Friday, September 18, 2009

Henry Ford, Bastard

Steve Gimbel asks a very good question

I am still at a complete loss as to why the name Henry Ford is celebrated and not vilified in American culture.

Indeed, and this bugs me too. I think there are two fairly simple reasons. First, his assembly line (which he did not invent) is a major event in our national technology fetish. We love technology and put its innovators up on a pedestal. Ford occupies the highest pinnacle of that and his personal behavior and loathsome actions haven't dented that much. Second, people still like Ford vehicles today and given how closely attached so many Americans are to their auto brand of choice (something I've always found strange), there's a lot of general good feeling toward the man by the public.

But he was a pretty horrible person. He's most famous for being the nation's most important anti-Semite and he was awarded (and he accepted) an Iron Cross by Hitler. But he also led the anti-union charge in America. He was a big proponent of 100% Americanism during World War I and hired cartoonists to draw anti-radical and anti-union cartoons for movie theatres during the war. He ordered brutal attacks upon UAW organizers late in his life. And he treated his workers like children, sending out spies and social workers to check on them and make sure they were living up to his moral standards.

Basically, there's very little that's good about Henry Ford. Despite this, he's a national icon.