Profits über Alles! American Corporations and Hitler
By Dr. Jacques R. Pauwels
Global Research, January 27, 2007
Global Research 8 June 2004
This article was first published by Global Research on 8 June 2004.
While America is at war in the Middle East, this incisive and carefully researched article by Jacques Pauwels provides with a historical understanding of the relationship between war and profit.
In the United States, World War II is generally known as “the good war.”
In contrast to some of America’s admittedly bad wars, such as the near-genocidal Indian Wars and the vicious conflict in Vietnam, World War II is widely celebrated as a “crusade” in which the US fought unreservedly on the side of democracy, freedom, and justice against dictatorship.
No wonder President George W. Bush likes to compare his ongoing “war against terrorism” with World War II, suggesting that America is once again involved on the right side in an apocalyptic conflict between good and evil. Wars, however, are never quite as black-and-white as Mr. Bush would have us believe, and this also applies to World War II. America certainly deserves credit for its important contribution to the hard-fought victory that was ultimately achieved by the Allies. But the role of corporate America in the war is hardly synthesized by President Roosevelt’s claim that the US was the “arsenal of democracy.” When Americans landed in Normandy in June 1944 and captured their first German trucks, they discovered that these vehicles were powered by engines produced by American firms such as Ford and General Motors. 1 Corporate America, it turned out, had also been serving as the arsenal of Nazism.
Fans of the Führer
Mussolini enjoyed a great deal of admiration in corporate America from the moment he came to power in a coup that was hailed stateside as “a fine young revolution.” 2 Hitler, on the other hand, sent mixed signals. Like their German counterparts, American businessmen long worried about the intentions and the methods of this plebeian upstart, whose ideology was called National Socialism, whose party identified itself as a workers’ party, and who spoke ominously of bringing about revolutionary change. 3 Some high-profile leaders of corporate America, however, such as Henry Ford liked and admired the Führer at an early stage. 4
Other precocious Hitler-admirers were press lord Randolph Hearst and Irénée Du Pont, head of the Du Pont trust, who according to Charles Higham, had already “keenly followed the career of the future Führer in the 1920s” and supported him financially. 5
Eventually, most American captains of industry learned to love the Führer. It is often hinted that fascination with Hitler was a matter of personalities, a matter of psychology. Authoritarian personalities supposedly could not help but like and admire a man who preached the virtues of the “leadership principle” and practised what he preached first in his party and then in Germany as a whole.
Although he cites other factors as well, it is essentially in such terms that Edwin Black, author of the otherwise excellent book IBM and the Holocaust, explains the case of IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson, who met Hitler on a number of occasions in the 1930s and became fascinated with Germany’s authoritarian new ruler. But it is in the realm of political economy, not psychology, that one can most profitably understand why corporate America embraced Hitler.
In the 1920s many big American corporations enjoyed sizeable investments in Germany. IBM established a German subsidiary, Dehomag, before World War I; in the 1920s General Motors took over Germany’s largest car manufacturer, Adam Opel AG; and Ford founded a branch plant, later known as the Ford-Werke, in Cologne. Other US firms contracted strategic partnerships with German companies. Standard Oil of New Jersey — today’s Exxon — developed intimate links with the German trust IG Farben. By the early 1930s, an élite of about twenty of the largest American corporations had a German connection including Du Pont, Union Carbide, Westinghouse, General Electric, Gilette, Goodrich, Singer, Eastman Kodak, Coca-Cola, IBM, and ITT. Finally, many American law firms, investment companies, and banks were deeply involved in America’s investment offensive in Germany, among them the renowned Wall Street law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, and the banks J. P. Morgan and Dillon, Read and Company, as well as the Union Bank of New York, owned by Brown Brothers & Harriman.