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ICG Risk Blog - [ Confluence of anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist sentiments of the "Radio Priest" and Nazi-tolerant sentiments of US business ]

Confluence of anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist sentiments of the "Radio Priest" and Nazi-tolerant sentiments of US business


Preceding: Jewish American and Israeli perspectives on AIPAC and its marriage of convenience with Evangelicals

Today's marriage of convenience between American Jews and Evangelicals is a welcome relief for Jews accustomed to attack by most Christian sects here, in Europe and wherever a Christian sect held sway. (Jews historically fared better under Muslim suzerain than Christian.) One cannot blame Jews for wishing to continue the current arms length relationship as the alternative is lessened security and perhaps renewed persecution of varying degree. The epicenter of 20th Century American religious attack upon Jews is actually close by as I write - the Shrine of the Little Flower church in Royal Oak, Michigan, the pulpit of the "Radio Priest," Father Charles E. Coughlin, whose anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist sentiments outraged Jews. It is sad to say that Coughlin was ultimately removed not for his assault upon Jews but his support for Nazi Germany and encouragement of a far right Catholic front group that was seen as an increasingly destabilizing element in the US political landscape, i.e., Jews remember that Coughlin's religious sentiments were not overturned or repudiated, only his support of a foreign power with whom the US ultimately went to war.

I think it useful to explore Coughlin and the period in which he prospered, as well as the enchantment between US business interests and Nazi Germany in the prewar years. (Remember that Roosevelt had to nanny the US out of isolationism and into war.) I believe that there are parallels of that period to the enchantment that occurs today between US business and China.

Shrine of the Little Flower is a remarkably beautiful church and bell tower, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco rather than Gothic or Romanesque. Henry McGill was the architect. Rene Chambellan executed the sculptural facade of its Charity Crucifixion Tower. It's singular beauty (photos here and here) belies the venom that Coughlin spewed from its pulpit and from the radio broadcast center in its Charity Crucifixion Tower. Older Jewish friends here virtually spit Coughlin's name. Few recordings of his sermons in full flight are available free (but are available for fee, see below) but all are chilling. Many in the Detroit area, Jew and Gentile alike, still connect the church to Coughlin and the stain in the minds of those of a certain age still hangs over it to this day.

In May 1925, Bishop Michael Gallagher named his new church for St Teresa of the Little Flower, locating it in a then distant suburb of Detroit, Michigan, even though "only 28 Catholic families resided there at the time because he foresaw that the booming auto industry would attract many Catholics to the area." In parallel, Gallagher had selected a Canadian priest for his already demonstrated ability to generate Mass attendance, Father Charles E. Coughlin:

One of the first public figures to make effective use of the airwaves, Charles E. Coughlin, was for a time one of the most influential personalities on American radio. At the height of his popularity in the early 1930s, some 30 million listeners tuned in to hear his emotional messages. Many of his speeches were rambling, disorganized, repetitious, and as time went by, they became increasingly full of bigoted rhetoric. But as a champion of the poor, a foe of big business, and a critic of federal indifference in the face of widespread economic distress, he spoke to the hopes and fears of lower-middle class Americans throughout the country. Years later, a supporter remembered the excitement of attending one of his rallies: "When he spoke it was a thrill like Hitler. And the magnetism was uncanny. It was so intoxicating, there's no use saying what he talked about..."

I think Coughlin is a forgotten orator worthy of being ranked along with Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler and Goebbels. The New York Times noted:

Coughlin became a leading spokesman of the ''America for Americans'' movement of the 1930's. Along with such ''lunatic fringe'' figures as Gerald L. K. Smith and Francis E. Townsend, he formed the National Union for Social Justice, its primary purpose being the dumping of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These were the years of the Great Depression. Institutions were being threatened. People were looking for demons and evildoers. Demagogues were popping up all over the landscape to provide them. Father Coughlin, giving his followers a little bit of everything, made impassioned speeches against both Communism and capitalism, the latter scorned for its concentration of wealth and profit-taking.

Coughlin began broadcasting in 1926 over WJR in Detroit; his "Hour of Power" on Sunday afternoon became a national pulpit:

[With] a nationwide listenership of 40 million in the 1930's, [Coughlin] raised huge amounts of money on the radio. And while at the beginning of the Depression Coughlin sounded like a Populist in the tradition of Huey Long, he became more and more extreme. Jewish bankers caused the Depression… Hitler and Mussolini, while stern authoritarians, should be supported, because that's what it takes to get rid of Communists. "Coughlin berated Jews, he berated Blacks, he was just hateful… "

Donations of ordinary folks in response to Coughlin's radio callings provided virtually all of the money to build the church and tower, and after being thrown off the air by CBS, underwrote his purchase of radio airtime for Coughlin and his National Union for Social Justice (NUSJ). At his zenith in the 1930s, Coughlin was commanding 30 million plus listeners. No wonder he was called the Radio Priest. Without the donations of so many ordinary people, Coughlin's brand of evil would never have taken wing:

Although anti-Semitic themes appeared in some of Coughlin's speeches fairly early in his career, it wasn't until the late 1930s that the priest's rhetoric became increasingly filled with attacks on Jews. By 1938, the pages of "Social Justice" were frequently filled with accusations about Jewish control of America's financial institutions. In the summer of that year, Coughlin published a version of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." A virulently anti-Semitic piece of propaganda that had originated in Russia at the turn of the century, the "Protocols" accused Jews of planning to seize control of the world. Jewish leaders were shocked by Coughlin's actions.

Later that year, the radio priest delivered perhaps his most startling and hateful speech to date. In response to the November 10, 1938, "Kristallnacht" attack on Jews in German-controlled territory, Coughlin began by asking, "Why is there persecution in Germany today?" He went on to explain that "Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted."

The owner of WMCA, the New York station that carried Coughlin's show, refused to broadcast Coughlin's next radio message. The Nazi press reacted to the news with fury: "America is Not Allowed to Hear the Truth" declared one headline. "Jewish organizations camouflaged as American...have conducted such a campaign...that the radio station company has proceeded to muzzle the well-loved Father Coughlin." A "New York Times" correspondent in Germany noted that Coughlin had become for the moment "the hero of Nazi Germany."

While I admit to being inexpert on leftist/labor activities of the 1930s, it appears that a journalist for the Daily Worker, Abe Magil, was responsible for first outing Coughlin's extremist views:

Speaking to millions of radio listeners every Sunday morning from his church just outside Detroit, at first Coughlin hid his extremism and anti-Semitism in his broadcasts, but not in his church sermons. With some trepidation, Magil began attending Coughlin’s sermons, and wrote the first exposé of Father Coughlin’s neo-fascist, vitriolic anti-Semitism for the Daily Worker.

Coughlin reflected what a Jewish colleague described as the monotonously precise Nazi delivery of the idea that Germany would be returned:

to its "rightful" place in the world and correct the wrongs perpetrated on them by the world community and the 5th column of traitors within Germany that had subverted the nation and signed an capitulation in the form of the Armistice because of the evil of the Jews, liberals, trade unionists and other progressives. Of course dis-employing all the Jews would (and did) open up jobs and advancement to the non-Jews would be one more 'rational' motivation… And of course the Nazis hid (barely) the truth of the exterminating death camps so that the rest of Germany could feel moral and civilized…

Some historians say that the only force Hitler worried about opposing him within Germany was the Lutheran Church. Outside of Germany, the key issue of the day was not death camps, world domination of Hitler but "non-interventionism"… The greatest evils have been described by as arriving with a banal face… From my vantage organized evil creeps slowly on its hands and knees and eschews all shouting and other recognizable drama.

Many in business were not so observant. We forget that Hitler and his National Socialist movement retained an aura of social acceptability among too large a segment of US culture and business well after Kristallnacht, not the least of which were Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, Charles Lindberg, even the architect Philip Johnson. From Profits über Alles! American Corporations and Hitler:

[Hitler] sent mixed signals [to] American businessmen [who] Like their German counterparts… long worried about the intentions and the methods of this plebeian upstart, whose ideology was called National Socialism, whose party identified itself as a workers' party, and who spoke ominously of bringing about revolutionary change. Some high-profile leaders of corporate America, however, such as Henry Ford liked and admired the Führer at an early stage. Other precocious Hitler-admirers were press lord Randolph Hearst and Irénée Du Pont, head of the Du Pont trust, who… had already "keenly followed the career of the future Führer in the 1920s" and supported him financially. Eventually, most American captains of industry learned to love the Führer…

In the 1920s many big American corporations enjoyed sizeable investments in Germany. IBM established a German subsidiary, Dehomag, before World War I; in the 1920s General Motors took over Germany's largest car manufacturer, Adam Opel AG; and Ford founded a branch plant, later known as the Ford-Werke, in Cologne. Other US firms contracted strategic partnerships with German companies. Standard Oil of New Jersey — today's Exxon — developed intimate links with the German trust IG Farben. By the early 1930s, an élite of about twenty of the largest American corporations had a German connection including Du Pont, Union Carbide, Westinghouse, General Electric, Gilette, Goodrich, Singer, Eastman Kodak, Coca-Cola, IBM, and ITT. Finally, many American law firms, investment companies, and banks were deeply involved in America's investment offensive in Germany, among them the renowned Wall Street law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, and the banks J. P. Morgan and Dillon, Read and Company, as well as the Union Bank of New York, owned by Brown Brothers & Harriman. The Union Bank was intimately linked with the financial and industrial empire of German steel magnate Thyssen, whose financial support enabled Hitler to come to power. This bank was managed by Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W. Bush. Prescott Bush was allegedly also an eager supporter of Hitler, funnelled money to him via Thyssen, and in return made considerable profits by doing business with Nazi Germany; with the profits he launched his son, the later president, in the oil business.

American overseas ventures fared poorly in the early 1930s, as the Great Depression hit Germany particularly hard. Production and profits dropped precipitously, the political situation was extremely unstable, there were constant strikes and street battles between Nazis and Communists, and many feared that the country was ripe for a "red" revolution like the one that had brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia in 1917. However, backed by the power and money of German industrialists… Hitler came to power in January 1933…

American business leaders with assets in Germany found to their immense satisfaction that his so-called revolution respected the socio-economic status quo. The Führer's Teutonic brand of fascism, like every other variety of fascism, was reactionary in nature, and extremely useful for capitalists' purposes. Brought to power by Germany's leading businessmen and bankers, Hitler served the interests of his "enablers." His first major initiative was to dissolve the labour unions and to throw the Communists, and many militant Socialists, into prisons and the first concentration camps, which were specifically set up to accommodate the overabundance of left-wing political prisoners. This ruthless measure not only removed the threat of revolutionary change — embodied by Germany's Communists — but also emasculated the German working class and transformed it into a powerless "mass of followers" (Gefolgschaft), to use Nazi terminology, which was unconditionally put at the disposal of their employers, the Thyssens and Krupps.

Most, if not all firms in Germany, including American branch plants, eagerly took advantage of this situation and cut labour costs drastically. The Ford-Werke, for example, reduced labour costs from fifteen per cent of business volume in 1933 to only eleven per cent in 1938… Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Essen increased its profitability considerably because, in Hitler's state, workers "were little more than serfs forbidden not only to strike, but to change jobs," driven "to work harder [and] faster" while their wages "were deliberately set quite low." In Nazi Germany, real wages indeed declined rapidly, while profits increased correspondingly, but there were no labour problems worth mentioning, for any attempt to organize a strike immediately triggered an armed response by the Gestapo, resulting in arrests and dismissals. This was the case in GM's Opel factory in Rüsselsheim in June 1936… As the Thuringian teacher and anti-fascist resistance member Otto Jenssen wrote after the war, Germany's corporate leaders were happy "that fear for the concentration camp made the German workers as meek as lapdogs." The owners and managers of American corporations with investments in Germany were no less enchanted, and if they openly expressed their admiration or Hitler — as did the chairman of General Motors, William Knudsen, and ITT-boss Sosthenes Behn — it was undoubtedly because he had resolved Germany's social problems in a manner that benefited their interests.

Jews within my circle of friends forget none of the above. Were I them I would take the supplications of deluded Evangelicals. I like to think this a version of Sun-Tzu's "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

I submit that Profits über Alles! American Corporations and Hitler has relevance to China where business, be it from the US, Taiwan, Japan or Europe, is by and large anxious to expand its business there and is willing to put aside issues of censorship, labor relations, forced relocation of peasantry, pollution and other elements beyond the profit motive. And before anyone thinks that I am rushing to a moral judgment or that 'business is evil, think of all the many shareholders that are most pleased with the quarter to quarter profits that those investments produce in distant lands - just like the 1930s in Germany. One has to wonder how similar the outcomes will be.

This Catholic church is born again
Evangelical approach helps attendance soar
By Margaret Ramirez
Chicago Tribune
Published April 15, 2006

Profits über Alles! American Corporations and Hitler
Jacques R. Pauwels
History Cooperative
Spring 2003

Abe Magil: A tribute to a working class, Marxist journalist
People's Week World
Mar 22, 2003

Reverend Charles E. Coughlin (1891-1979)
American and the Holocaust
American Experience

Review/Television; Father Coughlin, 'The Radio Priest'
New York Times
December 13, 1988

Father Couglin, the "radio priest"
Bobby's Digital Old Time Radio Page
1926, WJR, Detroit.
1926-30, WMAQ, Chicago; WLW, Cincinnati. Oct. 5, 1930-Apri15, 1931, CBS. 6Om, Sundays at 7.
1931-42, private network; heard Sundays throughout the land on many independent stations.

Radio Memories
Radio Memories Program index
Father Coughlin, Vol. 1 - BS 068
Father Coughlin, Vol. 4 - BS 338
Father Coughlin, Vol. 5 - BS 339
Father Coughlin, Vol. 6 - BS 340
Father Coughlin, Vol. 7 - BS 341
Father Coughlin, Vol. 8 - BS 342
Father Coughlin, Vol. 9 - BS 343
Father Coughlin, Vol. 10 - BS 344
Father Coughlin, Vol. 11 - BS 345
Father Coughlin, Vol. 12 - BS 346

Gordon Housworth

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