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Mr. Hitler Reads Mr. Ford
The "visionary" theories soon to be imposed on America belie our myth of the melting pot as some type of spontaneous sociological force. The two great mass immigration periods (1848 to 1860 and 1871 to 1914) posed a threat to the course of national development that was underway. The unique American experience of creating a particular New World culture was still too green, too recent a historical phenomenon to tolerate the sophisticated competition of pluralism. A cosmopolitan society like that of fifth-century Roman England wasnt possible for America to accept without damaging its growth.
The possibilities inherent in a bazaar society were at once exciting and anxiety provoking to Americans, just as they were to Horace Mann. Yet beneath a sophisticated mask and a veneer of cosmopolite civility certain factions sought release from their uneasy ambivalence. There was only one realistic solution to human variability, the solution of the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner (popularly called "The Know Nothing Party"), "You must be as we are." Those who surrendered to such pressure, as many newcomers did, were ultimately worse off than those who insulated themselves in ghettos.3
Some pages back I referred to the brazenness of our new social arrangements, a sense of vulgar pushiness the reader senses radiating from various temples of reform. In some crazy way the ornamentation of the period carries the flavor of its arrogance. It prepares us to understand the futurethat time in which we now live, our own age where "home cooking" means commercially homogenized food product microwaved, where an entire nation sits down each evening to commercial entertainment, hears the same processed news, wears the same clothing, takes direction from the same green road signs, thinks the same media-inculcated thoughts, and relegates its children and elders to the same scientific care of strangers in schools and "nursing homes."
A signpost of the times: in 1920, the Henry Ford Publishing Company distributed 2 million free copies of its recent best seller to all libraries and all schools in the nation. The book: The International Jew: Worlds Foremost Problem. Adolf Hitler was still a poor war hero, living in Munich with Ernst Hanfstaengel, the half-American Harvard graduate whose mother was one of the legendary New England Sedgwicks. Hitler had Hanfstaengel read Fords book to him. In the pages of Mein Kampf, Ford is lavishly praised. Of Fords other efforts to define the 100 percent American, at least one more deserves special mention. Speaking and writing English had very little to do with work on a Ford assembly line, but Ford decided to make English-language classes compulsory. The first thing foreign-speaking Ford employees learned to say: "I am a good American."
Ford students were graduated in a musical extravaganza that bears close attention as an indicator of the American spiritual climate after WWI. A huge black pot took up the middle of a stage, from which hung a large sign that read "MELTING POT." From backstage an endless procession of costumed immigrants descended into the pot on a ladder reaching into its bowels. Each wore a sign identifying his former homeland. Simultaneously, from either side of the pot two other streams of men emerged, now converted into real Americans, dressed in identical clothing. Each waved a small American flag while a brass band played "America the Beautiful," fortissimo. Wives and children cheered wildly when cue cards were flashed.
It was nothing short of marvelous that world champion Jew-baiter Henry Ford, architect of the most opulent and sinister foundation of them all,4 major player in the psychologization of American schooling, was a closet impresario in the bargain! Ford completed Americas philanthropic circle. Three great private fortunes were to dominate early twentieth-century public schoolingCarnegies, Rockefellers, and Fordseach with a stupendous megalomaniac in charge of the checkbook, each dedicating the power of great wealth not to conspicuous consumption but to radical experiments in the transformation of human nature. The hardest lesson to grasp is that they werent doing this for profit or famebut from a sense of conviction reserved only for true believers.
There was no room in America for the faint-hearted. If a man wanted to be 100 percent American, he had to reject his original homeland. Other Americanizing themes were heard, too. General Leonard Wood growled that the Prussian practice of "Universal Military Service" was the best means to make the unassimilated "understand they are American." By the time I graduated from high school in 1953, universal military training took me away to Kentucky and Texas, to become an American, I suppose. After government school, government army, and Anglican Columbia were through with me, I had lost the map to get back home.
All over the American Midwest, "Fitter Families Competitions" were held at state fairs and expositions, ranking American families by objective criteria, much as hogs or cattle are ranked. Winners got wide play in the press, ramming the point home to immigrant families that the mustard would be cut in the land of the Star-Spangled Banner by mathematical checklist attention to recipes and rules. After all, God himself had probably been a research scientist, or so William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, declared to the nation.
3This process of very slow assimilation into settled groups is a pattern everywhere, particularly noticeable
in smaller communities where it may take two or three generations or even longer for a new family to be incorporated into the most intimate society. Ghettos often serve well as mediators of transition, while the record of professional social agencies in this regard is disastrous.
4Many people I meet consider the Ford Foundation a model of enlightened corporate beneficence, and al-
though Jesse Jacksons "Hymietown" remark ended his serious political prospects in America, Fords much deeper and more relentless scorn for those he considered mongrel races and religions, particularly the Jews, has long been forgiven and forgotten. On July 30, 1938, the Hitler government presented Henry Ford with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle. Only three other non-Germans ever got that honor and Benito Mussolini was one of them.
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