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.

Ford’s paper offered no consistent motive for what it said Captain Rosenbluth had done. Perhaps he was a “dirty German Jew spy” seeking to immobilize the major’s father, then commanding his division in France. When after leaving the Army Rosenbluth worked for Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Administration fighting starvation in war-devastated Europe and in the course of his duties was sent to Russia, the paper speculated that he had committed the murder in his capacity of Bolshevist Jew agitator. Or there might have been other, hidden motives. The “Secret Empire” had its reasons.

Rosenbluth before the war had been in forestry work. That the Yale Forestry School News came to his defense, its board members pointing out they were “uniformly of colonial ancestry, without Semitic blood,” only proved to the Independent the sinister power of the “Invisible Government.” The same held true for Herbert Hoover’s Statement on behalf of his aide. As regards the claim that like Alfred Dreyfus, another Jewish captain was being unjustly hounded, Dreyfus had been guilty too.

Under pressure from Ford, President Harding’s none-toosavory Justice Department finally felt compelled to act.

Under intense pressure from Ford’s paper, President Harding’s none-toosavory Justice Department finally felt compelled to act. The ex-sergeant, a railroad trackman after leaving the Army, was worked over in ungentle fashion by Ford private detectives who led Department of Justice investigators. In short order the ex-sergeant signed, and then quickly repudiated, five separate and mutually conflicting confessions. They variously said that Rosenbluth made the ex-sergeant shoot the major or that Rosenbluth did it himself. There was no explanation offered for why the deed was done.

But now there were confessions—plenty of them. The ex-sergeant and ex-captain were to be individually brought to trial for murder in Tacoma. The ex-sergeant’s case was considered first. Six years had passed since Buddy Cronkhite’s burial at West Point; there was a stone monument to his memory at Camp Lewis.

More than eighty reporters from all over the country listened as several government investigators testified they didn’t believe a word of the five confessions. On the first ballot the jury unanimously brought in a verdict of not guilty. After a telephone conversation with Washington, the government withdrew the charge against Rosenbluth.

During his pre-war forestry service in upstate New York, Rosenbluth had conceived the idea of teaching Dannemora Prison inmates woodcraft and from the experience derived an interest in social work. He now pursued a career in that field in Chicago. He showed no bitterness over his ordeal, saying of his designation as the American Dreyfus, “This I never said or believed.” He married, had two sons, and lived to a ripe old age.

Henry Ford never wavered in his beliefs. Months after Hitler’s conquest of Poland and the commencement of the Second World War he told an acquaintance there really wasn’t any war at all going on. “There hasn’t been a shot fired. The whole thing has just been made up by the Jew bankers.”

In the spring of 1945 soldiers under the command of Buddy Cronkhite’s old classmates of the West Point class of 1915, Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, liberated Hitler’s concentration camps. The founder of the Ford Motor Company sat with one of Ford’s first woman executives, Josephine Gomon, to view newsreels of what the soldiers discovered. When he saw the piles of corpses and the few walking skeletons of what would be called the Holocaust, he was then and there taken by one of several massive strokes he suffered. “He never recovered his mind or physical strength,” she wrote, and in a little while Henry Ford was dead.