GM, Ford, Nazi Germany and burning books

In 1998, the Washington Post newspaper published an article detailing the scrutiny that both General Motors and Ford were put through over their business dealings with Nazi Germany in the 1920s and 30s. In a nutshell, it was over their subsidiary companies in Germany and how their huge business interests there, led them wittingly or unwittingly, to aid the German war effort by transforming their production lines to make airplanes, tanks and trucks.

Aside from this, Henry Ford, himself, was widely known for his pacifism in the early years of WW I, as well as his antisemitism. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler is reported to have been a huge admirer of Ford and in 1938, four months before the annexation of Austria, presented him with the highest medal that Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle.

History is a fluid thing, littered with facts along with subjective interpretation. What we do and decide today, in the future will be seen as history. What we may think is good or bad (lawful or unlawful) may be dependent on the eyes of the interpreter and the culture of that day in the future.

The association between the GM and Ford Motor Companies and Nazi Germany is a fact that can be interpreted in many different ways. At the time, both companies intentions may have been honourable. We now have the hindsight to see what eventuated with WWII and the Holocaust and can make subjective judgements and opinions.

It is not surprising that the #blacklivesmatter protests are taking place in America, amongst the politically charged atmosphere fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, a economy strangling lockdown in an election year of a country whose president is sorely lacking in leadership skills. Something had to give.

Is this solely an American only problem? Racial injustice happens in every community and country. But maybe what is happening in the US is somewhat unique to them only, because of their history and how it has shaped their nation today.

So, what has this all to do with motorsport?

Well I’m not really sure, other than the elephant in the room is that motorsport can appear elitist, privileged, white and it involves a lot of money. At some stage it may well be a target as activists seek out ‘wrongful and unjust’ episodes of history. Don’t be surprised if this happens.

Pulling down and defacing statues is similar to the book burning of the Nazi regime. It is an act of contempt for the book’s contents or author. The intention is to draw public attention to this opinion.

In this morning’s The Press, Tina Ngata, an indigenous and environmental rights advocate, says that ‘the symbolism of pulling these statues down broadcasts the will of the people to dismantle the systems of oppression…’

Whether this statement is right or not, we must remember that we look back on this history with different eyes to the ones that created it. As with book burning, the tearing down of statues and the renaming of streets and towns is merely symbolic in itself. A new narrative can be told through the eyes of the present but to move forward the past must be understood, embraced, accepted and forgiven for what it was.

Benjamin Carrell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!

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