November 30, 2006
Hitler’s carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Back in the United States, Sloan tried to obstruct FDR's war preparedness planning. The GM chief tried to dissuade GM executives with needed manufacturing and production experience from helping Washington's early mobilization plans. In one typical 1940 case, Sloan asked Danish-born William Knudson, who had ascended to become president of GM, not to leave the company and help Washington's war efforts. Sloan, who had become chairman of the company in 1937, warned his friend that the Roosevelt administration would make a "monkey out of you."
Knudson replied, "That isn't important, Mr. Sloan. I came to this country [from Denmark] with nothing. It has been good to me. Rightly or wrongly, I feel I must go."
Sloan retorted: "That's a quixotic way of looking at it."
By mid-1940, with or without Sloan's acquiescence, GM had been drafted by Washington to become a major war supplier for the Allies. Sloan had no choice but to comply, and GM and its employees would ultimately make enormously valuable contributions to the Allied war effort.
In June 1940, Sloan brought Mooney back to America to head up GM's key participation in America's crash program to prepare for war. He was installed as an assistant to the new GM president to take "full charge of all negotiations [with Washington] involving defense equipment."
Mooney's mere appointment sent shivers through the anti-Nazi boycott and protest committee, which well remembered his 1938 medal for what the Nazis had termed "service to the Reich." The Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League railed in a letter to Roosevelt: "How should we interpret the placing of a Hitler sympathizer and a Hitler servant (one must render service to the Reich to deserve such a medal) at the throttle of our defense program? Doesn't that appear suspiciously similar to the planting of Nazi sympathizers in key positions ?"
Collusion But No Disloyalty
In June 1940, about the same time Mooney returned to America, Sloan wrote to a colleague, expressing disdain for FDR's democracy while grudgingly acknowledging his admiration for Hitler's fascist drive, even if that drive had become criminal.
"It seems clear that the Allies are outclassed on mechanical equipment," Sloan wrote, "and it is foolish to talk about modernizing their Armies in times like these, they ought to have thought of that five years ago. There is no excuse for them not thinking of that except for the unintelligent, in fact, stupid, narrow-minded and selfish leadership which the democracies of the world are cursed with."
Sloan added a poignant contrast: "But when some other system develops stronger leadership, works hard and long, and intelligently and aggressively -- which are good traits -- and, superimposed upon that, develops the instinct of a racketeer, there is nothing for the democracies to do but fold up. And that is about what it looks as if they are going to do."
When, at the end of 1940, the White House began to insist that GM break off relations with Latin American car dealers suspected of being pro-Nazi, Sloan defiantly refused. He lashed out at Washington, accusing it of protecting Communists at home while focusing on GM dealers in South America.
"I have flatly declined to cancel dealers," Sloan wrote in April 1941 to Walter Carpenter, a GM board member and vice president of du Pont.
Days later, on April 18, 1941, Carpenter retorted, "I think that General Motors has to consider this problem from three standpoints; first, from the commercial, second, the patriotic and, third, the public relations standpoint.... We are definitely a part of the nation here and our future is very definitely mingled with the future of this country. The country today seems to be pretty well committed to a policy opposite to Germany and Italy."
Carpenter continued with a blunt warning. "If we don't listen to the urgings of the State Department in this connection," he said, "it seems to me just a question of time... The effect of this will be to associate the General Motors with Nazi or Fascist propaganda against the interests of the United States...The effect on the General Motors Corporation might be a very serious matter and the feeling might last for years."
A few weeks later, in May 1941, a year-and-a-half after World War II broke out, with newspapers and newsreels constantly transmitting the grim news that millions had been displaced, murdered or enslaved by Nazi aggression and that London was decimated by the Blitz bombing campaign, Sloan, then in his mid-60s, told his closest executives during a Detroit briefing: "I am sure we all realize that this struggle that is going on though the world is really nothing more or less than a conflict between two opposing technocracies manifesting itself to the capitalization of economic resources and products and all that sort of thing."
He then continued in a rambling, incoherent fashion, trying to further justify the company's Nazi business dealings.
By now, Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle, whose portfolio included the investigation of Nazi fronts and sympathizers in Latin America, had had enough of Sloan and GM executives. Berle circulated a memo asserting "that certain officials of General Motors were sympathetic to or aligned with some pro-Axis groups....That this is [a] 'real Fifth Column' and is much more sinister than many other things which are going on at the present time." Berle called for an FBI investigation.
The FBI's probe of GM senior executives with links to Hitler found collusion with Germany by Mooney, but no evidence of any disloyalty to America. The Aug. 2, 1941, summary of the investigation clearly listed Sloan in the title of the report, but Mooney's was the only name mentioned in the investigative results. However, in a separate report to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the agent stated, "No derogatory information of any kind was developed with respect to Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr."