The American Dreyfus

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On an October afternoon in 1918, Maj. Alexander Pennington Cronkhite took practice with a .45 at a tobacco can atop a post at Camp Lewis, Washington. With him were a sergeant and Capt. Robert Rosenbluth, recently back from France, where he had been gassed and wounded on the Western Front. “I got it that time, Rosie,” Cronkhite said, putting a shot through the can. The next one entered his chest. He was dead in minutes.

His mother could not accept that such a tragedy had overtaken her only son. Theirs was an old military family. Mrs. Cronkhite’s father had been a Union Army major general. Her husband, the son of a Yankee colonel, was an American Expeditionary Forces divisional commander in the Great War, which was entering its final stage. An Army board of inquiry might rule that the death was accidental and selfinflicted; but Mrs. Cronkhite’s fevered questions gave birth to certain doubts at Camp Lewis. An officer remembered Buddy Cronkhite’s saying that having the flu made him feel so lousy that he’d like to shoot himself. And how could a West Point graduate so mishandle a weapon?

It could not have been an accident, and even less suicide, Mrs. Cronkhite maintained, so it must have been murder. When after the armistice Maj. Gen. Adelbert Cronkhite returned from France, he instantly accepted his wife’s view. He was a major general, so the case was reopened and exhaustively gone into. The original verdict held. It was a tragic accident, the Army said —but no more. Then the matter came to the attention of one of the richest men on the face of the earth.

Henry Ford was a countryman mechanic and tinkerer who in a remarkably short time made himself the sole proprietor of the largest industrial empire the world had ever known. Simple in his tastes and ways, a neatly dressed rustic, he seemed to the American public an unspoiled fellow who was at the same time a genius of the very highest order. A 1920 survey of college students ranked him as the third greatest man who ever lived, his only superiors being Christ and Napoleon.

Henry Ford had an obsession that began early and lasted all his life. He detested Jews. There was nothing he would not attribute to them. They had ruined one of his favorite candy bars; it didn’t taste nearly as good as it used to. They had been behind Lincoln’s assassination. They had put Benedict Arnold up to his evil deeds. These financiers and middlemen and moneylenders were dedicated to cheating and corrupting God-fearing, hardworking people. No one could tell him otherwise.

In November of 1918, just a month after Major Cronkhite’s death, Ford purchased his local weekly newspaper, the Dearborn, Michigan, Independent . The city-slicker big papers, he said, were afraid to give the facts about bankers and Wall Street and big business. His paper would. It would be, he said, the Chronicler of the Neglected Truth. He ordered that every purchaser of a Ford car should be sold a year’s subscription. That meant a lot of potential readers, for the Ford Motor Company was on its way to turning out nearly 60 percent of all American cars and about half the cars produced elsewhere.

The Dearborn Independent ’s first consideration of Jewish matters was titled THE INTERNATIONAL JEW: THE WORLD’S PROBLEM and announced, “There is a race, a part of humanity which has never yet been received as a welcome part.” It went on from there, every issue without fail for years on end discussing Jewish evil. The Jews were responsible for short skirts and immorality among the young and the decline of wrestling as a sport. “Jewish Jazz—Moron Music” was a disgrace, as were the lyrics of Irving Berlin, which the Independent could not print: “The pages of this paper never yet have been defiled by obscenity.”

The prizefighter Benny Leonard was denounced: “He will let no one hit him.” Baseball had one trouble: “Too much Jew.” These unscrupulous “Orientals” concocted “nigger gin, a peculiarly vile beverage compounded to act upon the Negro in a most vicious manner,” producing “Negro outbursts” that led to rape.

With “diabolical cunning” this “alien stream,” creating a “strange, unAmerican atmosphere,” was behind the rise in rents, rolled-down stockings on women, gambling, the white-slave traffic. These “Asiatics” made movies “reeking of filth, . . . slimy with sex.” The Treaty of Versailles was Jew-inspired, and all wars were the Jews’ harvest; they controlled financial markets and the price of gold and mercilessly exploited the farmer and craftsman. To spread the message, the Independent brought out its fourvolume The International Jew and pamphlets selling for a quarter. They went very well in German translation, and the sole American given mention in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was Henry Ford. Hitler had Ford’s picture on his wall.

The death of the Camp Lewis major presented no mystery to the Independent . So began the paper’s years-long discussion of what came to be called, when it found its way to the front pages of America’s other papers, the American Dreyfus Affair.