Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Saving Private Power
(The Hidden History of “The Good War”)
by Michael Zezima
New York: Soft Skull (2000)

When William E. Dodd, U.S. ambassador to Germany during the 1930s, declared that “a clique of U.S. industrialists is … working closely with the fascist regime[s] in Germany and Italy,” he wasn’t kidding. In fact, it was more than just a small “clique.” A handful of books published in recent years have pulled the fascist skeletons out of more than a few corporate closets.

Among the major U.S. Corporations who invested in Germany during the 1920s were Ford, General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Texaco, International Harvester, ITT, and IBM. Although corporate historians profess that they did this to help the country recover from the devastations of WW I, they are careful to omit mentioning that the German cartels they financed helped bring Hitler to power. And of course all were more than happy to see the German labor movement and working-class parties smashed by SS thugs. U.S. multinationals profited from and supported Hitler’s industrial war machine as it was built and even after the U.S. entered the war:

• As Max Wallace writes in The American Axis, Ford was not only aware of the Nazis’ use of slave labor at their factories in Germany and France, but condoned it. Hitler, in turn, was a big admirer of Henry Ford (a notorious anti-semite) whose photo he kept on his desk.

• Standard Oil of New York honored its chemical contracts with I.G. Farben – the German chemical cartel that manufactured Zyklon-B, the poison gas used in the Nazi gas chambers – right up until 1942. IG Farben’s corporate descendants include companies like BASF. (Aside: In the late 1980s, I was helping a community group in Indiana fight a BASF hazardous waste incinerator proposal. A guy who claimed to be an opponent came to our office in Chicago with information about BASF’s ties to the Nazis. We never got distracted by that history from the threat the incinerator posed to community health. We had reason to be reluctant, not just because it might derail us from broad community support, but also because I could smell a strong chemical smell on the guy’s suit – which may just mean that he was a guilt-stricken employee, not a plant. In any event, BASF ended up shipping their waste to Chemical Waste Management’s notorious commercial incinerator on Chicago’s south-east side where, on Labor Day, community residents added this sign to the parade in protest of the company’s search for a permit renewal from EPA: “1940: Hitler Brings People to the Gas Chamber…1990: Chem Waste Brings the Gas Chamber to the People.”)

• In 1976, Anthony Sutton wrote in Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler that not only was an influential sector of American business aware of the nature of Naziism, but for its own purposes aided Naziism wherever possible (and profitable) – with full knowledge that the probable outcome would be war involving Europe and the United States.” Those eminent business leaders included the Rockefellers, GE , National City Bank, Chase and Manhattan banks, Kuhn, Loeb and Company, ITT and “scores of other business elitists.” Sutton’s book puts much of the blame on international bankers who constructed complicated deals to hide their support of Hitler. Of course, the multinationals have not forgotten how to engineer such coups. ITT, for example, later backed the coup that brought to power Latin America’s most notorious fascist, general Pinochet in Chile in 1972.

• 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.”

• In 2001, Edwin Black explained the strategic alliance between Big Blue’s founder Thomas Watson and the Nazis in IBM and the Holocaust. No surprise to readers of Gravity’s Rainbow (even Wyman Jr. at Amherst?), who know that behind the cybernetic language of corporations there is a universal stone determinacy, a Calvinistic preterition, a single labyrinthine plot that manipulates men and events, so that we fight ineffectually against a vastly superior machine that makes us active participants in our own destruction, yearning, perhaps, for a secret integration -- the “single-set of coordinates” where Zero and One meet and we can find a starting place for a new beginning -- after all, haven’t They arranged everything? But how does that explain the wing-tips?

• Perhaps most interesting is John Buchanan’s series of reports for the Nashua, NH Gazette (finally picked up by AP) that Prescott Bush (father of President George Bush and grandfather of the current president) worked with his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, in the family firm Union Banking Corporation to raise $50 million for the Nazis, by selling German bonds to American investors from 1924 to 1936. The Federal Government shut the bank down in 1942, under the Trading With the Enemy Act.

• We should also not forget that the corporate collaboration with members of the Nazi technocratic and scientific elite extended long beyond the war. In 1991, Linda Hunt, a former executive producer of CNN’s investigative unit, published Secret Agenda (St. Martin’s), an expose of Project Paperclip, an OSS/CIA program designed to keep Nazi war criminals and scientists from falling under commie influence by placing them in the employ of U.S. companies such as General Electric, Grace and Dow Chemical. At least 1600 scientific and research specialists and thousands of their dependents were brought to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip. Hundreds went to work for universities, defense contractors, and CIA fronts, with all sorts of weird consequences. E.g. Paperclip scientists working at Edgewood Arsenal in MD performed some of the first human experiments with LSD and other “psychochemical warfare” agents that were developed in the search for the ultimate mind-control weapon that could turn a man into a “Manchurian Candidate” (Richard Condon’s fictional character, who had been brainwashed and reprogrammed as an unwitting assassin). As former CIA agent David McMichael said, “drugs and covert operations go together like fleas on a dog.”

Of course, in America you're not taken seriously if you openly deny the Holocaust. (In 1993, Newsweek reported that nearly 40 percent of adult Americans expressed doubts as to whether a European Holocaust of the magnitude depicted in standard histories occurred during World War II.) But what does it say about our culture and politics that we deliberately ignore the role of business in the emergence of monstrous forms of blind nationalism and patriotism? Although there is little doubt outside the U.S., there continues to be a strong culture of denial that the war in Iraq had anything to do with oil or the interests of defense contractors? And maybe the comparisons between Saddam and Hitler are apt, considering U.S. corporations provided support to both. We should ask ourselves how much the world really has changed since WW I, when Americans renamed Sauerkraut “liberty cabbage.”

“My hope,” Zezima writes, “is that by exposing the lie of such a powerful and enduring myth, we can all begin questioning everything being marketed to us within our commodity culture. Saving Private Ryan (the movie), by bringing home the insanity and suffering of warfare, has led directly to Saving Private Power which, I feel, can help explain how that insanity and suffering has been packaged and sold as inevitable and necessary … and good.”

On the role of corporations in fascism:

In 1980, Webster’s New World Dictionary offered the following definition of fascism:
“a system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized government control, belligerent nationalism, racism, militarism, etc.”

In true Orwellian fashion, a recent (1990) variation removes all that unpleasant talk about private economic enterprise: “fascism: a system of government characterized by dictatorship, belligerent nationalism and racism, militarism, etc.”