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When is a conspiracy theory not a theory?
December 27, 2006 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Hitler's Carmaker:
While GM was mobilizing the Third Reich, the company was also leading a criminal conspiracy to monopolistically undermine mass transit in dozens of American cities that would help addict the United States to oil.
--Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust explains why the U.S. dependency on oil is no accident. Not everyone agrees, of course.
posted by craniac (38 comments total)

 
Aw, come on, everybody knows Volkswagen was Hitler's car.
posted by wendell at 11:26 PM on December 27, 2006


A self-Godwined FPP. Not the first, but worthy of the hook on its own lack of merits. 5...4...3...2...
posted by paulsc at 11:27 PM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


As a boy there was conspiracy in the air about this... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddington_tram_depot_fire
posted by mattoxic at 11:31 PM on December 27, 2006


In terms of a corporate spreadsheet, buses make more sense than light rail. If you need a new line to support a new area, then if you've got enough buses for it and roads are in place, you're good to go.

The roadbed is expensive, but the bus company doesn't pay for it. For a trolly, though, they not only have to buy cars (for about the same money as buses per unit carrying capacity, so that expense is a wash when comparing the two) but they also have to lay track, which means the capital cost is vastly higher, and it will take a long time before they can start providing service.

Roads and tracks both wear out and both have to be maintained. But road maintenance is not paid for by a bus company. Track maintenance is an expense for the trolly line, because they own the track and no one else uses it.

So if a mass transit corporation wants to support a certain number of riders from a certain geographical area, buses are much cheaper.

But still not cheap enough. There are hardly any private bus companies any more. Nearly every major mass transit system in the nation now, even bus-based, is supported by a massive government subsidy because they cannot survive solely on fares. But if they tried to run trollies, they'd be even more expensive. (No one ever accused the MTA of running efficiently.)

There are people who see conspiracies behind everything that happens that they don't like. But that doesn't mean it's true.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:31 PM on December 27, 2006


So if a mass transit corporation wants to support a certain number of riders from a certain geographical area, buses are much cheaper.

Alternatively, do as the automotive industry does and pass on the capital costs for roads, maintenance, and military-based energy acquisition on to the public.

If the subway and streetcar folks had only figured this out before the GM-led cabal, our energy and war policies might have been dramatically different today.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:38 PM on December 27, 2006


. Nearly every major mass transit system in the nation now, even bus-based, is supported by a massive government subsidy because they cannot survive solely on fares.

Whereas highways pay for themselves!

Oh wait... roads cost upwards of a million dollars per lane-mile, and often run far higher than that, and that is just for initial construction.

You undermined your own point.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:48 PM on December 27, 2006


The thing is, the conspiracy was pretty well documented, it's just arguable whether it made that much of a difference compared to the increasing popularity of the automobile.

I still find GM's late involvement with Opel, through the placement of U.S. executives on the board of directors, rather interesting, in a creepy sort apolitical, transnational megacorp sort of way.


The company's 1939 annual report, released in April 1940, stated: "With full recognition of the responsibility that the manufacturing facilities of Adam Opel A.G. must now assume under a war regime, the Corporation has withdrawn the American personnel formerly in executive charge… and has turned the administrative responsibilities over to German nationals."


However, GM was still masquerading. By the summer of 1940, a senior GM executive wrote a more honest assessment for internal circulation only. He explained that while "the management of Adam Opel A.G. is in the hands of German nationals," in point of fact, GM is still "actively represented by two American executives on the Board of Directors."

posted by craniac at 11:48 PM on December 27, 2006


Yes, I'm sure that it was a huge nazi/oil industry/car industry conspiracy that put all those disposable incomes into the hands of US citizens after the war! Brilliant!

I know, let's lose a war in a truly dramatic, Wagnerian conflagration so that the winner, who comes out relatively unscathed compared to the rest of the world and has a massive remaining manufturing base and vast natural resources to take up the slack, has an enormous economic boom and thereby becomes dependent on a consumer culture! Huzzah! What a great plan Adolph!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:00 AM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


undermining mass transit would be good business sense for GM.

It's really hard to add mass transit after the fact (especially rail), so it's good business sense for an auto maker to put forth every conceivable argument against it.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 12:42 AM on December 28, 2006


You undermined your own point.

Not at all. I began my post with the words "In terms of a corporate spreadsheet..."

Highways cost millions. So do railroad tracks. But back when trolly companies and bus companies were still private endeavors, the critical difference between them was that the bus companies didn't have to pay for the highways, whereas the trolly companies did have to pay for the rails they used.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:45 AM on December 28, 2006


explains why the U.S. dependency on oil is no accident.

No accident? Are you kidding? Is there some conspiracy between Fat Kids and Cake?
posted by delmoi at 12:54 AM on December 28, 2006


Perhaps they like cake?
posted by cytherea at 1:18 AM on December 28, 2006


Those scheming fat kids.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:26 AM on December 28, 2006


I'm in L.A., and, like everyone else, I still drive over some of the old embedded rail. I saw the 60 Minutes story years ago, and I've tried to scratch a little deeper on the public transportation conspiracy.

And I don't know enough to dispute that rail was slow, street-clogging and a money drain. But someone's got to explain to me why those harmless, regular business Joes at GM, Phillips, Standard and Firestone got together to anonymously buy up failing rail lines.
posted by toma at 3:25 AM on December 28, 2006


Give a look at how much you are spending in insurance, maintenance and gas for each mile. Can't do the math ? Too bad !

Another missing link in the evolution of transportation : car sharing, taxi sharing.

But no no no run we are losing 10 precious minute ! Hurry !
posted by elpapacito at 4:35 AM on December 28, 2006


Disclaimer: I come from a city with a functional, extensive, and useful (though grossly misgoverned) tram system, in addition to hundreds of kilometers of suburban railway lines and bus routes. And more hundreds of kms of bike tracks; but I digress...

Public transit never seems to make all that much sense for private enterprise. As a company, you're either one of a number of aspiring monopolies that aim to own all routes to everywhere (rarely to the public's benefit) or else you're tasked with trying to sell yourself to people who want you to take them somewhere you don't go.

Public transport ought to be free, as a tax to rich people who want to reduce the impediments to their BMWs on the way to their first board meetings in the morning.

Basically trams are great if you have wide streets or any free trunk space through areas (such as riverbanks, powerline reserves, etc.), and if you need to transport people as opposed to freight.
posted by imbecile at 5:44 AM on December 28, 2006


Public transport ought to be free, as a tax to rich people who want to reduce the impediments to their BMWs

Nice idea, imbecile ! I got a better one...the poor people wake up at 5am, get the pt , reach office at 7am or at 8am and I get my BMW (nice choice) at 8:15 , at 8:30 I get a Blowchocollate with the Hooters waiters , at 845 I say "wow the workers are busy working I love off peak" and 900 I reach office and fire you for proposing such an amusing notion of ME, my majesty paying for the service YOU use.

Why do you hate freedom ?
posted by elpapacito at 5:59 AM on December 28, 2006


The thing is, the conspiracy was pretty well documented, it's just arguable whether it made that much of a difference compared to the increasing popularity of the automobile.

Well said. That GM did actively work to dismantle streetcars in many cities, some of which had healthy streetcar systems that might have survived the domination of car culture, isn't seriously doubted by historians who've looked at this, is it? I mean, generalized arguments about transport aside, the specifics of at least a minor "conspiracy" (in the literal sense) have been fairly clear for a long time now.
posted by mediareport at 6:22 AM on December 28, 2006


The conspiracy to get rid of mass trasportation is hardly a new revelation. I saw a video about this at the Trolley Museum in Connecticut. There was a trial and finally, the heads of the company were found guilty and punished with a dollar fine!

As for working with German (Nazi) govt: many firms did this, including IBM, and thus waht we should learn is that corporations become a law unto themselves and that therefore governmental oversight and control and regulations are necxessary, despite what conservatives and GOP dudes say.
posted by Postroad at 7:52 AM on December 28, 2006


A self-Godwined FPP. Not the first, but worthy of the hook on its own lack of merits. 5...4...3...2...

Ugh.

Godwin is the new Hitler.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:40 AM on December 28, 2006


>"Public transport ought to be free..."

In a nearby town, bus rides are free. Expecting the number of cars in town to triple in 20 years, they chose a wiser course than building roads, that integrated bicycles, satellite parking, and free bus rides. They saved money over road construction and maintenance costs, and reaped many social and environmental benefits that don't show up on a balance sheet - reduction of noise and air pollution; mobility for the handicapped; free wheels for the poor; improved safety for bicycle riders and walkers, etc.
posted by crispynubbins at 9:34 AM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh sure, anything sounds terrible if you couple it with Hitler. Gasohitler, Public Transportahitler, Hitlermobile, hitlerpuppys and ice cream.
We can’t simply take public land away from oil and auto companies to make a buck on. Where would our tax money go? You see, we own the roads. That’s why we pay for the privilege of driving on them, and buy equipment to pay for the privilege of driving on them. If you took away that right, we would no longer need the cars to drive on the roads and then the government would have to find something else to spend that tax money on. Probably abortions. You can’t walk on a set of train tracks. Oh sure, it might be more green to ride your bike to the train, but that would take away free will. You see, with a train, you’re locked onto the tracks and you can only go where the train goes. Whereas with a car, you can drive wherever the road takes you.

Seriously tho, I think it’s just the self-styled conservatives that seem to be missing the concept of “low overhead” and having a central pool. More equipment costs and such perhaps, but the results or lack thereof are more structured and tangible. You can’t point to the truckers union and say they’re using heavier trucks which screws up the road and the cops aren’t enforcing it and that’s why my buddies wife’s company is getting all the repaving business. You have the track, stations, and the trains. Plus the power generation can be more localized. (I must say I see a lot of outdoorsy self-styled liberals 4 wheeling all over the countryside) Here in the heartland our state transportation dept. is more crooked than...well, than can be defined really. I have no clue where all the cash from the tolls goes (and up until recently I was using nothing but Necco wafers). I have the same issues with this that I have with the collusion between the defense contractors and government. Business is business, but there are certain things that should be in the public trust. (And really, the highways were supposed to be for the national defense as well.)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:02 AM on December 28, 2006


(And someone sold Hilter on the autobahn idea even though you couldn’t run war effort trucks on it).
posted by Smedleyman at 10:07 AM on December 28, 2006


Well, Brooklyn does have at least one free novelty trolley. There's also the free shuttle to IKEA. Many areas have free shuttles from population centers to local malls. Google has a free bus from SF to their offices. There are business improvement districts providing free buses in some towns. Light rail has gone up in Newark and Houston in the past few years. Just sayin'.
posted by phooky at 10:08 AM on December 28, 2006


the free shuttle to IKEA.

IKEA is Nazi, too
posted by matteo at 10:33 AM on December 28, 2006


There are people who see conspiracies behind everything that happens that they don't like. But that doesn't mean it's true.


Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.
posted by norm at 10:40 AM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


I guess I also found it interesting that Edwin Black was writing about this as opposed to the black helicopter crowd, thus mainstreaming the debate a bit.

For me, buses running every 15 minutes are markedly more convenient than those running every 30 minutes. That seems to be the chronological tipping point.
posted by mecran01 at 10:57 AM on December 28, 2006


For me, buses running every 15 minutes are markedly more convenient than those running every 30 minutes. That seems to be the chronological tipping point.

Excellent point. I've noticed this with the subways in NY, where daytime they are incredibly convenient and easy, but off-hours the delays can render them painfully annoying.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:07 AM on December 28, 2006


If we start shunning corporations that do business with murderous dictators the economy will collapse and we'd have to start making our own clothes and shoes, growng our own food, etc. It might be better to socialize them.

Smedleyman, references for your statement that one can't run "war-effort trucks" on the Autobahn please? Assuming they're much like U.S. interstates, we see military trucks around here frequently. Have superhighways changed or have trucks?
posted by davy at 11:20 AM on December 28, 2006


I liked the part of the article about the . I've always found it quite funny that movie Nazis are always shown in Mercedes trucks, despite the fact that it was actually GM who motorised the Wehrmacht, and with a vehicle very similar to the Chevrolet trucks of the Allies...Clearly, GM's PR department has been busy, busy, busy in Hollywood...
posted by Skeptic at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2006


...the part of the article about the Opel Blitz, I meant to write...
posted by Skeptic at 11:34 AM on December 28, 2006


“Assuming they're much like U.S. interstates...”

They weren’t. The way they were graded back then, no shoulders, the ramps were still cobblestone, etc. Lots of historians agree the Nazi’s mobilized before they had the industrial base to support a war effort on the scale they were planning.
In parts you could run heavy military vehicles and cargo over it, but not for long stretches. Decent enough for troop transport, but otherwise crude and not up to the network the U.S. (later) created. (There’s a piece from History Today called “The Autobahn Myth” by Uwe Oster, but you have to pay for it to get it)
At the end of the war the Autobahn was only about 2,000 km long. Most of the heavy equipment (artillery peices, machinery, other freight) and even troops were hauled on trains in Nazi Germany. Which would be, I suspect, part of our disenchantment with trains - the need for mobility in time of war (trucks, actually). Not that the autobahn wasn’t used and proved of some value to the Nazi war effort, but that was out of necessity.
(Plenty o’ dissent & propaganda here and more than you’d ever want to know on the construction project and the influence of the rail system, etc. etc.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:13 PM on December 28, 2006


IKEA is Nazi, too

Explains why the holocaust was made out of flimsy pressboard.
posted by dr_dank at 12:51 PM on December 28, 2006


mecran01: For me, buses running every 15 minutes are markedly more convenient than those running every 30 minutes. That seems to be the chronological tipping point.

Tacos: Excellent point. I've noticed this with the subways in NY, where daytime they are incredibly convenient and easy, but off-hours the delays can render them painfully annoying.

To be fair, unless you are riding the J, M, or G, even at night the subway is not running every 30 mins. I know it feels that way, sometimes.

Also, there is, it seems to me, a great difference between buses and rail--the latter isn't, or is less, subject to traffic. I know if I were to live somwhere where the public transportation were only bus-based, I'd be more tempted to get a car (if I'm going to be stuck on traffic, it might as well be in my own vehicle). So I wonder if the nature of buses has to do with the failure of public transportation in many cases.
posted by dame at 1:15 PM on December 28, 2006


I have heard before that the U.S. highway system was designed to mobilize armor and provide landing strips in case internal dissent needed to be quelled quickly. Guess I'll have to go find the source for that and post it here. This thread has been more interesting ad snark free than I thought it would be--thanks all.
posted by mecran01 at 12:11 AM on December 29, 2006


Godwin is the new Hitler.

Hitler's corollary to Godwin's law:
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of Godwin's law being invoked to suggest that the argument has been conceded approaches one."
posted by Luddite at 3:12 AM on December 29, 2006


You know who else used to invoke Godwin's law?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:14 PM on December 29, 2006


I'll never get over how dependent America is on cars.

For someone like me who uses public transport exclusively I'm thankful that my city has such a well developed rail system.
posted by Talez at 1:04 AM on December 30, 2006


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