The American Axis
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In The American Axis, investigative journalist and Holocaust researcher Max Wallace revisits the chequered pasts of two American heroes - the industrialist Henry Ford and the aviator Charles Lindbergh - providing compelling new evidence of the far-reaching effects of their anti-Semitism and their devotion to the Nazi cause. In both cases this is a timely intervention. The year 2002 marked the centenary of Ford's contract to produce his first automobile, the centenary of Lindbergh's birth and the 75th anniversary of the aviator's celebrated transatlantic flight. As Wallace reports, the media response was largely to reiterate their heroic status, with little or no reflection on their considerable failings.
This in itself is an extraordinary indictment of American society's current forgetfulness, and its ongoing willingness to elevate successful men to heroes to fulfil its sense of destiny as a great nation. Throughout their lifetimes, both men were dogged by controversy. The backlash against Lindbergh's prominent role as a Nazi sympathiser and leader of the isolationist movement, opposed to America's entry into the Second World War, tarnished his name long before his death in 1974, and the story of Ford's anti-Semitism was once common knowledge. From 1920 to 1927, the industrialist waged an unrelenting campaign of virulent anti-Semitism - blaming the Jews for running world events as part of an international conspiracy - through the pages of The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper that he had bought in 1919. The articles were largely lifted from the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic tract that had been circulating in Europe for decades. Ford's legacy as an anti-Semite was sealed with the publication of The International Jew, a compilation of articles - largely based on the Protocols - which were published in his newspaper. Half a million copies were distributed for free through the vast network of Ford dealerships, and it became an international bestseller when published in book form (and is still prominent on racist websites today).
Wallace's great achievement, after sifting through numerous archives, including recently declassified FBI and military intelligence files, is to plug conspicuous gaps in the histories of Ford and Lindbergh, providing the most comprehensive rebuttal to date of their status as American heroes. The origins of Ford's anti-Semitism, for example, have never been satisfactorily explained, but Wallace's investigations indicate that the responsibility almost certainly lay with Ernest Liebold, Ford's private secretary and "most trusted associate". In the course of his research, Wallace discovered that Liebold was suspected of being a German spy during the First World War, and as he sifted through the US National Archives and the Bundesarchiv in Berlin he was able to "discern the existence of a shadowy network involving Ernest Liebold, German monarchists, radical right-wing Russian émigrés, disaffected German-Americans and Adolf Hitler." Particularly prominent in this network was Boris Brasol, an anti-Semitic, tsarist White Russian, whose fanatical anti-Communism led to his appointment to a senior role in US military intelligence. Wallace indicates that it was almost certainly Brasol who introduced Ford to the Protocols in 1919 or 1920, and that it may have been through Brasol's influence that the investigations into Liebold were suddenly called off in 1918.
Wallace also comes closer than any previous writer to confirming that Ford provided much-needed financial assistance to the nascent Nazi regime. A particularly startling episode concerns the Chicago Tribune reporter who, in 1922, was told by Eduard Auer of the Bavarian parliament that Ford "was financing the revolutionary program of a radical Austrian named Adolf Hitler because he was favourably impressed by Hitler's program supporting the 'extermination of the Jews in Germany'", a comment which, as Wallace notes, was shocking not only for its explicit connection of Ford with Hitler, but also because it was "possibly the first ever published suggestion, that Hitler even contemplated such a plan." The author also delves deeply into Ford's well-publicised refusal to supply funds to the Nazis in 1924, when, on a visit to the US, Richard Wagner's son Siegfried introduced the industrialist to the Nazis' chief fund-raiser Kurt Ludecke. In his memoir, Ludecke wrote that Ford expressed no interest whatsoever, but in 1977, as Wallace reminds readers, Siegfried Wagner's wife Winifred told the historian James Pool that during the same visit "Ford told me that he had helped finance Hitler." In a similar vein, Wallace also resurrects some vivid examples of Ford's unprecedented influence on Nazi thought. In 1931, an American reporter granted access to Hitler found the Führer seated beneath a large portrait of Ford and was told "I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration", and in 1946, at the Nuremberg trials, Nazi Youth leader Baldur von Schirach testified that "The decisive anti-Semitic book which I read at that time, and the book which influenced my comrades, was Henry Ford's book, The International Jew. I read it and became anti-Semitic."
Wallace is just as relentless in his pursuit of the truth about Charles Lindbergh. Allowed access to his diaries and to Yale University's generally restricted collection of his political papers, the author discovered anti-Semitic and white supremacist views that were played down in Lindbergh's autobiography and in the most recent biography, written by A Scott Berg, which was published in 1998. He traces the origins of Lindbergh's fanatical views to the two men who exerted the most profound influence on the impressionable aviator: Alexis Carrel, a medical researcher and fervent eugenicist, who became his mentor, and the pro-Nazi army officer Truman Smith, who became military attaché to Germany in 1935 and who was subsequently responsible for inviting Lindbergh to inspect German military establishments in 1936. It was on this visit, and another in 1937, that Lindbergh concluded that "German air strength is greater than that of all other European countries combined", and that consequently resistance was futile. His reports so alarmed the intelligence services in Britain, France and the US that when Hitler began threatening Czechoslovakia in 1938, the European allies were convinced that appeasement - in the form of Chamberlain's notorious Munich pact - was the only solution. When it later transpired that his estimates were grossly exaggerated and that the Allies may well have been able to crush Hitler in 1938, thereby preventing the whole of the Second World War, Lindbergh was subjected to widespread criticism, but whereas his defenders have insisted that his estimates were no more exaggerated than those of the intelligence services - or even that his visits to Germany were clandestine missions to secure military intelligence for the US government - Wallace is adamant that he had a darker purpose.
Although he accepts that Lindbergh had misgivings about the brutality of the Nazi regime, Wallace's research confirmed that the aviator was ultimately swayed by what he considered the "virility" and "dictatorial direction" of Nazi Germany. Consequently, although it remains clear that the Nazis "sized up his naivete early on and used him as a pawn in their sophisticated propaganda charade", Lindbergh was far more than the "witless dupe" described by The New York Times in a review of a biography in 1975, and Wallace insists that his isolationism was dangerously subversive. Whereas the majority of Americans before Pearl Harbour wanted merely to prevent their nation from actively entering the war, Lindbergh's obsession, as Wallace describes it, was to aid the Nazis in the destruction of democratic Europe by "preventing American military aid to Britain as a beleaguered nation attempting to stave off a German military invasion." He also suggests that Lindbergh was responsible for attracting Ford to this specific cause, noting that in the months following the outbreak of war in 1939 he made at least ten secret visits to Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, one of which coincided with the industrialist's sudden refusal to honour a recent commitment to manufacture engines for the British. Most commentators have accepted Ford's purported pacifism, and have taken at face value his explanation that "I would never let a single automobile get out of the Ford plant anywhere in the world if I thought it was going to be used in warfare." Wallace, however, remains unconvinced.
In light of Ford's established pro-German leanings and Lindbergh's questionable motives, this is entirely understandable, but what makes Wallace's scepticism all the more convincing is the damning and previously unreported evidence that he discovered relating to the Ford company's activities in Germany both before and during the Second World War. Directly refuting Ford's pacifist claims and highlighting the hypocrisy surrounding his refusal to manufacture engines for the British, he points out that the company's German subsidiary had no qualms about producing military vehicles for the Nazis. So many were produced that a post-war investigation by the US army concluded that "even before the war a portion of German Ford had, with Dearborn's consent, become an arsenal of Nazism." In the US National Archives, Wallace also discovered a series of wartime documents, most of which had never been publicised before, building up a case for the prosecution of Henry Ford's son Edsel, the president of the company since the 1930s, for contravening the terms of the Trading with the Enemy Act, which prohibited US firms from having any contact with enterprises in occupied Europe. The case hinged on a few ill-advised comments in an otherwise strictly controlled correspondence between Dearborn and the headquarters of Ford in neutral France, which indicated that the letters were actually intended to be delivered to Ford headquarters in Nazi-occupied France. Although the investigation ceased when Edsel Ford died suddenly in 1943, the suggestion that Dearborn was still actively involved in the company's day-to-day running in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe has profound implications for other claims made by the company that it had no influence over its German subsidiary after the war began.
It has long been known that Ford's German subsidiary employed slave labour in its factories in the 1940s, but the company has always insisted that these were decisions imposed by the Nazis. These claims were reiterated as recently as 2001, when, in response to repeated calls for an investigation, the company produced a 198-page report on the subject, backed up by 98,000 pages of supporting evidence. Again, Wallace is unconvinced. Lamenting that Ford released the report during the war on Afghanistan and that the media failed to read it in any detail, he points out that Ford's own supporting evidence reveals that the first slave labourers were actually employed in 1940, while Dearborn was still directly in control of its German subsidiary, and notes that even under the dubious management arrangements of 1941-5, the decision to employ slave labourers was at the discretion of individual companies. Eighty-five years after Henry Ford began his campaign of race hatred, his company remains unaccountable for its actions.
It was during the course of Wallace's investigations into Edsel Ford's treachery that he also stumbled across one more revelation that has nothing to do with either Henry Ford or Charles Lindbergh but that, for me, almost overshadowed everything that had come before. In the Trading with the Enemy files, Wallace found documents detailing how the assets of five US companies - the Union Banking Corporation of New York, the Hamburg-Amerika Line, the Holland-American Trading Association, the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation and the Silesian-American Corporation - were seized for operating as fronts for 'enemy nationals' in 1942, 10 months after the United States entered the war. A government investigation concluded that the companies were laundering money for powerful Germany families like the steel-manufacturing Thyssens, funding pro-Nazi propaganda in Germany and the US, and smuggling agents through a network set up by German companies. The man who oversaw investments for all five companies was Prescott Bush, George W Bush's grandfather, utilising the connections of his father-in-law Bert Walker, who was described by a Justice Department investigator as "one of Hitler's most powerful financial supporters in the United States." Wallace concludes that "the bulk of Prescott Bush's financial empire was being operated on behalf of Nazi Germany" and includes the opinion of John Loftus, a Justice Department war crimes investigator who has investigated the Bush family's extensive Nazi connections, that "The Bush family fortune that helped put two members of the family in the White House can be traced directly to the Third Reich." Fortunately for Prescott Bush, his name was never linked to the scandal. After the war he joined the OSS, the precursor of the CIA, "in an effort to avoid potential government prosecution", and his son George abandoned plans to enter Yale and joined the army instead, hoping, as John Loftus put it, to "save the family's honor." By 1951, the entire episode appears to have been forgotten. The tainted assets of the Union Banking Corporation - a total of $1.5 million - were returned to the family without a murmur, and Herbert Bush went on to become a Senator, paving the way for the presidential aspirations of his son and grandson.