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Dwight Macdonald

Who Is Mr. Torkild Rieber?

(July 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 16, 29 July 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

If you want to see what a REAL “fifth columnist” looks like, here’s the story of the chairman of the Texas Oil Corporation and his business deals with Franco and Hitler

There was an odd little news item buried in the back pages of the N.Y. Times the other day. Quoting recent statistics on American oil exports, the article slated that “diplomatic circles in Washington” fear that “there is every reason to believe that far more oil has been reaching Germany from America since the war started than Herr Hitler has obtained, or can hope to obtain, from Russia.” This oil has reached Germany first through Italy and then, since Italy entered the war, through Spain, whose current imports of American crude oil and gasoline are “far in excess” of last year’s figures. Already Franco has accumulated a reserve stock of almost 6,000,000 barrels and American tankers (under foreign registry to get around the Neutrality Act) bring in more every week. Thus the American business community is preparing to save democracy from the foul monster of fascism

Enter “Cap” Rieber

“Diplomatic sources assert,” continued the item, “that the Texas Oil Corporation, of which Torkild Rieber is chairman of the board, has a contract to supply the Spanish oil monopoly with most of its gasoline and crude oil. This contract is said to permit the Franco government to call for almost unlimited oil supplies.”

Torkild Rieber is no free-lance adventurer who chanced to strike a good bargain with Franco. He is executive head of one of the biggest oil companies in the country, and his dealings with Franco – and Hitler – form merely one strand of the complex web of business interests which ties Wall Street to the Rome-Berlin axis. According to a recent profile in Life, Rieber is a lusty, high-powered sort of fellow, who worked his way up from captain of a Texaco tanker to the chairman’s desk. Life is no end impressed by “Cap” Rieber, as it affectionately calls him, venturing to suggest he is nothing less than “the greatest oil man alive.” It chronicles in detail his brilliant exploits, which include opening up the great Barco oil concession in the depths of the Colombian jungle (Life says nothing of the skullduggery the U.S. State Department had to resort to before “Cap” Rieber got the concession safely put away), and a big deal which gave Texaco a large interest in the rich Bahrein oil field at the entrance to the Red Sea.

Oil for the Lamps of Franco

Life ends its profile on a fine patriotic note:

“The American industrial machine is the one force left in the world that can stand up to the German war machine, but to do so it must have the aggressive kind of industrial leadership. The nation needs able, hardboiled daring business leaders – in short, Riebers.”

Granted his ability and toughness, “Cap” Rieber doesn’t seem to fit the role of a democratic Galahad. To date, he has been a member of the other team. Life tells the story of another big Rieber deal:

“When the Spanish civil war broke out, in July, 1936, Texaco had five tankers on the high seas bound for Spain. Rieber was in Paris. He flew to Spain, took a good look around and forthwith ordered his tankers to deliver their oil to the insurgents ... For the next two years, Texaco supplied Franco with all the oil he needed, while the Loyalists never had enough. If Franco had lost, Texaco would have been out some $6,000,000. But the gamble won and not only did victorious Franco pay his bill but the Spanish monopoly is currently buying all its oil from Texaco.”

It’s a Small World, Herr Hitler

“In the light of subsequent events,” says Life hopefully, Rieber now regrets his decision to back Franco. If so, he is concealing the fact very successfully. As we have just seen, Texaco sells more oil than ever to Franco – and through Franco, to Hitler. Rieber’s relations with Berlin are extremely cordial. After the war began last fall, he visited both Rome and Berlin. His influence with the Nazis is strong enough to get all sorts of special favors for his company. He pays these back. Last April there arrived in this country a certain Dr. Gerhardt Westrick, whose official title is Commercial Counsellor to the German Embassy, and whose unofficial title is “Hitler’s ambassador-off-the-record to U.S. businessmen.”. Dr. Westrick is trying to interest American businessmen in friendly cooperation with Nazi Germany after the war. And one of his best “contacts” over here is Torkild Rieber of Texaco. It’s a small world! So small, in fact, is this world of big business that it includes even the upstanding patriots who (at a mere $1 a year, plus whatever else they can lay their hands on) are running the national defense program for our idealistic President Roosevelt. And so we find the following curious chain of relationships.

  1. On July 10, 1940, the Texas Corporation offered to the investing public $60,000,000 of 3% debentures.
  2. The banking house which is floating this security issue is the powerful Wall Street firm of Dillon, Read & Co.
  3. The president of Dillon, Read & Co. is James Forrestal.
  4. Mr. Forrestal is now on leave of absence in Washington, where he is functioning as special executive assistant to that great champion of democracy against the Nazi hordes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

A small world? It’s positively microscopic!

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