HOWARD EPSTEIN: BLACK POTS AND KETTLES? HECKLE AND COUGH
This is rich: a German company affecting an ethical business model.
I am not referring here to I G Farben, to whom Israeli prime minister Netanyahu turned for three new submarines that the IDF regards as supernumeraries. That is, of course, the same I G Farben that used no less than 75,000 slave labourers (many of them Jewish) during the Nazi era. Now, submarines might not be your thing any more than they are mine, but we can both relate to such household names (and their WWII slave labour workforce numbers) as BMW (50,000), DaimlerBenz/Mercedes (40,000) and VolksWagen (12,000).
It is surprising to see how modest was the demand for forced labor by the manufactory of the PeoplesCar, given that some seventy years on (in 2014) they were caught in a vast act of deceit, contrary to the environmental protection laws of the USA. Quite apart from the malevolence of surreptitiously carrying out the gassing of human beings (something at which the Germans have a great deal of experience), they surely have to admit also to stupidity if they were so deluded as to think that the truth would not out in the end. That is the same mind-set as employed by those complicit in The Final Solution – basically the whole of Germany, or did they really think that their Jews were being sent east for a more wholesome way of life. See what I mean? Delusional or complicit.
Well, we all know now about Auschwitz and Sobibor and Treblinka, don’t we? It was all going on – those goings-on that involved pushing or tricking our flesh and blood into the gas chambers – behind the closed doors of Nazi-occupied Europe. Why then would the great gassing attack in the world’s city streets – but particularly those of the USA – not be detected sooner or later by the likes of the EPA? Of course, in the end it was; and it is going to cost VW some tens of billions of dollars in fines in the USA alone. That may be considered by some to be cheap for deploying “defeat” software to hide the fact that VW engines emitted nitrogen-oxide pollutants up to forty times what is allowed in the US! Last time the Germans indulged in mass gas experiments, they lost the shop – and the war and East Germany for almost half a century. Don’t these people ever learn?
And do not think that VW are alone in Germany with their unethical business practices. Volkswagen (again), Daimler and BMW are going to be paying billions of Euros in fines for breaking EU anti-trust laws following the revelation last July of a car-cartel between them to keep prices artificially high. That is apart from the class action suit against BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche launched in Canada for a billion Canadian dollars in damages and an additional CA$100 million in punitive damages.
These, note, are just the devious, duplicitous and fraudulent German companies that we know about. There must be many truths yet to be unearthed about others (such as I G Farben, perhaps) that should worry any politician doing one-on-one deals in that business environment.
Against that backdrop, we now turn to the manufacturer of the world’s best-selling stubby assault weapons: Heckler & Koch, which is, as you know, a German company. Their wares are used by every self-respecting security agency on the planet and have the distinction of having shuffled Osama Bin Laden off his mortal coil.
But enough of bloodshed for a moment. Think of the German town of Oberndorf, in the green and picturesque Neckar Valley, where the narrow, sparkling River Neckar winds its lazy way through the Black Forest in one of Germany’s most enchanting corners. Ah! How bucolic, wholesome and decorous an image that evokes! Consider Oberndorf a little longer, however, and more disturbing details emerge.
In 1811, Friedrich I of Württemberg installed an armaments factory in a disused Augustine monastery of Oberndorf. Throughout the 19th century, tens of thousands of bayonets and rifles were made there and, upon the foundation of Germany by Bismarck in 1871, two of its employees, brothers Wilhelm and Paul Mauser, set themselves up in business there. For decades, the Mausers equipped entire armies and, at its industrial peak, the company employed some 11,000 workers in the town. By WWII, Oberndorf had become important to the Führer. He demanded 70,000 Mauser rifles a month and they were delivered, with the help of – you guessed it – 5,000 slave labourers (many of them Jewish).
After the war, the company became Heckler & Koch and prospered, with a whole range of weapons regarded as the gold standard for accuracy and reliability.
All has not been plain-sailing for Heckler & Koch, however. The company is battling a lawsuit with two former employees over an alleged illegal deal with Mexico, and a German television documentary alleged that there is another transaction with the Mexican government which should be investigated, for the Mexicans allegedly paid Heckler & Koch €1.2m for “technical assistance”. The German government went into Three Wise Monkeys Mode, and H&K have declined to comment save that The Guardian newspaper in London received an email from H&K stating:-
“Legality and conforming to weapons and export guidelines are our economic foundation – without these, no export licence, no commissions. All our employees are aware of that. For everything else: we follow the political directives, we don’t make them.”
That was back in July 2014. Since then – last week in fact – it became clear that Heckler & Koch has had a change of heart. The company’s annual report last August carried the news that the company has pledged no longer to sell arms:
“into warzones or to countries that violate corruption and democracy standards, including Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, or any African countries” and “the firm had withdrawn from the crisis regions of this world [which was] confirmed at an annual general meeting in August”.
What was that? Did someone just mention Israel? Did Heckler & Koch just drop the Middle East’s only democracy, founded and grounded in the rule of law, with an aggressively free press, into the basket of the deplorables?
One might assume that the new ethical policy of H&K had been brought on by a pang of conscience, but it is hard to justify the use of that phrase in the same sentence as “German industrialist”, much less “German manufacturer of weapons”.
OK. Let’s be kind and concede that H&K should be applauded for introducing morality into the German business world. About time too, many would say, but 1933 would have been a better time to start. And it would be more convincing if it did not ignore the fact that the IDF is the most ethical army in history. Who said that? British Army Colonel Richard Kemp (ret.) and if you don’t who he is and why he said it, you had better Google him. So should Heckler and Koch. And next time they have an annual general meeting some truly ethical shareholder should heckle and cough at the company’s vacuous sanctimony. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Pots come no blacker than the German variety and kettles come no whiter (howsoever impure we may sometimes be) than the Israeli variety.
And as for Israel’s armaments requirements, it is time for Israel Military Industries to revive the Uzi as a world-beater. It has lost sales to the Heckler & Koch models in recent years, but the future holds no fewer conflict zones than the past. H&K is famous for its “No Compromise” reputation for accuracy and reliability. It is clear what Israel Military Industries have to do: raise their game and, given the lead that Israeli arms and military technologies have over their competitors in many spheres of activity, it is clear that it is quite capable of doing so.
This would not be the first time that excluding Israel from a market has caused it to become that market’s leader. The refusal of the British to supply parts for the tanks it had sold Israel just when it needed them most, in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, was a blessing in disguise. It led to the development of the Merkava tank now in its fourth iteration and generally considered in the top three tanks in the world (which is more than can be said for contemporary British tanks). So let us await events and not be surprised if ultimately Heckler & Koch’s decision returns to haunt them – along with the ghosts of their slave labourers.
Coda: I am sorry if you think I have been too beastly to the Germans. The antidote is here:
© Howard Epstein, September 2017
The author’s book, Chaim Weizmann: the Indispensable Zionist is available now:-
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