Support for Nazis is Not New to America
By John Ketwig
Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have focused attention upon neo-Nazis, Fascists, and white supremacists, almost as if these groups are a new presence in America's political landscape. The history of the Nazi influence upon our institutions is very troubling, as Nazi sympathizers have quietly influenced American big business and political power for some time. Today, in the time of Trump, those activities are enjoying a resurgence, marching without hoods or masks and openly spreading their venomous messages of hate, intolerance, and violence. While monuments tumble and politicians dance over "fake" facts, few seem to remember that in the early 1930s a group of powerful businessmen and political leaders plotted a coup d'état to overthrow the FDR administration and replace it with a totalitarian Fascist government aligned with Italy's Mussolini and Germany's Hitler. They very nearly succeeded. The roots of today's turmoil run deep.
The "roaring twenties" came to an abrupt halt in October 1929, when the stock market crashed. By 1932, over 17 million Americans were unemployed, and most of the banks had closed. The Great Depression ravaged the nation. Desperate for a change, America elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt president at the end of 1932, and FDR set about creating a "New Deal" of reforms that would put Americans back to work, and stimulate the economy. Bold programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) resulted in massive employment gains. The revolutionary National Industrial Act of 1933 guaranteed workers "the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing," without "interference, restraint, or coercion from employers." Not without struggle and bloodshed, a significant portion of American labor became unionized.
In 1934, still in the early days of the Roosevelt administration, a number of prominent industrialists and businessmen were outraged by government's pressure to take some responsibility for the welfare of their employees. The New Deal was referred to as the "Jew Deal" and Roosevelt was called a "communist." The Bolshevik "revolt of the masses" in Russia was viewed as a dire threat by these capitalists, but they found inspiration in the economic recoveries taking place in Mussolini's Fascist Italy and Hitler's Nazi Germany. Both were harsh totalitarian regimes with little regard for individuals, and no patience for opponents.
Soon after Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, a group of these American industrialists and businessmen formed the American Liberty League. Led by Irenee Du Pont and J.P. Morgan, Jr. the members praised Mussolini for the "sound ideas" that guided him in governing Italy, and Hitler for the bold "leadership" that he showed in overwhelming opposition groups such as Jews in Germany. The American Liberty League boasted such members as the leaders of General Motors, Standard Oil, Chase National Bank, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, a string of J.P. Morgan's banks, Bethlehem Steel, US Steel, Sun Oil, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, as well as a wide range of other Wall Street executives and political powers, most notably FDR's political rival Alf Smith, retailer J.C. Penney, and Wall Street executive and former US Senator Preston Bush, the father of future President George H. W. Bush and grandfather of "W." Most of the plotters enjoyed lucrative dealings with the Fascist governments in Germany and Italy.
Support for the Fascists was widespread in America's business hierarchy. Henry Ford was an avid admirer of Hitler. Ford's intensely anti-Semitic 1927 book, "The International Jew," was a model for Hitler's Mein Kampf, and the Fuhrer kept a portrait of Ford over his desk throughout his career. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was an outspoken Nazi supporter. Fred C. Koch, father of today's "Koch Brothers" Charles G. and David H., built a large oil refinery for the Nazi war machine and continued to do business with the Nazis throughout World War II.
Outraged by FDR's proposals to reinforce America's workers, the American Liberty League quietly planned a coup d'état to overthrow America's democratic government and install a Fascist dictatorship in America. The plotters planned to mobilize 500,000 of the nation's disgruntled World War I veterans and arm them with an equal number of rifles from Du Pont's Remington Arms Company. The plot was well-funded and came near to being implemented, but they made the mistake of offering the Dictator's position (modeled upon Hitler's Fuhrer position in Germany) to General Smedley Butler, the former head of the Marine Corps and a genuine hero to whom Congress had awarded two Medals of Honor. Smedley Butler is widely recognized among anti-war people for his "War is a Racket" booklet. Butler was not party to an armed overthrow of the democratic government of the United States, and he informed Roosevelt of the plan. The plot was investigated and verified by Congress, but none of the conspirators was ever interviewed or prosecuted, and few newspapers mentioned the affair. This most alarming incident was systematically played down, and it is rarely mentioned in history books.
During World War II, many big American corporations continued doing business with the Nazis without any interruption. Both Ford and General Motors supplied vehicles to the Nazis, and none of their shipments to and from Germany were ever torpedoed in the North Atlantic. The heads of both companies were awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle medal, Nazi Germany's highest civilian honor. After the war, both GM and Ford collected tens of millions of dollars from America in the form of "war reparations" for damages suffered by their factories in Germany during the hostilities. GM supplied state-of-the-art jet propulsion systems to the Luftwaffe, enabling the Messerschmidt ME-262 to be the first jet fighter used in combat. The ME-262 was more than 100 miles per hour faster than America's P-51 Mustang, and GM did not share its jet engine technology with the American military until after the end of the war. In similar fashion, GM and Exxon shared technologies with Germany's I.G Farben company to produce synthetic gasoline for the Nazis, but not for the allies. I.G. Farben also produced the gas capsules used in the "Final Solution" gas chambers. Du Pont and Standard Oil New Jersey maintained production plants in Germany to produce synthetic lubricants. Alcoa Aluminum supplied unlimited quantities of the vital metal to the Nazis, but aluminum was in very short supply to America's war effort. Chase Manhattan Bank laundered much of the wealth seized from Jewish business accounts throughout Europe, with the assistance of the Sullivan and Cromwell law firm operated by American brothers Allen and John Foster Dulles. IBM supplied accounting machinery that allowed the Nazis to sort large volumes of information quickly and efficiently, enabling the Germans to identify, track, sort, and systematically eliminate millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" from the population, and within the death camps.
In 1937, America's ambassador to Germany remarked: "A clique of US industrialists is hell-bent to bring a Fascist state to supplant our democratic government and is working closely with the Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy."
History would, of course, move on. As pointed out by the Occupy movement, today's corporate capitalists are dead set against providing any benefits or respect to American labor. Income inequality has mushroomed in recent years. Since the Reagan administration, the federal government has worked tirelessly to eliminate or diminish the power of unions. The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision ruled that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. Look carefully, and you will find that today many of America's top industrialists and businessmen still quietly espouse Fascist models of totalitarian government and the complete subjugation of labor. They do not carry torches or march in Charlottesville, only because they don't have to. Their clever machinations behind the scenes have created immense wealth for themselves, but wages for labor have remained static, and benefits have been cut to the bone. Readers may remember antique notions such as company-supplied health care plans, the 40-hour work week, pensions and retirement plans. Our children and grandchildren will never know those concepts.
Charlottesville showed that the Fascists have sold their evil theories to a surprisingly active and vocal segment of the American public. Who would have imagined a crowd of Americans carrying Nazi swastika flags and chanting "Heil Trump" on the campus designed by Thomas Jefferson? There is ample cause for the American public to be alarmed. We can only hope it's not too late.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of "...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam."