Role of U.S. businessmen must be exposed

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted February 1999

The first instinct is to dismiss allegations that major American auto makers collaborated with Hitler's war effort. After all, it sounds like another attempt to blame "greedy businessmen" for all of history's ills -- a favorite tactic of the political left.

The current civil case against the major automakers is being brought by "lawyers in Washington and New York who specialize in extracting large cash settlements from banks and insurance companies accused of defrauding Holocaust victims," reports Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post.

(When individual culpability can be shown, of course, actual surviving victims deserve restitution. But when do such lawsuits cross the line into an extortion racket, in which those with deep pockets -- generations removed from any real culpability -- are hounded into paying up, regardless of guilt?)

But let's be clear: There are times when history does need to be rewritten.

Some who put their lives on the line flying bomber missions over occupied Europe in 1944 -- including Reuben "Red" Hafter, now a retired test pilot and active spokesman for Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership -- have long held that American bomber command was not ignorant of what was going on in Hitler's death camps. Hafter recalls arguing with his commanders repeatedly that they should bomb the rail lines leading to the German concentration camps in order to interrupt Nazi logistics. "I told them, 'People are dying there.' It's not true that we didn't know."

Rumors have also circulated for years that the allied air forces purposely held back from bombing certain industrial targets because English or American corporate interests owned shares in those facilities.

Now come revelations (in newly-rediscovered official postwar investigations by the U.S. Army) that, far from being a hapless victim when the factories of its German subsidiary were taken over and converted to German war production in 1939, the German branch of Ford became an "arsenal of Naziism" with the "consent" of the firm's Dearborn headquarters.

Meantime, according to the typewritten notes of James Mooney, then GM director in charge overseas operations, Mooney met with Adolf Hitler in Berlin two weeks after the invasion of Poland -- and returned to Germany in February of 1940 for further discussions and a factory tour with no less a figure than Hermann Goering -- to negotiate a government-brokered contract under which GM's German subsidiary helped manufacture the Junker "Wunderbomber."

An FBI report dated July 23, 1941, quoted Mooney as saying he would refuse to take any action that might "make Hitler mad."

It's unlikely any of these actions violated U.S. law. The United States was technically neutral until Pearl Harbor in 1941. Germany was not then an "enemy" with whom trade was restricted.

But such rationales do little to curb our shock over revelations that American businessmen were cooperating with the Fuhrer even as his troops carved up Poland and prepared to turn their eyes to the west. Nor should the assertion that "they didn't do anything illegal" now prevent a full exposure of the historical truth -- especially since American businessmen, operating subsidiaries all over the world, doubtless still face similar moral quandaries every day.

Is it enough to merely obey local laws and "prevailing customs"?

American businessmen take political heat when their foreign factories pay less than American wages, or when they provide factory jobs to children overseas. But if they're putting meals on the tables of families that would otherwise be worse off -- if those child laborers are their parents' sole breadwinners, and would otherwise have to fall back on child prostitution -- applying American standards is absurd.

Yet how tempting it is to then go a step further, justifying bribery or the use of the forced labor of political prisoners, rationalizing "That's just the way things are done over there -- if we say no, the contract will only go to the Germans or the French."

Go far enough down this road, and you can probably convince yourself it's OK to build bombers for the Wehrmacht.

In the end, the only solution is for each investor to take some personal responsibility for knowing how his or her capital is used.

Did Ford and GM stockholders know or care what was being done in their names in 1940?

For that matter, did you own U.S. Treasury bonds in 1993, when some of the money our government thus borrowed from its own citizens was used to arm and pay men to shoot up and finally burn down a Seventh Day Adventist church in Waco, Texas, immolating dozens of unarmed women and children -- all merely to justify their agency's "SWAT" funding at pending budget hearings, and all over the trumped-up, never-proven charge that the church's leader had failed to pay a $200 firearms tax?

And did you, immediately thereafter, sell those bonds and refuse to loan any more money to such a murderous organization as the United States Department of the Treasury? No? You didn't? Then maybe I could interest you in a few shares of I.G. Farben ...

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail at

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