"Fascism is on the march today in America. Millionaires are marching to the tune. It will come in this country unless a strong defense is set up by all liberal and progressive forces. ..."
These words, apt as they are today, were actually said by Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to Nazi Germany, William E. Dodd, in an interview upon his return from Europe on January 7, 1938.
Having seen first-hand the threat of fascism, he believed, with all of the connections between the industrialists and bankers, that time was running out for liberty in the United States.
Soft-Spoken Historian from the Carolinas
Dodd had not been Roosevelt’s first pick for the ambassador post. The other candidates for that position understood the challenges and realized what kind of political equilibrium would be required to make everybody happy. With varied excuses, each had politely bowed out of the running. Finally, in June of 1933, Roosevelt offered the post to Dodd and he accepted.
And there was much to recommend this academic historian from the University of Chicago. Born in Clayton, North Carolina only a few years after the Civil War, Dodd had received his professional training at the University of Leipzig around the turn of the century. When the ambassador arrived in Berlin, he was immediately struck at the malevolent changes in atmosphere in the Germany from his memory.
Author Erik Larson has written a book on Ambassador Dodd, In the Garden of Beasts. He describes for NPR Dodd’s first of two meetings with Chancellor Hitler in 1933:
After four years, Dodd had had more than enough. As a father he must have been particularly dismayed to see his own daughter, Martha, being seduced by radical ideologies, swinging from fascism to communism."Suddenly [in their first meeting] this ordinary statesman becomes absolutely vehement, savage and outspoken in a way that really kind of takes Dodd aback," Larson says. "In the second meeting, something very similar happens when they talk about Jews. Hitler again completely loses it. ... He says all of the criticism of Germany is coming from Jews and he is going to make an end to them."Larson says Dodd ignored the remark."At that moment, Dodd the rationalist, the student of history, hears a remark like that and doesn't think Hitler truly means it," Larson says. "He doesn't take it seriously. Because, my God, who could possibly even think about something like that? Who could act on something like that? Remember, this is early. This is very early in the march toward the Holocaust."But in 1934, things changed. Between June 30 and July 2, the Nazis carried out a series of political executions in a weekend known as the "night of the long knives." Tens of critics of Hitler — including Nazis — were imprisoned and executed."This seemed to be the moment when Dodd, at last, understands the true pathological nature of this regime," Larson says. "He tried to convey his sense of horror to the State Department. And what the State Department said was, 'Look, we don't really care about this, we care about Germany's debt. Can you please start working on getting Germany to pay back its debt to American creditors? It was almost as though, back in America, they wrote this off as some weekend excursion of the Nazis — not a big deal, not something to worry about."
Besides that, his public statements were proving to be unwelcome in Germany while his private official remarks were being largely ignored. The State Department wasn’t listening to his warnings and he had his own suspicions as to why.
Clearly there was no love lost between the Nazis and the ambassador. One source notes how far the relationship had deteriorated:
Dodd had become so openly critical of the Nazis that Hitler gave him no farewell audience, the German Foreign Minister omitted the customary dinner for departing diplomats and the German press did not even mention his departure. In a statement he made upon his return to the U.S., Dodd confessed that he had found representing the United States in Hitler’s Berlin a hopeless task. “In a vast region where religious freedom is denied, where intellectual initiative and discovery are not allowed, and where race hatreds are cultivated” he asked, “what can a representative of the United States do?”
He returned to the US in December 1937 and began a lecture tour along the East Coast, relating to audiences the growing menace that Germany had become. And he had an explicit warning to the American public. Hitler and the Nazis had friends on American soil. He reported to his audience the full extent of the problem:
Life Mazagine in May 1938 gives this tantalizing hint. A caption to a photo of the former ambassador reads:"A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government, and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy. Aboard ship a prominent executive of one of America's largest financial corporations told me point-blank that if the progressive trend of the Roosevelt administration continued, he would be ready to take definite action to bring Fascism to America."Certain American industrialists had a great deal to do with bringing fascist regimes into being in both Germany and Italy. They extended aid to help Fascism occupy the seat of power, and they are helping to keep it there."Propagandists for fascist groups try to dismiss the 'fascist scare.' We should be aware of the symptoms. When industrialists ignore laws designed for social and economic progress, they will seek recourse to a fascist state when the institutions of our government compel them to comply with the provisions."
A US billionaire, Dr. Dodd recently wrote to several senators, is ready to back a fascist dictatorship. Amid Senatorial snorts, North Dakota’s Nye demanded that Dr. Dodd name the billionaire. The Ambassador declined.
Back in 1938, there were far fewer billionaires so trying to understand to whom Dodd might have been referring is much easier. Less than five years later, when the ambassador’s threat had materialized, at least one author, George Seldes, knew- without any doubt- exactly who that billionaire was.
None other than the auto manufacturer, Mr. Henry Ford of Dearborn, Michigan.
Seldes, in his book, Facts and Fascism, written in 1943, explains,
Dr. Dodd did not name Henry Ford as chief of those certain millionaire industrialists who were working for Fascism, but it was not only generally believed at the time, but the Left press declared openly that Dodd was aiming at Ford.To many persons Ford has always been our No. 1 Fascist. (Newspapermen usually give that spot to William Randolph Hearst, and there is an unending argument as to which of the two has done more harm to the mind of America, but no one doubts that both have spread more fascist poison in this country than any other pair of prominent men.)
Ford and I. G. Farben
In the book, The Rise of the Fourth Reich, author Jim Marrs explains:
In the 1930s, many people in both Britain and America were in agreement with Nazi ideology.Automobile-maker Henry Ford became a guiding light to Hitler, especially in the realm of anti-Semitism. In 1920, Ford published an anti-Jewish book titled The International Jew. As Hitler worked on his book, Mein Kampf, in 1924, he copied liberally from Ford’s writing and even referred to Ford as “one great man.” Ford became an admirer of Hitler, provided funds for the Nazis, and, in 1938, became the first American to receive the highest honor possible for a non-German: the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle.Ford’s son, Edsel, sat on the board of American I. G. Farben and GAF.
This table (from 1943) gives a idea how much of the war economy was supported by Farben.
I. G. Farben is of peculiar interest in the formation of the Nazi state because Farben directors materially helped. Hitler and the Nazis to power in 1933. We have photographic evidence.... that I.G. Farben contributed 400,000 RM to Hitler's political "slush fund."
It was this secret fund which financed the Nazi seizure of control in March 1933. Many years earlier Farben had obtained Wall Street funds for the 1925 cartelization and expansion in Germany and $30 million for American I. G. in 1929, and had Wall Street directors on the Farben board. It has to be noted that these funds were raised and directors appointed years before Hitler was promoted as the German dictator....
Qualified observers have argued that Germany could not have gone to war in 1939 without I. G. Farben. Between 1927 and the beginning of World War II, I.G. Farben doubled in size, an expansion made possible in great part by American technical assistance and by American bond issues, such as the one for $30 million offered by National City Bank.
By 1939 I. G. acquired a participation and managerial influence in some 380 other German firms and over 500 foreign firms. The Farben empire owned its own coal mines, its own electric power plants, iron and steel units, banks, research units, and numerous commercial enterprises. There were over 2,000 cartel agreements between I. G. and foreign firms — including Standard Oil of New Jersey, DuPont, Alcoa, Dow Chemical, and others in the United States, The full story of I.G. Farben and its world-wide activities before World War II can never be known, as key German records were destroyed in 1945 in anticipation of Allied victory.
The directors of the American division of I.G. were not only prominent in Wall Street and American industry but more significantly were drawn from a few highly influential institutions. Besides Edsel Ford, Henry’s son and president of Ford Motor company, other directors included Charles Edwin Mitchell, chairman of National City Bank (now Citibank) and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
(Mitchell's wheeling and dealing were thought to be one factor in the meltdown of 1929. After the collapse of the stock market in 1929, Mitchell became a major target for government investigations. "Mitchell more than any 50 men is responsible for this stock crash."—U. S. Senator Carter Glass, November 1929.)
Walter Clark Teagle, another director of Standard Oil of New Jersey. Wikipedia kindly offers this information about Teagle's cozy deal with the Nazis.
Standard Oil supplied information to IG Farben on how to manufacture tetraethyl lead and synthetic rubber, both critical resources to the war effort. Because Teagle sold patent rights for synthetic rubber, Standard Oil delayed American industrial readiness by not producing rubber without German permission.
Finally, another notable name on the board was Paul Warburg, first member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and chairman of the Bank of Manhattan Company (to become Chase Manhattan). Warburg was also a director of the Council on Foreign Relations at its founding in 1921. All in all, that's a formidable crew to have on your side.
In fact, Ford supported Adolf Hitler long before he came to power. It was more than just a cynical attempt to enlarge his motor empire. Evidence for that charge comes from the Hitler’s treason trial (after his unsuccessful, even laughable attempt at rebellion in 1923). According to the trial transcripts:
"The Bavarian Diet (the judicial body) has long had the information that the Hitler movement was partly financed by an American anti-Semitic chief, who is Henry Ford. Mr. Ford's interest in the Bavarian anti- Semitic movement began a year ago when one of Mr. Ford's agents, seeking to sell tractors, came in contact with Diedrich Eichart Shortly after, Herr Eichart asked Mr. Ford's agent for financial aid. The agent returned to America and immediately Mr. Ford's money began coming to Munich."Herr Hitler openly boasts of Mr. Ford's support and praises Mr. Ford as a great individualist and a great anti-Semite. A photograph of Mr. Ford hangs in Herr Hitler's quarters, which is the center of the monarchist movement."
And later, Ford Motor Company assisted the Nazis in more direct ways.
In July 1940, at a meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, ...it was decided that rather than build aircraft engines for beleaguered Britain, the Ford company would build five-ton military trucks for Germany, the “backbone of German Army transportation.”
Ford and Hitler
Around this time the Dublin-born writer Michael Sayers remarked:
"The Kingdom of Henry Ford is a fascist state within the United States. All the characteristics of Fascism -- Jew-baiting, corruption, gangsterism -- exist today wherever King Henry Ford reigns over American workers. But Fordism and Americanism cannot long continue to exist side by side. Already in more than half a dozen states the National Labor Relations Board has found the Ford Motor Company guilty of maintaining 'a regime of terror and violence directed against its employees.'"
(Sayers would pay a heavy price for his outspoken denunciation of the power elite. He was blacklisted for his Communist sympathies and his career never recovered.)
Of course, since fascism is all about efficiency, it is perhaps no surprise that Ford and Hitler might have shared similar views when it came to getting things done. Expediency allowed nothing to stand in the way, despite the human costs.
For example, during a Dallas trial hearing it was revealed that:
Shocking brutalities" had been reported from every part of America where Ford had a plant and where the unions tried to exercise their constitutional rights to organize the men.
And at the same time, Ford had built an image of being a friend to labor. In but one example, between June and December, 1937 (around the same time as Dodd was warning Americans about fascist tendencies) 30 to 50 persons were beaten up in the streets of Dallas by thugs, racketeers, gunmen and murderers on the payroll of Henry Ford.
The reason was an attempt to put down any unionizing of labor at a Ford plant. (One link provides some evidence of the brutality of Ford's "service" department in various places around the country in the late 1930s.)
As Seldes notes:
These corporations, however, never pretended they were paternal, or that they were operated by a humanitarian. They were out to make money at all costs and, until the government took a hand, every legal and illegal means was used.Henry Ford, who believes he is a benefactor of mankind, and who is considered now the worst anti-Semite, hate-spreader, and labor-baiter in America, employed men who employed other men who on orders from Ford Company officials committed all sorts of violence including murder. All to keep wages low, unions out of the plants, and more money going into the Ford Empire.
One key factor in Ford’s plan of maintaining control was to stir dissent. According to the confession of one insider who under Harry Bennett in his notorious Ford Service Department, Ralph Rimar stated:
...Hatred was encouraged between racial, national and color groups, how Protestants and Catholics were encouraged to hate each other, and to spy on each other and report to superiors; how foreign-born and children of foreign-born were encouraged to keep alive European national hatreds, how Negroes and whites were stirred to enmity, how even high officials were made suspicious of each other.
Hitler knew a “good” thing when he saw it. He had studied Ford. the man and his methods, carefully and had taken the Ford corporation philosophy and simply expanded upon it. The SS and Gestapo were little more than uniformed and state-approved versions of Ford's hired thugs and enforcers.
In a very real sense, Henry Ford could be considered the spiritual father of Nazi regime.
Many of Hitler's tirades against the Jews could easily have been plagiarized from Ford's book, The International Jew, originally published and distributed in the early 1920s, when Hitler was little more than a local laughing-stock in Munich.
Here's one example from the book, in which Ford blames the Jews for World War I:
Ford also blamed the Jews for the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Ford - like Pope Pius XI - had realized that Communism (which was spreading like a wildfire) was threatening to destroy the entire capitalist power structure He also added:There are no stronger contrasts in the world than the pure Germanic and pure Semitic races; therefore, there has been no harmony between the two in Germany; the German has regarded the Jew strictly as a guest, while the Jew, indignant at not being given the privileges of the nation-family, has cherished animosity against his host. In other countries the Jew is permitted to mix more readily with the people, he can amass his control unchallenged; but in Germany the case was different. Therefore, the Jew hated the German people; therefore, the countries of the world which were most dominated by the Jews showed the greatest hatred of Germany during the recent regrettable war.
The winding path to the state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators began in Dearborn, Michigan and at the doorstep of Henry Ford.The main source of the sickness of the German national body is charged to be the influence of the Jews, and although this was apparent to acute minds years ago, it is now said to have gone so far as to be apparent to the least observing.
Cabal of American Fascists
Still, while few could claim to have more influence of Hitler's genesis, it would be unfair to claim that Ford was alone in his support of Hitler and the Nazis. In fact, only a year after Hitler ascended to power in Germany, many wealthy Americans were ready to throw in their lot with the fascist movement in an effort to combat the rising tide of Communism.
In 1933, some of the elite were calling Roosevelt a secret communist. His new Deal programs of relief for American hit hard by the Depression, to them, smacked of socialism, of centralized government and an invitation to a Soviet-style state. They wanted less big government and more free market. corporations were demanding less government interference, more deregulation in order to spur growth.
And it was more than mere idle chatter too.
Head of the American chemical company Du Pont, Irenee Du Pont and General Motors president William S. Knudsen reportedly planned in 1934 to finance a coup d’etat. Their plan included kidnapping and ousting Roosevelt and setting up a military fascist regime in its place. The scheme collapsed due to a Roosevelt critic but loyal citizen. Marine Corps major general Smedley Butler, who had been approached by the conspirators, immediately informed authorities of the treasonous plan.
This left Roosevelt in a quandary. Arresting such influential figures would have undoubtedly led to a collapse in the still- shaky Stock Market and in turn, a national crisis. It was, as one historian put it, the moment that Roosevelt realized he was not actually running the country.
Instead of confronting the issue directly, he decided to leak the story with all of the details and then call the news "ridiculous," which in turn scuttled the conspiracy.
Despite that dangerous dance with sedition, Du Pont’s business connections went straight into the German armament industry. One source gives us these details:
The Du Pont Co., and particularly GM, was a major contributor to Nazi military efforts to wipe communism off the map of Europe. In 1929, GM bought Adam Opel, Germany’s largest car manufacturer. In 1974, a Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly heard evidence from researcher Bradford Snell proving that that in 1935, GM opened an Opel factory to supply the Nazi’s with “Blitz” military trucks. In appreciation, for this help, Adolf Hitler awarded GM’s chief executive for overseas operations, James Mooney, with the Order of the German Eagle (first class). Besides military trucks, Germany’s GM workers also producing armored cars, tanks and bomber engines.
Du Pont, like Ford before him, immediately saw that he shared common interests with a man like Hitler. The late Charles Higham, the author of the book Trading with the Enemy: An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949, has this to say about Du Pont.
Irénée, the most imposing and powerful member of the du Pont clan, was obsessed with Hitler’s principles. He keenly followed the future Fuhrer’s career in the 1920s. On Sept. 7, 1926, in a speech to the American Chemical Society, he advocated a race of supermen, to be achieved by injecting special drugs into them in boyhood to make their characters to order. He insisted his men reach physical standards equivalent to that of a Marine and have blood as pure as that in the veins of the Vikings. Despite the fact that he had Jewish blood in his own veins, his anti-Semitism matched that of Hitler.
In outright defiance of Roosevelt’s desire to improve working conditions for the average man, GM and the Du Ponts instituted the speedup systems. These forced men to work at terrifying speeds on the assembly lines. Many died of the heat and pressure, increased by fear of losing their jobs. Irénée paid almost $1 million from his own pocket for armed and gas-equipped storm troops modeled on the Gestapo to sweep through the plants and beat up anyone who proved rebellious. He hired the Pinkerton Agency to send its swarms of detectives through the whole [du Pont] chemicals, munitions and auto empire to spy on left-wingers or other malcontents.
Add to that list, Thomas J. Watson, the chairman of International Business Machines (IBM) who reported passed advanced technology to the Nazis through the company’s subsidiary, Dehomag. Watson made many trips to Germany during the 1930s, never selling the machines but leasing them.
Without this punch card technology, the trains quite literally would never have run on time. For his assistance, Hitler created a special medal for Watson called the Merit Cross of the German Eagle with Star. To his credit, that was not the end of the story.
According to Wikipedia:
Watson soon began second-guessing himself for accepting the medal, and eventually returned the medal to the German government in June 1940. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was furious at the slight, and he declared that Watson would never step on German-controlled soil again. As anticipated, Dehomag went into revolt, its management decrying Watson's stupidity and openly wondering whether or not it would be best if the firm separated from its American owner. The debate ended when Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941, and the German shareholders took custody of the Dehomag operation.
There were plenty of others with less conscience that enthusiastically hailed Hitler. For example, aviator Charles Lindbergh and newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (the Rupert Murdoch of his day) both spoke very highly of the Nazis. Joseph Kennedy, the former ambassador to England, and father of the president, was recalled in November 1940 for expressing his sympathies for Hitler. Kennedy reportedly donated a considerable sum to the German cause.
"acted as a US base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen who helped finance Hitler in the 1930s before falling out with him at the end of the decade... Thyssen owned the largest steel and coal company in Germany and grew rich from Hitler's efforts to re-arm between the two world wars.Thyssen owned the largest steel and coal company in Germany and grew rich from Hitler's efforts to re-arm between the two world wars. One of the pillars in Thyssen's international corporate web, Union Banking Corporation (UBC), worked exclusively for, and was owned by, a Thyssen-controlled bank in the Netherlands.By the late 1930s, Brown Brothers Harriman, which claimed to be the world's largest private investment bank, and UBC had bought and shipped millions of dollars of gold, fuel, steel, coal and US treasury bonds to Germany, both feeding and financing Hitler's build-up to war.Between 1931 and 1933 UBC bought more than $8m worth of gold, of which $3m was shipped abroad.
The list of American conspirators from the world of industry and finance ready to assist Hitler and install a homemade fascist regime goes on and on, far beyond the scope of this post. However, this short list alone gives credence to William Dodd’s fiery remarks about the lurking treason of the elite.
Dodd’s Tragic End
In 1937, when Dodd traveled about the country, reporting to his audiences about the oncoming danger from without and within, he would have had no clue to what tragedy lay in store. Upon his retirement from public life, he attempted to pick up where he had left off. Despite failing health, he began working a book of Southern history. In May 1938, his wife Martha passed away. And later that year, in a confused state, Dodd struck a black child while driving. He was later arrested for leaving the scene of the accident.
He claimed during his trial that he had paid the child’s medical bills of over a thousand dollars, but the judge was unimpressed. He was fined $250 plus court costs. The trial and its attendant publicity were too much for him and the former ambassador died of pneumonia at his farm in Round Hill, Virginia in February 1940.
(Seventeen years later, his daughter, Martha Dodd Stern, would be accused of spying for the Soviets and, to avoid arrest, would be forced to flee with a false passport, first to Mexico, then to Prague. She was never permitted to return to the US. )
A rather tawdry end to a man who had the courage to look evil straight in the end, understand who gave it encouragement and tried his best to let the rest of the world know.
Today, his name, like Smedley Butler or Heywood Broun, has become little more than a footnote to the historical record, while names like Ford and General Motors, DuPont, IBM, Lindbergh, Hearst and Bush live on.
As a history teacher, Dr. Dodd would have understood the fickleness of it. But, as a historian, he would no doubt be deeply concerned by the fact that after 70 years, the same elements of fascism have returned and seem poised to make yet another attempt to capture the American republic.