[by Earl Blacklock] Henry Ford was an extraordinary man. Founder of the Ford Motor Company, he developed the assembly line which completely transformed manufacturing. An inventor, he held 161 U.S. patents, and his Model T made road transportation affordable to the working class. He spoke to princes and presidents, and counted Thomas Edison as his friend.
Henry Ford was also an anti-semite, publishing and supporting outrageous claims of a Jewish world-wide conspiracy. And he was a fool. Nowhere was this more evident than his underwriting of a Peace Ship to transport pacifists to Europe in December of 1915. His intent was to try to stop World War I by arousing public opinion.
The war had already been raging 16 months, and Americans were outraged at the sinking six months earlier of the passenger ship Lusitania by a German submarine, killing 1198. Nevertheless, there was little support for the U.S. to enter the war, and Ford was among those who argued for neutrality. He went further, however, believing that if America were to throw its weight behind a neutral commission engaged in “continuous mediation”, the war could be quickly brought to an end.
In early December, Ford met with President Wilson, urging him to appoint such a commission, and he offered to finance it. Wilson told Ford that while he supported efforts to mediate between the warring parties, he couldn’t tie himself to any one approach. Ford thought the President timid, a “small man” who was missing a tremendous opportunity. He told Wilson that he had chartered a steamship, and he would act on his own.
Ford invited every important politician and luminary in America to come on board his Peace Ship (the Scandinavian cruise ship Oscar II), but no one of any prominence accepted his invitation. Thomas Edison came by to talk to his friend, but declined to accompany him. Someone brought on board a number of squirrels, presumably because of their affinity for nuts.
The ship set sail with Ford’s promise that he would have the boys out of the trenches “by Christmas”. Instead, the Peace Ship’s 40 “delegates” divided into factions and spent the voyage bickering. The reporters on board reported there were blows, free-for-all fights, and even pistols drawn.
When the ship docked at Oslo, one delegate told reporters “We are divided”, and he proceeded to shake his fist in another delegate’s face. Another delegate said “The spirit of the devil is in this meeting”. Ford, who had spent most of the voyage lying sick and discouraged in his stateroom, was spirited out of Oslo to return to his worried family.
What a contrast between Ford’s idea of “peace” and those of God. King David – himself a man of war – understood the difference. In Psalm 85:8-9, he said “I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints– but let them not return to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.”