Henry Ford is a shining example of two great American traditions: Amoral, hardheaded industrialism and unapologetic racial hatred. He hated Jews; his pamphlet The International Jew was singularly responsible for the anti-Semitism of Hitler Youth Leader and mass murderer Baldur von Schirach, while the Holocaust’s chief architect, Heinrich Himmler, praised Ford as a “great man” and “one of our most valuable, important, [and] clever fighters.” He hated the disabled; along with John Kellog, Andrew Carnegie, Woodrow Wilson, and dozens of other illustrious Americans, Ford openly advocated for the obligatory sterilization and involuntary imprisonment of the mentally ill and retarded, as well as unwed mothers and criminals with brown skin. I’ll let the reader guess how he felt about immigrants, homosexuals, and people of color; let’s just remember that Hitler proudly proclaimed in 1938, “I shall do my best to put [Ford’s] theories into practice in Germany.” This might be a good time to mention that I’ve now written two essays that mention Henry Ford – the first was in seventh grade, when I picked his name off a sheet of potential subjects in my history class. It was labeled “American Heroes.”
Henry Ford hated a lot of people – Jews, women, the poor, immigrants – but that didn’t stop him from utilizing them as easy fodder in his factories. He often paid black teenagers half wages to work on steel presses, partly because it was easier to unleash crooked cops on them if they tried to form a union. Unwed mothers who escaped sterilization and imprisonment often performed menial labor, both on the factory floor as cleaners and outside as unofficially corporate-sponsored sex workers. Men who had lost limbs, either in the war or in Ford’s own steel presses, occasionally worked for slave wages. Ford’s corporate website refers to this history as one of “diversity and inclusion.” When Henry Ford died, he was worth 188 billion dollars.
Where did Henry Ford’s hate end and his business sense start? Derrick Jensen once said that hatred, if felt long enough, just feels like economics. Wherever the line between the two falls, one thing is certain: a vicious practicality underlies both. The famously industrious anti-Semite undoubtedly hated people of color, and his hatred almost certainly allowed him to rationalize to himself and others their continued exploitation – but mangled hands and broken limbs also objectively cost less when they were brown instead of white. Ford had a deep personal hatred of labor organizers, but simple pragmatism was all that one would need to call for the savage beating of unarmed men and women, as he proudly did at the Battle of the Overpass in 1937. Sustained brutality and intimidation was the best way to keep his factories running smoothly. These choices were as much business moves as his later decision to move away from ethanol and towards gasoline. Gasoline goes into an engine because that’s the best way to make an engine run. Young black bodies get destroyed by steel presses because that’s the best way to get steel made. Indigenous people die of cancer when toxic waste is dumped into their rivers and forests because that’s the best way to get rid of toxic waste. The planet is ripped apart and hollowed out because that’s the best way to get at what’s inside.