Saturday, January 17, 2009
Treacherous Patriots II: Henry Ford
A note from Radarsite. Treacherous patriots. As we have seen in the previous Radarsite article Fallen Eagle, the line between patriotism and treason is not always easily defined. Some of America's greatest sons and daughters have gone from internationally respected, indeed, almost mythical figures to discredited celebrities. Two of these monumental figures were contemporaries who knew one another and actually became close personal friends. We have been introduced to one of them, Charles "Lucky Lindy" Lindberg. His friend and comrade, Henry Ford, was a whole other kettle of fish. -rg
The son of Irish immigrants, William and Mary Ford, who had settled on a farm in what is now Dearborn, Michigan, Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and the “father of the modern assembly line used in mass production” was born on July 30, 1863. He quickly discovered that farm work, and the education provided by the local one-room schoolhouse was not for him. When his beloved mother died in 1876 he was devastated. Although his father expected him to eventually take over the farm, young Henry had other ideas. With his mother gone, little remained to keep him on the farm. He later said, “I never had any particular love for the farm. It was the mother on the farm I loved”. He left home in 1879 and walked to the nearby city of Detroit, where he found work as an apprentice machinist. A couple of years later, he was hired by Westinghouse to service their steam engines. In 1891, Ford became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company, and after his promotion to Chief Engineer in 1893, he had enough time and money to devote attention to his experiments on gasoline engines. These experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of his own self-propelled vehicle, which he named the Quadricycle. After this initial success, Ford organized a group of investors and formed the Detroit Automobile Company. Although this company soon went bankrupt, Ford never gave up the pursuit of his vision and seven years later, in 1903, at the age of 40, together with 11 other investors (whom he eventually bought out) he formed the Ford Motor Company. In October of 1908, he introduced the Model T which quickly became an enormous success, and helped to change the culture of America.
An intriguing mixture of “global vision” and small-town narrow-mindedness, Ford was undoubtedly a natural engineering genius and a shrewd, far-sighted businessman. He was also an unapologetic racist and bigot, who was increasingly becoming a crackpot conspiracy-theorist -- he stated publicly that the sinking of the Lusitania* was a hoax perpetrated by a cartel of international bankers (obviously, referring to the Jews) in order to bring the United States into the First World War.
Although an ardent pacifist in World War I, his moral scruples did not interfere with his ability to make huge profits from both wars, by turning his company into a major producer of war materials in both World War I and World War II. Ford astonished the business world in 1914 by offering a $5 a day wage that more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. The controversial move, which he referred to as the ‘wage motive’, proved hugely profitable, reducing the constant turnover of employees and, by bringing in the best mechanics and workers, greatly improving productivity. Ford’s philosophy was one of “economic independence for the United States”. He pushed for the global expansion of his company, believing that international trade and cooperation led to international peace -- a belief shared by President Herbert Hoover and the Commerce Department.
In 1911, he opened his first plants in Canada and Britain. In 1912, he cooperated with Fiat to launch the first Italian automotive assembly plants. The first plants in Germany were built in the 1920s, followed by the opening of plants in Australia, India, and France. By 1929, he had successful dealerships on six continents. His innovative business concepts and practices, which had come to be known as ‘Fordism’, were associated with successful American capitalism and were greatly admired throughout Europe, especially in Germany -- where, as we shall see, his social views would also gain enthusiastic support.
In today’s jargon, Henry Ford would be described as a ‘control freak’ -- just one personality trait among many (arrogance, stubbornness, authoritarianism, pro-Fascist and anti-Semitic beliefs), that he shared with his contemporary and good friend, Charles Lindberg. He was a pioneer of “welfare capitalism” designed to improve the lot of his workers and thereby reduce turnover. However, in order to receive these benefits, employees had to meet certain strict requirements. To this end, Ford ran his company with an iron fist, attempting to control almost every aspect of his worker’s lives, insisting that they live up to his (somewhat rigid and provincial) standards of personal conduct. He frowned on heavy drinking and gambling. To insure that his employees maintained this high level of morality, he created the “Sociological Department”, which employed 150 investigators and support staff to keep an eye on the behavior of his workers. Adamantly anti-union, he promoted Harry Bennett, a former Navy boxer to head the newly-formed (and innocuously named) Service Department, whose primary mission was to quash union organizing -- by any means deemed necessary.
Despite his paternalistic authoritarianism, Ford had no difficulty in finding, and keeping, first-rate workers; and the Ford Motor Company continued to grow and prosper. However, it was not his company policies that thrust him into the center of worldwide controversy, nor his often violent union-busting tactics, nor his heavy-handed Puritanism -- it was, rather, his vicious, relentless, and increasingly outspoken rabid brand of anti-Semitism. In 1918, Ford’s closest aide and private secretary, the anti-Semite Ernest Liebold, purchased an obscure weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, so that Ford could spread his views. The Independent ran for eight years, from 1920 until 1927 (when a lawsuit brought by San Francisco lawyer and Jewish farm cooperative organizer Aaron Sapiro forced Ford to close the paper). The newspaper published the complete (previously discussed) “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, along with innumerable anti-Semitic articles, which in the 1920s were bound together into a set of four volumes, cumulatively titled The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem. They were widely distributed and had great influence, especially in Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler, himself, read and admired them, and hung Ford’s photograph on his wall. Of Ford, he wrote, glowingly, in Mein Kampf, “Every year makes them [the Jews] more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions; only a single great man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full independence”.
In 1938, the German consul at Cleveland gave Ford the award of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. Although, forced to publically recant his views in response to a Jewish and liberal Christian boycott of Ford products in 1927, he never ceased disseminating his vitriolic anti-Semitic rants. In 1940, Ford told The Manchester Guardian that “international Jewish bankers” were responsible for World War II.
In 1936, Ford created the Ford Foundation, whose broad mandate was to promote human welfare. By clever manipulation of his company’s stock, he assured that control of the Ford Motor Company would remain forever in the hands of the Ford family. As senility set in, Henry Ford was gradually eased out of the presidency of the company, and eventually, in 1945, he ceded control of the company to his grandson Henry Ford II. He died in April, 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 83 in his Dearborn Estate, and is buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.
According to his biographer Robert Lacey, “no American contributed as much to the evils of Nazism as Henry Ford”. Regardless of public opinion, Henry Ford, like his famous compatriot Charles Lindberg, remained an unapologetic life-long anti-Semite. However, the rural communities from which he came, and with which he had so proudly associated himself throughout his lifetime, still largely admired and believed in him. In the Independent he had championed the ‘common people’ who lived in the small towns or in the country, and who made up two-thirds of his readership. They were, he claimed, the “true Americans” -- “When we stand up and sing ‘My country, ‘tis of thee’”, an early article in the Independent noted, “We seldom think of the city”.
These two men, these two colossal icons of their time, so different from one another, yet so much alike that they became lifelong friends and shared a sincere affection for each other, embodied all that was great and all that was not so great of the American character. Bold, independent, courageous and innovative, they were the very epitome of the creative American spirit. Unfortunately, they also shared those petty, unattractive flaws of small town provincialism: an insular, unquestioned self-righteousness coupled with an inherent distrust of strangers, which has traditionally made the ‘common people’ -- not just in America, but all over the world -- uniquely vulnerable to the siren songs of innumerable religious cultists and political demagogues.