factory at the time: My Dear Mr. Ford--Please pardon the means I am taking of asking you for humanity's sake to investigate and to pardon my seeming rudeness but Mr. Ford I am the wife of one of the final assemblers in your institution and neither one of us want to be agitators and thus do not want to say anything to make anyone else more aggrivated but Mr. Ford you do not know the conditions in your factory we are all sure or you would not allow it. Are you aware that a man cannot "buck nature" when he has to go to the toilet and yet he is not allowed to go at his work. He has to go before he gets there or after work. The chain system you have is a slave driver! My God! Mr. Ford. My husband has come home and thrown himself down and won't eat his supper--so done out. Can't it be remedied?6 Her letter reflects nothing more than the norm in American industry at the beginning of the twentieth century. Workers were considered little betterthan beasts of burden; theirs was a grind of tedious and back-breaking labor from which any consideration for the employee's welfare was absent. The average worker toiled nine hours a day for a salary that barely approached subsistence levels. Profits were based on wages as low as a worker would take and pricing as high as the market would bear. Industrialists were regularly pilloried in the press as robber barons and caricatured in the nation's magazines as inhuman slave drivers. A decade earlier, President Teddy Roosevelt was cheered when he declared war on the industrial trusts he said were ruining the country. That was about to change. Whether motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of his workers or a fear of unionization, Ford convened a meeting of his board of directors on Tuesday, January 5, 1914, to announce the revolutionary policy that would alter permanently the worker-employer relationship. Henceforth, he announced to the stunned silence of his colleagues, the minimum wage for Ford workers would be more than doubled from $2.34 a day to $5.00, and the working day would be cut from nine to eight hours.7 An elaborate system of profit-sharing would be introduced. "Our workers are not sharing in our good fortune," declared Ford. "There are thousands out there in the shop who are not living as they should."8 The effect was electrifying, signaling nothing less than a new era in American industry. The next morning, every newspaper in the land announced the new policy with blaring headlines. "It is the most generous stroke of policy between a captain of industry and worker that the country has ever seen," wrote the Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record.9 According to the New York Globe, Ford's new wage scheme had "all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of socialism." Overnight, Ford was hailed as a national hero. One newspaper called him "the new Messiah." The only negative note was sounded by his fellow industrialists, who appeared to regard Ford as a traitor to his class, worried that their own workers would expect similar treatment. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal--voice of American Big Business--called the wage blatantly immoral, an "economic crime."10 Treating workers humanely would set a dangerous precedent that might threaten the entire capitalist system, the paper warned. To his detractors, Ford explained that the new policy was merely sound business practice, not a humanitarian gesture, and would result in increased productivity and higher profits. But grateful American workers saw humanity in it and sent thousands of letters and telegrams thanking him for his generosity. That week, police had to be summoned to quell a riot when more than 12,000 men lined up at the gates of the Ford plant in hope of a job. Newspaper reporters descended on the company's Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters to record the new hero's every utterance. Ford was gladto oblige them. His homilies on every conceivable topic blended folksy wisdom with a homespun philosophy on life. On ability: "Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right!" On self-reliance: "Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice." On altruism: "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business." And the quote for which he would be best remembered: "History is more or less bunk." According to one study, Ford's wage hike created more than two million lines of favorable advertising on the front pages of newspapers and thousands and thousands of editorial endorsements.11 Ford reveled in his newfound celebrity status. A shameless self-promoter, he used the media to create an entirely new persona, portraying himself as a self-made millionaire who had begun life as the son of a poor farmer in rural Michigan and clawed his way out of poverty to learn a trade and build his first car. He told story after story of the tremendous hardship he had endured as a child. However, according to his sister Margaret, "there was no truth in them." His father was in fact a prosperous landowner who owned a farm along with a number of other enterprises.12 Moreover, Ford assiduously cultivated the myth that he was a mechanical genius, even though his cars were engineered and designed by others.13 Instead, he assembled some of the finest mechanics available and used their expertise to build his industry. "I don't like to read books," he once said. "They muss up my mind." According to one reporter who interviewed him, "Outside of business, where he is a genius, his mind is that of a child."14 Testifying years later at a libel suit after the Chicago Tribune called him an "anarchist," Ford--who never even graduated high school--demonstrated the extent of his historical knowledge under questioning by the paper's lawyer. Asked whether he knew anything about the American Revolution, he responded, "I understand there was one in 1812." Any other time? "I don't know of any others." What about the one in 1776? "I didn't pay much attention to such things." Did you ever hear of Benedict Arnold? "I have heard the name." Who was he? "I have forgotten just who he is. He is a writer, I think."15 Nothing, however, could diminish Ford's stature with the public or the press. Countless newspapers called on him to run for President. The letters of admiration poured in by the truckload. And as Ford predicted when he instituted the five-dollar day, his company enjoyed an immediate surge in production and skyrocketing profits, making him a billionaire and one of the world's richest men. His name became a verb (to "Fordize" meant to manufacture at a price so low that the common man can afford to buy it) and a noun ("Fordism" referred to mass production resulting in sustained economic growth).16 Perhaps the best illustration of his newfound status was a nationwide poll in which Ford ranked as the thirdgreatest man in history behind only Napoleon and Jesus Christ.17 It is difficult, nearly a century later, to portray accurately the magnitude of Ford's fame and influence brought on by the five-dollar day. In his 1932 classic Brave New World, Aldous Huxley attempts to reflect the time in his youth when Ford seemed an omnipresent force. In the novel, set far in the future, Huxley creates a utopian society where universal happiness has been achieved and people are conditioned to love their work. The entire society reveres the "Apostle of Mass Production," Henry Ford, who is worshipped like a God.18 Time is measured from when Ford first introduced the assembly line. Thus, the story is set in 632 A.F. (After Ford). Adherents cross themselves in the sign of the "T." Small wonder, then, that when Ford first announced his philosophy toward the Jews to the New York World in 1919, it carried no inconsiderable impact. That same year, he quietly purchased a small weekly newspaper called the Dearborn Independent, opened an office in an engineering laboratory next to his tractor plant, and assembled a staff in preparation for a crusade that was about to leave a pronounced scar on the face of American society. For the first sixteen months of its operation, under the editorship of former Detroit News editor Edwin Pipp, the Independent was barely distinguishable from any other weekly newspaper. It supported Prohibition, prison reform and the Versailles Treaty, printed innocuous articles about local issues, and mentioned Jews not at all. But before long, Pipp later recalled, Ford began to bring up Jews "frequently, almost continuously," until his new obsession eventually found its way into the newspaper.19 On May 22, 1920, under a banner that announced the Independent as "The Ford International Weekly," a huge bold headline fired the opening salvo: THE INTERNATIONAL JEW: THE WORLD'S PROBLEM. For the next ninety-one weeks, each edition of the Dearborn Independent--promising its readers to serve as the "Chronicler of the Neglected Truth"--added further embellishments to the picture of a Jewish conspiracy so vast and far-reaching that the tentacles of the Jews supposedly touched every facet of American life. "In America alone," announced the paper, "most of big business, the trusts and the banks, the natural resources and the chief agricultural products, especially tobacco, cotton and sugar, are in control of Jewish financiers and their agents. Jewish journalists are a large and powerful group here ... Jews are the largest and most numerous landlords ... They absolutely control the circulations of publications in this country." Pipp resigned in protest over the paper's new editorial direction and was replaced by former Detroit News reporter William J. Cameron, who would serve Ford well over the ensuing two decades. No American institution, according to the Independent, was immune from the grasp of Jewish control. "Whichever way you turn to trace theharmful streams of influence that flow through society, you come upon a group of Jews," it declared. "If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball, they have it in three words: too much Jew." Jazz music was "Jewish moron music." The Federal Reserve was designed by "Jew bankers" to put the nation's money under the control of a "Jewish cabal." Each week readers were treated to what Ford's paper called "a lesson" in the insidious tricks Jews used to control the country. These included "the gentle art of changing Jewish names" to disguise their ethnicity. Once disguised as Gentiles, the reasoning went, the Jews' goal was to eradicate Christian virtues. To Henry Ford, who had famously claimed history is "bunk," the Independent was the forum for a history tailored to his own worldview. He dispatched a team of detectives to dig up the evidence that Jews were behind all that was evil in the country. For example, the paper claimed, America was not discovered by Christopher Columbus but by a Jewish interpreter named Luis de Torres--for the purpose of finding and exploiting tobacco, a substance Ford linked to "degeneracy." Benedict Arnold was merely a Jewish pawn who betrayed his country at the behest of Jewish moneylenders. 20 The underlying theme of the series was clear. Jews were attempting to take control of the United States--not by force, but by stealth. In Ford's paranoid conception, the menace was ubiquitous. "If there is one quality that attracts Jews, it is power," the paper announced. "Wherever the seat of power may be, thither they swarm obsequiously." Anti-Semitism was not unknown to the United States before the Independent began its campaign. As early as 1862, one year before Ford was born, President Lincoln was forced to declare anti-Semitism inimical to U.S. government policy after General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order barring Jewish peddlers from selling merchandise to Union soldiers. Lincoln immediately countermanded the order, declaring, "To condemn a class (of people) is to condemn the good with the bad. I do not like to hear an entire class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners."21 At the time, such incidents were rare. Yet, a wave of Europ...

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