In her new book, "Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America," writer Annie Jacobsen condemns actions taken by U. S. Presidents and military leaders. To say it's a flawed piece of work is a gross understatement.
Throughout the book, the author carefully weaves Wernher von Braun, his rocket team and their work in with the chemical and medical experiments done by other German scientists, giving the impression that recently declassified material criminalizes those who created the revolutionary V-2. Why is von Braun selected as the principal figure in this book? Why? Because von Braun's name sells books. It's that simple.
The author quotes and thanks Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum curator Michael J. Neufeld as her primary source for information on von Braun and his team. Neufeld is the curator responsible for collecting, preserving and interpreting space artifacts related to the work of Wernher von Braun and his team in providing the boost that sent American astronauts to the moon. Why is a Smithsonian curator permitted to contribute to a book that condemns the actions of our national leaders at war's end?
Few of the lurid charges, rumors and elevator conversations cited in Jacobsen's book have been substantiated, even with this recent declassification of so-called secret intelligence material.
Numerous false statements and quotations are noted throughout Jacobsen's book. These include von Braun's alleged speaking of "milking the golden cow" and others' descriptions of him being "born again," "snobby," "conceited" and acting like "a celebrity or congressman." In the 1960s, the NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center's Public Affairs Office determined that most such quotes were false. Many were attributed to von Braun by writers seeking to discredit him out of their general dislike of that era's Germans, for whatever reason.
Jacobsen writes that "von Braun had sold the U.S. Army on hiring Walter Wiesman, a Nazi public relations officer who had done some work in a Peenemunde valve shop. Von Braun called him an 'eminent scientist.' In reality Wiesman learned engineering in America working for the Army." The truth is, Wiesman never worked in any technical field. Many of us in Huntsville worked side by side with him at NASA's Marshall Center in protocol, training and public relations. In retirement he continued his work with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. He never was considered a "scientist" or "engineer."
Why do some writers today believe we were wrong in permitting German scientists and engineers to migrate to the U. S. after WWII? Why does Jacobsen boldly state von Braun and his team were Nazi extremists? Von Braun worked for the regular German Army. It was wartime, and no one said no to the Nazis and lived. He did not volunteer to be a member of any Nazi organization. He did not attend Nazi meetings, nor did he strut around in a Nazi uniform. He discussed such demands that were made of him with his immediate associates. Without hesitation they advised him to give in to those demands, if they all were to survive.
He had no control of operations for production of V-2s in the Mittelwerk tunnels 250 miles from Peenemunde. He had nothing to do with selecting or supervising the laborers who worked there on the V-2 and other weapons. His responsibility was exclusively the development of the rocket and its advancements.
Writer Jacobsen did not mention that six U. S. presidents confided in von Braun, sought his counsel and honored him. During the 1960s, a time when we were engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy sought von Braun's advice on how the U. S. might defeat the USSR in space. Kennedy took his advice, challenged the nation and told the world, "We choose to go the moon." The President came to the Marshall Center in September 1961 to meet with von Braun. After observing a Saturn rocket test, he asked von Braun, "Are we going to beat the Russians to the moon?" Von Braun's response: "Yes, Mr. President, we are going beat the Russians to the moon and we are going to do it within the time frame you set."
President Kennedy regarded von Braun so highly that soon after that visit he and First Lady Jackie Kennedy invited Dr. and Mrs. von Braun to dinner at the White House
President Dwight D. Eisenhower named him the first director of NASA's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama. The center's namesake, the President's comrade and closest friend, contributed mightily to the defeat of the Germans in WWII.
Von Braun was awarded the President's National Medal for Science in 1975. In 2003, more then twenty-five years after his death, he was voted by world-wide aerospace professionals as the second-most-influential person in the history of aerospace, second only to the Wright Brothers.
Despite all the documentation reviewed in depth for this massive study of America's leadership at the end of WWII and von Braun's involvement in Nazi affairs by Jacobsen, she could not hold von Braun morally responsible for the grim realities in which he, and countless others in similar straits, found themselves immersed.
Today, the missile defense system we depend on is based on technology developed by the von Braun team of German-born and American scientists and engineers at the U. S. Army's missile center, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama – an unmatched think-tank team of technologists.
If not for this von Braun team, we in America could very well be speaking Russian today. German brainpower, American leadership, passion and pride put American astronauts on the moon and established a defense system that protects our nation.
Ed Buckbee, an author, lecturer and historian, has been associated with the U.S. missile and space programs for five decades. Buckbee began his career in 1959 as a U.S. Army officer at the Army Ordnance Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal. Al. and later, joined NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center as a public affairs official. He is director emeritus of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and founder of U.S. Space Camp. Buckbee worked with the von Braun team for fifteen years. As the Space Center's first director and curator, he established the Wernher von Braun collection and has collaborated extensively with historians in the U.S. and abroad. Buckbee is widely known in the U.S. as an advocate of human spaceflight.