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A lot of people already think they know. Such a stark, blunt question deserves a direct answer: No, he wasn’t. Ford did not support Hitler or his ideology. He wasn’t a Nazi, officially or unofficially. What Ford was, however, was pretty awful without ever getting near a swastika armband. He was one of the most powerful, influential anti-Semites in history, and did immense harm all over the world by lending his once-golden name to vicious lies. Ford didn’t go around quoting Hitler, but Hitler was grateful that “a great man like Ford” was sounding the alarm.
Ford’s notorious publicity campaign against the Jews began after World War I when he bought a local newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, and turned it into a heavily subsidized powerhouse of anti-Jewish agitation. That campaign largely ended by the end of the Twenties, by which time he had other, more pressing problems. Hitler didn’t come to power until 1933. But the effects of Ford’s pseudo-history lingered for decades to come, for the millions of Jews he slurred, and for the reputation of Henry Ford himself.
People who’ve never seen it often think it’s got to be an exaggeration or a case of over-sensitivity. Not at all; the Independent was proud to publish anti-Jewish forgeries such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and republished its 92-part series on the evils of Judaism as four pamphlets called The International Jew. They are still circulated today.
Yes, even today, there are places where scans of century-old articles in The Dearborn Independent are treated like hallowed internet samizdat. Shakespeare called it right: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones”. That ancient hatred that flourished for centuries in eastern and central Europe found renewed strength in new homes all over the globe. And some part of its bogus claim to legitimacy is the backing of Henry Ford, who in worldwide prestige was the Steve Jobs or Elon Musk of his day.
By 1938 it was obvious to most Americans, including Ford, that Adolf Hitler was something markedly less benevolent than Europe’s outstanding anti-Bolshevik. Henry Ford accepted a medal from Germany on the occasion of his 75th birthday, but he didn’t (as is often claimed) receive it from Hitler himself, but in his office from two minor German officials. “My acceptance of a medal from the German people does not, as some people seem to think, involve any sympathy on my part with Nazism. Those who have known me for many years realize that anything that breeds hate is repulsive to me”.
We should point out here that the Ford Motor Company, like the General Motors Corporation, had factories in Germany, which they bought and built when Germany was still a democracy. Those factories were essentially taken over by the regime by 1939 and no blame for their wartime production is due to their American parent companies. Ford’s vast plants in the US performed valuable and honorable services for this country.
How much of Ford’s anti-Semitism was generally known at the time? All of it; he wanted it known. If it hadn’t been, the millions he put into it would have been wasted. To take an apolitical example from that era, the giddy 1930 musical Just Imagine was set in the distant, futuristic world of 1980. The movie has basically the same story as Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973) and the animated Futurama (1999), and they both got it from H.G. Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes (1899, revised 1910). In Just Imagine, a man who’s been in a coma since 1930 wakes up to discover that New York is a city of 250 story skyscrapers, conveyor belt sidewalks, Zeppelin mass transit, jumbotron-sized television screens, and vending machines for “drunk pills”.
Since the 1930 guy has no government-assigned ID number, he’s “Single O”.
Single O: Boys, I wouldn’t know the old town! Where are all the automobiles?
J-21: Hardly anyone drives a car now. They all use planes.
Single O: Is that so?
RT-42: Yeah, I drive a Rosenblatt. J flies a Pinkus for his personal use, but all the airliners are Goldfarbs.
Single O: Goldfarb!
Single O: It looks like someone got even with Henry Ford!
I saw Just Imagine in the summer of the actual 1980, in one of those theaters near a college campus that showed old movies. Everyone in the audience laughed. Clearly, half a century later, they still knew who they were making fun of, and what the joke was about.
The evil that men do does live after them. And so does the lasting damage that men do to their own reputations.Published in