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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - An award-winning historian drew parallels between IBM’s cooperation with its assistance of the genocidal Nazi conquest of Europe to modern Big Tech companies that squelch free speech as well as monitor and shape behavior through computer technology.
Church Militant interviewed best-selling Edwin Black about the dangers Big Tech poses to civil liberties and the future of the United States. Big Tech consists of the world’s most dominant information technology corporations: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. As a chronicler of misdeeds by for-profit and nonprofit corporations, Black said he has long been concerned about what he sees as their overarching control over business and politics in the United States and much of the world.
Apart from a career as an investigative journalist, Black has written best-selling books exposing nonprofits and businesses. In War Against the Weak, for example, he linked the American eugenics movement and ethnic cleansing of the early 20th century to their flowering in Nazi death camps, while in Internal Combustion, he showed how shadowy agreements between corporations sabotaged alternative energy and vehicles and resulted in dependence on petroleum.
Twenty years ago, Black published IBM and the Holocaust, which exposed how IBM assisted the Nazi regime before and during World War II in organizing all six phases of its racist extermination program and the Blitzkrieg. Black described in his book, which has been translated into numerous languages and used at the university level worldwide, how IBM assisted the Nazis in warfare and the identification, exclusion, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation and extermination of Europe's Jews. This was made possible by IBM’s celebrated CEO, Thomas Watson Sr., who operated from his New York City office through European subsidiaries.
Black has shown that without IBM, Nazism's victims would have been far fewer. As he reiterated in a recent syndicated article, it was IBM that helped the Nazis actuate the "industrial, high-speed, six-million-person Holocaust, metering ghetto residents out to trains, then carefully scheduling those trains to concentration camps for murder and cremation within hours, thus clearing the way for the next shipment of victims, day and night." It customized IBM programs that organized the pauperization, transportation and extermination of Nazism’s victims while ensuring "that the trains ran on time."
In 1933, Adolf Hitler began planning the extermination of Jews and his other enemies. To put the dictator's plan to identify and destroy his victims, there were no computers. But IBM and its Hollerith system of punch cards were available to Hitler. IBM was the Big Tech of its time and would later become a titan in information technology. It was IBM punch cards that could store information about people, places and processes based on how the characteristic holes were punched into rows and columns. The cards were then fed into high-speed readers and, Black wrote, created "something which had never existed before — organized information.
IBM, therefore, offered to the Nazis the ability to "not only count the people in a room," he wrote, "but also count how many men, how many women, how many Jews, how many Christians, how many had blonde or black hair ... every trait." Every Nazi concentration camp, Black demonstrates, had an IBM customer site to assist in genocide. He wrote, “IBM has proven that some corporations can get away with murder and still function with impunity.”
Black has drawn a direct line connecting Nazi-era IBM and its crimes to the Big Tech firms of today. He wrote that the public's fear of Big Tech’s ability to “surveil, censor and control our lives” around the world has piqued interest in “IBM and the Holocaust.” In January, the book was one of the top 10 books of any category on Amazon, and rocketed to #1 in WWII history, as well as military history, company profiles, and Jewish history. When he was asked whether he saw any similarities between the historic IBM and Big Tech of today, he said, "The parallels are manifest and frightening."
Previewing a dark future, Black wrote that people need but look at IBM's history of aiding Hitler before computers existed. He wrote, "Now is the time to ask what a Hitler-type regime could do today and how quickly with today’s high-speed hand-held technology?" He wrote that IBM punch-card tech delivered personal information to Nazi murderers, whereby the "Information Age was not born in Silicon Valley, but in Berlin in 1933," thus producing the "individualization of statistics, identifying and quantifying a specific person within an anonymous count."
“IBM and many Big Tech companies have used their technology to assist foreign governments, principally China, in oppressing, suppressing and repressing their people.” While identifying communist China as Big Tech’s principal beneficiary, Black said that China is using its social credit system and information technology in its “genocide of the Uyghur people and the subjugation of Hong Kong.”
“We should be outraged by this,” Black said, “but because we weren't sufficiently outraged, Big Tech saw the opportunity and, not just IBM but Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon web services, to allow its worst activities to get a beachhead in the U.S.” Reviewing the political scene, Black said, “Big Tech unforgivably manipulated the presidential election by molding and filtering our information, and in large part, preventing our communication about what we needed to know.”
“In other words,” he said, “like IBM in the Holocaust, Big Tech filtered society along its own lines. With Big Tech, the difference there was that IBM did it for money, what they have done in China was for money. What is being done in the U.S. is for political purposes.” He said, “Soon, that means that Big Tech will go beyond being just a tool of government and society, it will be a master of government and society. It will happen with a merger: they will be the junior partner, and the junior partner will move into the driver’s seat.”
In 2018, Black coined the term "digital ghetto" to describe how facts and history can be deleted with the click of a button to the benefit of corporations and partisan causes. Unelected governors and anonymous decision-makers ensure that news with which they disagree or wish to conceal is not heard or emphasized. In his conversation with Church Militant, he cited as an example how China has imprisoned 1 million Muslim Uyghur people, subjecting them to rape, torture and summary execution, with little publicity.
China's communist government leads the world in manipulating news and social media, while it has also deployed a “social credit” system to further control its people. The social credit system is a series of interlocking databases that monitor and assess the behavior of nearly everyone in China. The communist government assigns its approval in the form of a credit score that, for example, affords priority in health care and housing for high scores, and punishment for low scores. Widespread video surveillance and cellphone tracking in China has expanded the reach of the government and threatens basic rights.
When Black was asked whether Americans should be concerned about Chinese-style technological controls, he said “All the surveillance and invasive control is no longer around the corner, it’s in our pockets” in reference to ubiquitous cell phones.
The phone is actually a computer attached to your body, he said, adding that phones can track their bearers within a room and interact with home computers and televisions. “When I was growing up, we worried about the knock at the door. Today you’ll have to worry about the ring of the phone,” Black said.
"If Apple and Google can disconnect platforms that they don’t like from their servers and their app stores, how long will it be before they decide people may not use their phones?" he asked.
Even worse, Black said that Big Tech may soon start running transportation with Apple and Google systems and autonomous vehicles: "They could strike you from their platforms, unplug you from their servers, deaden phone lines and restrict your ability to run from it all in a vehicle."
To address what he sees as a threat to democracy, Black said that the various Big Tech corporations should be designated as utilities.
"Twitter, Facebook, web services, communication platforms, whether they are left, right or in-between: the Facebooks of the world don’t have the right to make the decision about our communications. They must be broken up and reduced to regulated utilities, like the telephone company."
Black will discuss the threat posed by unregulated social media and Big Tech on his weekly online program, where he and his guests have discussed issues such as geopolitics, history and new authors.