Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Jews,
and the Fight to Define American Identity
It is a little known fact of history that, during the siege of Vicksburg, General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order barring Jewish merchants from entering the Union camps to conduct business. President Abraham Lincoln promptly countermanded the order. What prompted General Grants action or President Lincolns rescission of his order we will never know. It is an incident which historians never discuss. Was this an early instance of American anti-Semitism?
After the U.S. Civil War, the southern plantation system was destroyed along with its system of slave labor. The northern states saw an extraordinary industrial boom spurred by the railroads. During the Civil War years, Thomas Edison worked as a newsboy in a railroad car for the Grand Trunk Railroad line running between Port Huron and Detroit in southeastern Michigan. A few years later, he was a telegraph operator.
Edison invented a transmitter and receiver for an automatic telegraph system, and then a quadraplex telegraph, and an improved stock ticker. In the 1870s he maintained a research laboratory from which came important inventions such as the electric light bulb, phonograph recordings, carbon telephone transmitter, and motion-picture machine. Then, in 1881, he built the worlds first electric power plant in New York City.
Edison, whose formal education was limited to three months of schooling, became the most prolific inventor in American industry. He was a home-grown American genius, a self-taught expert in technologies related to electricity. Through native intelligence and hard work, Edison and his assistants laid the foundation for both the electric-power and 20th Century entertainment industries. This was a distinct kind of heroic American identity.
Now shift attention to another American inventor born about the time of the Vicksburg siege. This was Henry Ford, who, like Edison, was also raised in southeastern Michigan. Ford had a grade-school education before working several years on his fathers farm. Then he became an apprentice in a machine shop in Detroit where he began experimenting with automobiles propelled by the internal-combustion engine. He later became an engineer with the Detroit Edison Company, the electrical-power provider for Detroit. It was during this time that Henry Ford first met Edison who encouraged him in his work.
In 1903, Henry Ford and others organized the Ford Motor Company. Ford himself became the majority shareholder four years later and eventually sole owner of the company. Ford concentrated on perfecting a standard product, the Model T, and then upon developing production techniques that would allow him to produce a large number of automobiles at a steadily decreasing per-unit cost. That, in turn, allowed the Ford Motor Company to offer its product at a price that many Americans would afford. Sales of Ford products soared, creating a demand for even more production and the greater cost efficiencies that Fords automobile assembly lines could provide.
If that were not enough, Henry Ford also set his eyes upon growing the consumer market. In 1914, the Ford Motor Company began paying its employees a minimum $5-per-day wage, capping daily work hours at eight. Ford did this not in response to union or competitive pressures but, he said, because he wanted workers to be able to afford the products they made. He also unilaterally reduced daily and weekly work hours because he wanted workers to have enough time to make full use of the products that they made. This was a revolutionary vision which, more than any other, was responsible for creating the U.S. consumer mass market.
In the process, Henry Ford became one of the richest men on earth. He did not live lavishly but instead thought of himself as someone who was in a position to enrich humanity. After his death, the bulk of shares in Ford Motor Company stock went to the Ford Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic endowments of all time. Ford also paid particular attention to American culture. He created a kind of theme park near his home in Dearborn, Michigan, called Greenfield Village, which was a reproduction of an early American village that included, however, such attractions as Stephen Fosters home and Edisons Menlo Park laboratory. There was also a large museum devoted to technology. A paternalistic employer, Henry Ford encouraged his employees to practice square dancing and engage in other wholesome American pastimes.
Its clear that Henry Ford was making a powerful bid to shape the American identity. He was making it possible for Americans to enjoy lives of greater prosperity and leisure while remaining true to their national culture. America was a land of industrial progress to which the average citizen might become an heir. The well-publicized photographs of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs, and Luther Burbank, sometimes joined by President Warren G. Harding, taking a camping trip together, projected an image of the good life in America. It was a combination of the modern and the traditional, the best that our society had to offer.
Why is it, then, that Americans seem to have forgotten the positive side of Henry Ford and instead tend to think of him as a thuggish character? One reason is that in the early 1920s the Ford Motor Company published a newspaper called the Dearborn Independent which discussed Jewish control of international banking and related subjects. This newspaper also reprinted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A Jewish friend complained to Henry Ford that this newspaper was harming Jews in Europe and, upon receiving proof, Ford suspended publication. But the fact that Ford had lent his support to such views has been enough to brand him as a hard-core anti-Semite.
Another reason for Fords negative reputation is that he strongly resisted union representation for his employees. Ford was a paternalist who thought that his employees did not need a union to receive better wages and working conditions. Ford also had a fancy for ex-convicts. He hired a man named Harry Bennett to deal with the union organizers. A famous photograph shows Walter Reuther with blood running from his nose after Fords security forces had run him and a fellow organizer off the property. But the union persisted in its campaign and Ford capitulated. He later told a friend that his wife had threatened to divorce him if the union troubles continued.
Today, the anti-Semitism charge, above all, continues to stain Fords reputation. Adolf Hitler admired Ford, perhaps in part because of the Dearborn Independent. Photographs of Henry Ford standing next to German military officers who were bestowing upon him an award are still widely circulated. But Ford was not a Nazi sympathizer or one with strong political views of any kind. Though he allowed a Ford factory to be built in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, for instance, he also did not sympathize with communism. When the United States went to war against Nazi Germany, the Ford Motor Company immediately converted to war production.
Yet, there is no doubt that Ford in the early 1920s shared the view that Jews were involved in a hidden conspiracy that threatened the society he held dear. Could some of the following events have influenced his thinking?
In 1914, the Federal Reserve Bank, a focus of conspiratorial thinking even today, was established. During World War I, the Wilson administration put Bernard Baruch, a Jew, in charge of the War Industries Board. Ford was savagely criticized when he went to Europe on a peace mission in 1915 in an attempt to end World War I. In 1919, Henry Ford submitted to intense, embarrassing cross-examination related to his level of education in a libel suit against the Chicago Tribune. Worst of all, some bankers tried to take control of the Ford Motor Company away from Ford during a liquidity squeeze brought on by economic recession in 1921.
While it is unclear to what extent Jews played a part in these various distressing events, Ford had clearly been under intense personal and business pressure that was likely to have produced strong attitudes in him about hostile forces threatening his well being.
Now consider a third figure in the group of American heroes who contributed to technological progress. Charles Lindbergh, too, was born in Detroit although he was raised in Little Falls, Minnesota. His father served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lindbergh attended the University of Wisconsin for a short time and then dropped out to pursue flying. He became an air-mail pilot.
Lindbergh then arranged for an airplane to be produced so that he could compete for a prize of $25,000 for the first successful flight across the Atlantic ocean. In May 1927, he personally flew that plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, across the ocean landing in Paris. His solo flight caught the imagination of people around the world. Personally handsome, Lindbergh became an overnight celebrity. He married the attractive daughter of Dwight Morrow, a U.S. diplomat. The couple flew airplanes together, raised children, and generally remained in the spotlight as a model of American personality.
In the 1930s, their fortunes took a turn for the worse when a son was kidnapped and murdered. The Lindbergh family moved to England. Charles Lindbergh engaged in various projects including work on an artificial heart. He monitored the development of aircraft, becoming convinced that the Germans had taken the lead in this area. In 1939, he returned to the United States to argue against U.S. participation in the European war that was just beginning.
Lindbergh became a prominent member of the America First Committee, a group of business leaders and others who believed that the Roosevelt administration was maneuvering to bring the nation into World War II on the side of England. Lindbergh gave a controversial speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in which he identified American Jews as one of three pro-war groups. He had said: "Their (the Jews') greatest danger lies in large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their interests, but we also must look out for ours."
When war was declared with Germany and Japan, Lindbergh promptly offered his services to the administration. He was eventually allowed to serve in the Pacific theater, where he flew combat missions and shot down two enemy aircraft. After the war, Lindbergh was a consultant to Pan American Airlines. He and his wife published books. Increasingly, his interests turned to conservation. Charles Lindbergh died in the 1970s in Hawaii, where he is buried.
Lindberghs life parallels that of Henry Ford in several respects. Besides the Michigan connection, both were men of immense mechanical ability who contributed to the transportation industry. Both built their own machines. Both were widely admired in their time. They were personal friends. Ford and Lindbergh worked together on activities of the America First Committee. Lindbergh later worked as a consultant to the Ford Motor Company in Detroit during the early war years when Ford was gearing up to produce military aircraft. Lindbergh, like Ford, became a magnet for accusations of anti-Semitism.
In Lindberghs case, the accusations are supported by several trips which the famed aviator made to Germany in the 1930s. Lindbergh never met Hitler, but he did meet Herman Goering and others involved in German aviation. Lindbergh also received a medal from the German government which he refused to return when asked to do so by Jewish groups. Lindbergh and his wife wrote books which cast the Nazi government in a favorable light. And, of course, Charles Lindbergh was a prominent member of the America First Committee that sought to prevent the U.S. Government from entering World War II on the side of England and against Germany.
There was clearly bad blood between Charles Lindbergh and the American Jewish community. In this case, however, we have Lindberghs side of the story as told in a book, The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, published by Harcourt Brace.
It may be that the trouble began in conflict between journalists or newsreel photographers and Lindbergh, a celebrity who wanted his privacy. Lindbergh believed that the newsreel photographers were primarily Jewish. He wrote that on his honeymoon some motion-picture photographers came in a speedboat and demanded that we come on deck and have our pictures taken. We made no reply so for over six hours they circled ... in the speedboat, just fast enough for the waves to keep our boat rocking unpleasantly side to side, while they shouted at us loudly.
Later, when Lindberghs political views became known, the newsreel photographers, in Lindberghs opinion, edited statements to make him seem ridiculous. To speak for the newsreels on a political subject is dangerous, he wrote, because one has no control over the way they cut the picture or the setting in which they place it .. By speaking for the newsreels, I take the chance that they will cut my talk badly and sandwich it in between scenes of homeless refugees and bombed cathedrals. Lindbergh continued: I can never quite get over the times their men tried to sneak up behind us with a microphone hidden under their coats.
Lindberghs big mistake politically, as previously noted, was to accuse American Jews of being one of the three groups pushing for American entry into World War II, the other two being the Roosevelt administration and the British government. Former President Hoover told Lindbergh that mentioning the Jews in this way was a mistake even if the statement was true. The Des Moines audience cheered loudly when Lindbergh made his statement. However, the New York Times carried bitter attacks on my speech from Jewish and other organizations and from the White House.
General Wood (the groups leader) has decided to hold a meeting of the America First National Committee in Chicago (to discuss the Lindbergh controversy). I must, of course, attend. I felt I had worded my Des Moines address carefully and moderately. It seems that almost anything can be discussed today in America except the Jewish problem. The very mention of the word Jew is cause for a storm, Personally, I feel that the only hope for a moderate solution lies in an open and frank discussion.
It may also be that American Jews had it in for Lindbergh because he fit the profile of the north European or Aryan type that Nazi propagandists touted. His blue-eyed, blond-hair good looks were not the type of personal attractiveness that Jews favored under those circumstances. When Lindbergh stayed in the Nordic room in a Minneapolis hotel, Lindbergh noted in his diary that perhaps in Minnesota he could get away with this without attracting hostile comment.
Despite Lindberghs political efforts, the United States did go to war against the Axis powers. Lindbergh served his country honorably during the war and then gradually faded from public consciousness. Lately, however, the political battles have returned in the form of historical revisionism. Lindbergh, surrounded by Nazi emblems, has regained the spotlight. This time, it is a battle for American identity. Should Lindbergh, the historical person, be the dashing hero that he was when he returned to America following his epoch making flight across the Atlantic; or was he a vile Nazi sympathizer? Does the handsome figure of Charles Lindbergh represent the best this country has to offer or was he someone who wanted Jews to die in concentration camps?
The more pessimistic view is presented in a novel by Philip Roth, published in 2004. The title is The Plot against America. It was a Book-of-the-Month Selection. The stark image of a swastika imprinted on a postage stamp adorns the cover of the book. So, right off the bat, we know that Lindbergh was a Nazi and that he was engaged in some kind of plot against America. In other words, he was a traitor to his country.
What was this plot against America in Roths novel? According to its scenario, Charles Lindbergh ran for President in 1940 against Franklin D. Roosevelt and won. One of the first things he did as President was to negotiate a deal with the Nazis conceding to Germany the European continent if Hitler would leave America alone. Then, as President, Lindbergh concocted a scheme to make Americas Jewish population go away.
An organized campaign of anti-Semitism swept the nation during Lindberghs administration, says a review of Roths book, and urban Jews were forced to relocate to small towns in the South and West for purposes of assimilation ... Jewish boys (like Roth) are sent off to work on Christian families farms in the innocent-sounding Just Folks program. President Lindbergh takes his single-engine plane out for daily spins around Washington, D.C., and sometimes cross-country to surprise his adoring fans with impromptu cornfield pep talks.
The real Lindbergh never ran for any political office. He was asked if he would run for U.S. Senate from Minnesota, but he declined saying that his talents did not lie in that field. The real Lindbergh was not a traitor to his country but someone who argued passionately for what he believed was his countrys interest and, when he lost that fight, gladly served his country in combat after the Roosevelt administration initially rejected his services. There was no relocation of Jews to rural areas in America. There were no concentration camps here for Jews. Instead, America put not only Japanese but Italians and Germans in concentration camps during World War II. Some of the German internees were not released until 1948 - three years after the war. So much for historical accuracy.
Questioned about this, Roth wrote an essay for the New York Times in which he stressed that his work was fiction. At the same time, his fictional work contained a lengthy postscript containing real-life references to support the thesis. In other words, Roth wants to have it both ways. The lies are, of course, fiction but with a grain of truth, Roth wants us to believe. Then the conspicuous swastika on the cover on a fictional novel about Charles A. Lindbergh is enough to convince many in todays readers with limited critical skills that Lindbergh was, in fact, a Nazi. The line between news reporting (fact) and entertainment (fiction) is increasingly blurred. Philip Roth knows, as did Dr. Goebbels, that any proposition repeated enough times will eventually be believed. Were in the era of branding.
Of significance here is that Roth did not accuse the fictional Lindbergh of exterminating Jews physically as the German Nazis did. He is accusing Lindbergh of wanting to obliterate the Jewish identity in America. So this is a fight over identity. The title of the book, The Plot against America, suggests that the Jewish identity in America is, in fact, the American identity. Lindbergh, the fictional President, is attacking all Americans, not just Jewish Americans, when he wanted Jews to assimilate in rural America.
One might observe that Roth has a boundaries problem. The identities and interests of Jewish Americans and of non-Jewish Americans are not the same any more than it was true, as C.E. Wilson once said, that whats good for General Motors is good for America. The title of the book tells readers that what might happen to Jewish identity under President Lindberghs relocation plan is a plot against America. No, at most, it is a plot against Jewish Americans or, I should say, some of the more paranoid Jewish Americans, a plot which never happened.
Some Jewish commentators and historians have a kinder take on Lindbergh. He was not a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer but a dupe of the Nazis. Lindbergh, the college drop-out, was a well-meaning individual who was over his head in political matters. Like Henry Ford, he was mechanically gifted but intellectually challenged. He was not able to withstand the lure of Nazi propaganda. He was used by the Nazis when in his role of America First spokesman he urged his fellow countrymen to stay out of World War II.
The historical writer Joy Hakim falls into this category. As a board member of the National Council for History Education, she distributed a copy of her book, A History of US: War, Peace, and all that Jazz, 1918-45. Page 75 is about Lindbergh, the hero of the transatlantic flight. A side bar states: Lindbergh was a genuine hero as long as he stuck to his specialty - flying. When he got involved in politics, he was out of his league. More on that to come in this book.
The other shoe fell on page 115. In addition to a photograph of Lindbergh standing next to a flag with a swastika, there are on the same page pictures of Joseph Stalin, Father Coughlin, and a meeting of the German-American Bund. The caption reads: Charles Lindbergh urged Americans not to fight Hitler. He let his anti-war feelings make him do and say things that he would later regret. He allowed himself to be used by the Nazis. The America First Committee that he supported got financial aid from Nazi Germany.
Financial aid from Nazi Germany? That allegation did not make sense. The America First committee did not need the Nazis money. Its steering committee was comprised of well-heeled business leaders such as the chairman of Sears Roebuck. Henry Ford once offered to bankroll the whole operation. Furthermore, if this committee took money from the Nazis and it became public, the news would completely ruin its credibility just as if it were revealed that todays anti-war movement got money from Saddam Hussein.
Neither Hitler nor the America First committee leaders would have been so stupid as to have financial relations. The motives of the America First committee had more to do with heeding George Washingtons advice to avoid foreign entanglements than with helping Hitler. To say Lindberghs committee got money from the Nazis belittles the principles behind the committee and makes Lindbergh out to be more of a simpleton than he was.
I wrote Joy Hakim asking her where she got her information. In return I received a letter from her enclosing a photocopy of a page (page 294) from a book by Harold Evans titled The American Century. She highlighted a number of passages. None of them had to do with the America First Committee receiving money from the Nazis. Lindbergh is labeled a sincere but stubborn man who read little. The page is titled The Duping of a Hero. Fair enough, there may have been some duping of Lindbergh, and of the entire world, in light of what we later learned about Nazi Germany when the concentration camps were revealed. But the Nazis did not provide money to the America First Committee.
I wrote another letter to Hakim pointing out the discrepancies and did not receive a reply. So, my assumption is that this historical fact was made up.
It seems, therefore, that Jews, or many Jews, are not friendly to the reputation of either Henry Ford or Charles Lindbergh. Is there a Jewish conspiracy in this regard? Who knows? While there may be no elders of Zion orchestrating revisionist campaigns, there are surely foot soldiers in that fight delivering a consistent message in the schools, the entertainment world, and the press.
I asked a teenage girl what she studied in her world-history course. Nazis, she replied. (She said "slavery and discrimination" were the focus of her American-history course.) She need not have added that study of the Holocaust would be the core of what she learned about Nazis. Yes, the Nazi horrors are important; but is this the sum total of world history? Not without considerable political direction. Where is the direction coming from?
An email calendar listed a three-part workshop for educators put on by the University of Minnesotas Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. This series of workshops, said the notice, was intended to bring the Holocaust home and to make an abstraction literally tangible by familiarizing teachers (and thereby their students) with Midwest connections to Nazi Germany.
The course is introduced, on day one, as Small-Group survey of Prior Knowledge of Nazi Persecution and the Holocaust, as Experienced in the American Heartland. The Second hour is called Eugenics in America, a Model for the Nazis. The Third Hour is outlined:
What we have here, therefore, is a training course for teachers intended to bring a discussion into the public schools of how Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh might have been anti-Semitic bigots. Ford is a bigot because his company briefly sponsored a publication that put Jews in a negative light. Lindbergh is a bigot because he agitated to keep the United States out of war.
An organized pressure group has thus managed to insert this agenda into training courses for credit for teachers, who will put it into their courses and into the testing, which will force students who want good grades to master the course materials. Henry Ford will not be the extraordinary man with a vision of a better society who, more than anyone else, created the mobile society of 20th Century America, but someone who spent much of his time thinking hateful thoughts about Jews. And so with Lindbergh - he will be the one scheming to bring the Nazi type of society to America. Theyre both anti-Semites, end of story.
This is a gross distortion of American history. It is pure defamation of two authentic American heroes. But as a scheme to convince Americans that the interests of the Jewish community are identical to theirs, it makes sense. Its a fight for identity - whether an organized interest group can infiltrate the classroom and the news and entertainment media to make people believe that someone elses concerns are superior to their own, that ones highest duty as an ethical human being is to avoid being anti-Semitic and therefore like Hitler, and adopt the dark Manichaean division of peoples into enemies and friends that this particular agenda entails.
The practical consequence of refusing to reclaim our American identity is that we become servants to militaristic policies that bring shame upon our nation. Both Ford and Lindbergh were reviled in their day for seeking peace. So today the people who oppose the war in Iraq and, possibly, in Iran are reviled as appeasers of tyrants or anti-Semitic lunatics. America has never stood for invading other peoples countries (unless it was Canada or Mexico). At least, we would want to think we are for world peace and want friendly relations with other people.
But, in the past five years, the Bush Administration has invaded Iraq, a country which posed no direct military threat to the United States. It did, however, pose a military threat to Israel. So now American soldiers must die so that Israel can be secure. We must take out Irans nuclear facilities because of the risk Israel might face if that nation acquired weapons of mass destruction.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Israeli assassins combed Europe in search of scientists who were working on weapons projects for Saddam Hussein. Israeli pilots took out Iraqs nuclear reactors. But now Israel has found an attack dog to do this kind of dirty work on its behalf. In the United States, it has found its own Hitler, ready to wage wars of aggression against potential enemies of the Jewish state. We Americans allow this because we have a weak national identity. Our true national heroes have been defamed. We allow someone else to tell us whose interest we must protect. Ralph Nader once called Israel prime minister Ariel Sharon the chief Israeli puppeteer, President Bush being the puppet. The Anti-Defamation League promptly called him a "bigot".
Writing with candor that might not be heard in the United States, however, Israeli journalist Uri Avnery wrote in the aftermath of the U.S. military victory in Iraq that "the small group that initiated this war - an alliance of Christian fundamentalists and Jewish neo-conservatives - has won big ... (T)he so-called neo-cons ... almost all of whose members are Jewish ... hold the key positions in the Bush administration, as well as in the think-tanks that play a important role in formulating American policy and the ed-op pages of the influential newspapers."
"Seemingly all this is good for Israel. America controls the world, we control America. Never before have Jews exerted such an immense influence on the center of world power. But this tendency troubles me. We are like a gambler who bets all his money and his future on one horse. A good horse, a horse with no current competitor, but still one horse ... The Bible tells us about the kings of Judea, who relied on the then world power, Egypt ... An Assyrian general told the king of Judea: 'Behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand and pierce it.' Bush and his gang of neo-cons is not a bruised reed ... But should we bet our whole future on this?"
Therefore, its worth defending the memory of people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh, who were symbols of American progress in a happier time. The lies told about them by novelists and historians are lies told against ourselves. We are the ones who ought to define who we are as a people, not malicious writers whose works are picked up by the Book-of-the-Month Club or manipulators of courses in American history.
The first step is to find heroes among our own people - not someone elses people. Then it is to resist those who would defame those heroes as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh have been defamed. The challenge is to find the goodness in our own people and in our own culture and to expand the cultural space in which that goodness can grow. It is certainly not to become a militaristic people who attack others on cue. It is to live our lives in peace. It is to create things that contribute to a better society. Go and do likewise as Lindbergh and Ford once did.
To do all this, we must first find our own identity. We must find it ourselves rather than accept a package from someone else. The packages are out there, thick as credit-card offers. Take a look at them if you please but pick what best serves your own needs. Think for yourself. Spend a little time.