There’s a petition making the rounds on the Internet that reads: “We demand that the government of the United States cease and desist its failed policy of appeasement concerning Saddam Hussein and with all dispatch and all force necessary, rid us of the terrorist Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction before he can use them in his ongoing war against the United States.”
The key word here is not “terrorist,” it’s “appeasement.” Without it, the petition would be impotent. Without it, there would be no invocation of The Good War.
What we’re taught about the years leading up to the Second World War involves alleged appeasement of the Third Reich, i.e. if only the Allies were stronger in their resolve, the Axis powers could have been stopped.
Having made that mistake once, the mantra goes, we can’t make it again.
There are many issues swirling about the current situation in Iraq but comparing Hussein to Hitler and invoking the A Word activates the following historical faÃ§ade: by whipping the original axis of evil in a noble and popular war, the United States and its allies can now wave the banner of humanitarianism and intervene with impunity across the globe without their motivations being questioned…especially when every enemy of the US is likened to Hitler.
Perhaps the first step in challenging this so-called analysis would be to demonstrate that it wasn’t appeasement that took place prior to WWII. It was, in the best cases, indifference; at worst it was collaboration based on economic greed and more than a little shared ideology.
The pursuit of profit long ago transcended national borders and national loyalty. In the decades before WWII, doing business with Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy (or, as a proxy, Franco’s Spain) proved no more unsavory to the captains of industry than selling military hardware to Indonesia does today. What’s a little repression when there’s money to be made? In other words, when William E. Dodd, US ambassador to Germany during the 1930s, declared “a clique of U.S. industrialists is working closely with the fascist regime[s] in Germany and Italy,” he wasn’t kidding.
“Many leaders of Wall Street and of the US foreign policy establishment had maintained close ties with their German counterparts since the 1920s, some having intermarried or shared investments,” says investigative reporter Christopher Simpson. “This went so far in the 1930s as the sale in New York of bonds whose proceeds helped finance the Aryanization of companies and real estate looted from German Jews…US investment in Germany accelerated rapidly after Hitler came to power.” Such investment increased “by some 48.5 percent between 1929 and 1940, while declining sharply everywhere else in continental Europe.”
Among the US corporations that invested in Germany during the 1920s were Ford, General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Texaco, International Harvester, ITT, and IBM-all of whom were more than happy to see the German labor movement and working-class parties smashed. For many of these companies, operations in Germany continued during the war (even if it meant the use of concentration-camp slave labor) with overt US government support. “Pilots were given instructions not to hit factories in Germany that were owned by US firms,” writes Michael Parenti. “Thus Cologne was almost leveled by Allied bombing but its Ford plant, providing military equipment for the Nazi army, was untouched; indeed, German civilians began using the plant as an air raid shelter.”
International Telegraph and Telephone (ITT) was founded by Sosthenes Behn, an unabashed supporter of the FÃ¼hrer even as the Luftwaffe was bombing civilians in London. ITT was responsible for creating the Nazi communications system, along with supplying vital parts for German bombs. According to journalist Jonathan Vankin, “Behn allowed his company to cover for Nazi spies in South America, and one of ITT’s subsidiaries bought a hefty swath of stock in the airline company that built Nazi bombers.”
Behn himself met with Hitler in 1933 (the first American businessman to do
so) and became a double agent of sorts. While reporting on the activities of German companies to the US government, Behn was also contributing money to Heinrich Himmler’s Schutzstaffel (SS) and recruiting Nazis onto ITT’s board. In 1940, Behn entertained a close friend and high-ranking Nazi, Gerhard Westrick, in the United States to discuss a potential U.S.-German business alliance-precisely as Hitler’s blitzkrieg was overrunning most of Europe and Nazi atrocities were becoming known worldwide.
In early 1946, having relied on the Dulles brothers to survive his open flirtation with Nazi Germany, instead of facing prosecution for treason, Behn ended up collecting $27 million from the US government for “war damages inflicted on its German plants by Allied bombing.” He was in the perfect position to lobby President Truman concerning the newly formed Central Intelligence Group (CIG). Meeting with the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William D. Leahy, in the White House, Behn, as recorded in Leahy’s diary, generously offered for consideration “the possibility of utilizing the service of [ITT’s] personnel in American intelligence activities.”
In December 1933, Standard Oil of New York invested one million dollars in Germany for the making of gasoline from soft coal. Undeterred by the well-publicized events of the next decade, Standard Oil also honored its chemical contracts with I.G. Farben-a German chemical cartel that manufactured Zyklon-B, the poison gas used in the Nazi gas chambers-right up until 1942. Other companies that traded with the Reich and, in some cases, directly aided the war machine, before and during this time, included the Chase Manhattan Bank, Davis Oil Company, DuPont, Bendix, Sperry Gyroscope, and the aforementioned General Motors GM top man William Knudsen called Nazi Germany “the miracle of the 20th century.”
On the governmental front, US Secretary of State Breckinridge Long curiously gave the Ford Motor Company permission to manufacture Nazi tanks while simultaneously restricting aid to German-Jewish refugees because the Neutrality Act of 1935 barred trade with belligerent countries. Miraculously, this embargo did not include petroleum products and Mussolini’s Italy tripled its gasoline and oil imports in order to support its war effort while Texaco exploited this convenient loophole to cozy up to Spain’s resident fascist, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
And then there was Sullivan and Cromwell, the most powerful Wall Street law firm of the 1930s. John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles-the two brothers who guided the firm; the same two brothers who boycotted their own sister’s 1932 wedding because the groom was Jewish-served as the contacts for the company responsible for the gas in the Nazi gas chambers, I.G. Farben. During the pre-war period, the elder John Foster led off cables to his German clients with the salutation “Heil Hitler,” and he blithely dismissed the Nazi threat in 1935 in a piece he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly. In 1939, he told the Economic Club of New York, “We have to welcome and nurture the desire of the New Germany to find for her energies a new outlet.”
“Hitler’s attacks on the Jews and his growing propensity for territorial expansion seem to have left Dulles unmoved,” writes historian Robert Edward Herzstein. “Twice a year, [Dulles] visited the Berlin office of the firm, located in the luxurious Esplanade Hotel.”
Ultimately, it was little brother Allen who actually got to meet the German dictator, and eventually smoothed over the blatant Nazi ties of ITT’s Sosthenes Behn. “(Allen) Dulles was an originator of the idea that multinational corporations are instruments of U.S. foreign policy and therefore exempt from domestic laws,” Vankin writes. This idea later took root in U.S.-dominated institutions and agreements like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization.
Leonard Mosley, biographer of the Dulles brothers, defends Allen by evoking the never-fail, all-purpose alibi of anti-communism. The younger Dulles, Mosley claims, “made his loathing of the Nazis plain, years before World War II…(it was) the Russians (who tried) to link his name with bankers who financed Hitler.” However, in 1946, both brothers would play a major role in the founding of the United States’ intelligence community and the subsequent recruiting of Nazi war criminals.
One Third Reich supporter who never required a disclaimer was Henry Ford, the autocratic magnate who despised unions, tyrannized workers, and fired any employee caught driving a competitor’s model. Ford, an outspoken anti-Semite, believed that Jews corrupted gentiles with “syphilis, Hollywood, gambling, and jazz.” In 1918, he bought and ran a newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, which became an anti-Jewish forum.
“The New York Times reported in 1922 that there was a widespread rumor circulating in Berlin claiming that Henry Ford was financing Adolf Hitler’s nationalist and anti-Semitic movement in Munich,” write James and Suzanne Pool in their book Who Financed Hitler. “Novelist Upton Sinclair wrote in The Flivver King, a book about Ford, that the Nazis got forty thousand dollars from Ford to reprint anti-Jewish pamphlets in German translations, and that an additional $300,000 was later sent to Hitler through a grandson of the ex-Kaiser who acted as intermediary.”
An appreciative Adolf Hitler kept a large picture of the automobile pioneer besides his desk, explaining: “We look to Heinrich (sic) Ford as the leader of the growing Fascist movement in America.” Hitler hoped to support such a movement by offering to “import some shock troops to the U.S. to help [Ford] run for president.”
In 1938, on Henry Ford’s 75th birthday, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle from the FÃ¼hrer himself. He was the first American (GM’s James Mooney would be second) and only the fourth person in the world to receive the highest decoration that could be given to any non-German citizen. An earlier honoree was none other than kindred spirit, Benito Mussolini.
US support for Nazism transcended class. A February 20, 1939 rally drew 22,000 avid followers-all marching and raising their arms in a Nazi salute to their leader. The venue was Madison Square Garden where frenzied members of the German-American Bund cheered Fritz Kuhn as he stood before a 30-foot high portrait of George Washington flanked by black swastikas, leading them in a chant of “Free Amerika!” (a rallying cry which had just recently replaced “Sieg Heil!”), while thirteen hundred New York City policemen stood guard outside the building.
A US citizen who served in the German Army during the First World War, Kuhn stirred up his mostly German-American conscripts by explaining that Lenin was a Jew, J. P. Morgan had Jewish blood, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s real name was “Rosenfeld.” Other anti-FDR rumors spread by his adversaries were often aimed at the high-profile First Lady, Eleanor, i.e. she had given the president gonorrhea (which she had “contracted from a Negro”) and she was known to visit Moscow “to learn unspeakable sexual practices.”
Kuhn’s endless proselytizing did not go unnoticed by the Third Reich; he attended the 1936 Olympics as an honored guest and met Adolf Hitler by special invitation. “Fritz Kuhn awkwardly presented the FÃ¼hrer with three thousand dollars, a gift for a Nazi relief fund,” writes Herzstein. “Hitler was not particularly impressed with this rag-tag group, but this did not bother Kuhn, if he realized at all. Eager to trade on his new notoriety, Kuhn implied that he came home from Berlin bearing Hitler’s blessing.”
Doing his part to prey on the fears of everyday Americans was Father Charles Coughlin, a Canadian-born Catholic priest who rose to prominence during the Depression as a radio commentator with upwards of fifteen to twenty million listeners (with some estimates as high as forty million) on forty-seven stations.
“No friend of the Jews, Coughlin believed that Professor Felix Frankfurter and labor leader David Dubinsky exercised undue influence on FDR,” says Herzstein. “He called them communists.” When Rev. Coughlin was asked by a Boston Globe reporter to prove this allegation, the priest belted the journalist in the face.
While his attacks on the Jews did cost him some of his audience, Coughlin remained undeterred in his rants against the “Christ-killers and Christ-rejecters.” He even went as far as reprinting the notorious anti-Semitic tract “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in his newspaper, Social Justice, in 1938. The demagogic clergyman perceived U.S. aid to Britain as the first step in a plan to “substitute Karl Marx for George Washington.” For his efforts, the Nazi press labeled Coughlin “America’s most powerful radio commentator.”
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime were not the only recipients of American moral support; there was a particular blacksmith’s son who also merited the attention of US businessmen and lawmakers alike. Benito Mussolini, exploiting the fears of an anti-communist ruling class in Italy, installed himself as head of the single-party fascist state in 1925 after declaring three years earlier that, “either they will give us the government or we shall take it by descending on Rome.” Virulently anti-communist, anti-Semitic, and anti-labor like Hitler, Il Duce (“the leader”) was prone to pronouncements like this: “We stand for a new principle in the world. We stand for the sheer, categorical, definitive antithesis to the world of democracy.”
Putting this doctrine into action, Il Duce took aim at Italy’s powerful unions. The solution was to smash unions, political organizations, and civil liberties. This included the destruction of labor halls, the shutting down of opposition newspapers, and unions and strikes were outlawed in both Italy and Germany. Union property and farm collectives were confiscated and handed over to rich private owners. Even child labor was reintroduced in Mussolini’s Italy.
Despite or perhaps because of the Blackshirts, the terror tactics, the smashing of democratic institutions, and the blatant fascist posturing, Mussolini received some rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.
“It is easy to mistake, in times of political turmoil, the words of a disciplinarian for those of a dictator. Mussolini is a severe disciplinarian, but no dictator,” wrote New York Times senior foreign correspondent, Walter Littlefield, in 1922. Further serving the corporate roots of the US media, Littlefield went on to advise that “if the Italian people are wise, they will accept the Fascismo, and by accepting [they will] gain the power to regulate and control it.” Six days earlier, an unsigned Times editorial observed that “in Italy as everywhere else, the great complaint against democracy is its inefficiency . . . Dr. Mussolini’s experiment will perhaps tells us something more about the possibilities of oligarchic administration.”
In January 1927, Winston Churchill wrote to Il Duce, gushing “if I had been an Italian, I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.” Even after the advent of war, Churchill still found room in his heart for the Italian dictator, explaining to Parliament in 1940:”I do not deny that he is a very great man but he became a criminal when he attacked England.”
Other unabashed apologists for Dr. Mussolini included:
â‚¬Richard W. Child, former ambassador to Rome, who stated in 1938: “it is absurd to say that Italy groans under discipline. Italy chortles with it! It is victor! Time has shown that Mussolini is both wise and humane.” â‚¬The House of Morgan loaned $100 million to the Italian government in the late 1920s, and then reinvested it in Italy upon its repayment. â‚¬Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, who, also in the late 1920s, renegotiated the Italian debt to the U.S. on terms more favorable by far than those obtained by Britain, France, or Belgium. â‚¬Governor Philip F. La Follette of Wisconsin (considered presidential timber in the 1930s) kept an autographed photo of Il Duce on his wall. â‚¬A 1934 Cole Porter song originally contained the lyrics, “You’re the tops, you’re Mussolini.” It was eventually changed to “the Mona Lisa.” â‚¬As late as 1940, 80 percent of the Italian-language dailies in the U.S. were pro-Mussolini.
The ultraconservative Pope Pius XI who shared Mussolini’s Bolshevik paranoia provided support from a “higher source”. In exchange for Fascist recognition of the independence of Vatican City, the pope bestowed his blessing upon Il Duce’s invasion of Ethiopia and his intervention in the Spanish Civil War. Even after Italy had aligned itself with Nazi Germany, the papacy never broke with either Fascist regime.
Finally, for support from the highest of all sources, there was FDR himself who, well into the 1930s, was “deeply impressed” with Benito Mussolini and referred to the Italian ruler as that “admirable Italian gentleman.”
Despite Roosevelt’s positive assessment of the strongman of Italian fascism, there is evidence that some home-grown fascists may have cautiously explored the option of an American coup. In 1934, the DuPonts and the Morgans tried to hire former Marine Gen. Smedley Butler (Ret.) to stage a fascist overthrow of the supposedly liberal Roosevelt administration. Later that year, Butler testified before a congressional committee convened to investigate this possible sedition.
After claiming that Wall Street brokers had offered him millions of dollars to set up a fascist army of half a million, Butler explained that Gerald MacGuire of Grayson Murphy and Company had told him that FDR would remain as a figurehead president. Businessmen and generals would run the country and everything would be legal. Before passing judgment on the veracity of Butler’s claims, consider how the general himself summarized his career before a legionnaires convention in 1931:
“I spent 33 years…being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism…I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”
The alleged coup plan fizzled when Butler told FDR about it, thus presenting the president with a new problem. Fearful of the financial fallout of arresting anyone named Morgan or DuPont, FDR chose instead to leak the news to the press. “Not for the first time or last time in his career, [Roosevelt] was aware that there were powers greater than he in the United States,” says author Charles Higham.
Press reports led to the congressional investigation, which delved into the role played in the proposed takeover by General Douglas MacArthur. Thanks to the influence of big business, however, Congress found the task of rooting out fascism among U.S. financiers and corporate heads unnecessary.
“Butler begged the committee to summon the Du Ponts,” says Higham, “but the committee declined. Nor would it consent to call anyone from the house of Morgan.” Thus, while the supposed arsenal of democracy was gearing up to do battle with totalitarianism, the very mechanism of its popular support was under strenuous attack from the economic elites in whose hands the power truly lies.
As a certain “admirable Italian gentleman” once declared, “Fascism is corporatism.”
This is where the most relevant similarities between Hussein and Hitler exist. Despite committing atrocities, both murderers received overt and covert support from the West in general and the US in particular…all in the name of profit.
The US, with its stockpile of lethal weapons and no shortage of leaders dying to use them, has never been in the appeasement business.
When President-Select Bush says, “You are either with us and against us,” he’s merely selling old wine in a new bottle.
Mickey Z. is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of “The Good War” (www.softskull.com) on which this article is based. He can be reached at: [email protected].