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Wernher von Braun

Posted By: joe freedman
Date: Thursday, 3 December 2009, at 2:40 a.m.

In Response To: Wernher von Braun (mamabear)

My sympathy lies less with whatever "suffering" WVB endured at the hands of his critics, and more with the concentration camp slaves who worked for him, and the thousands of Londoners who lost their lives, limbs, and/or families to his handiwork.

I'd be interested to know what the "charges" were against WVB, what type of prosecution was mounted, what evidence was presented, and what conclusions were drawn. Did he or didn't he knowingly use slave laborers from a death camp? Did he or didn't he knowingly design rockets intended to inflict maximum casualties on civilian populations on behalf of an insane Fuerher?

Did he seek to redeem himself by compensating his victims or their families? In what way was his appearance at the German consulate in New Orleans (the embassy is in DC) an act of courage.

Whether you call him hypocritical or apolitical -- to my knowledge, WVB did not distinguish himself by any courageous or generous actions. Rather, he acted as most people would, which was to preserve his life and career. He was lucky that his skills were in such strong demand, unlike, say, Albert Speer*, whose crimes were no more heinous and contrition perhaps more sincere.

True, most heroes may be tainted to a greater or lesser extent, but at least they have done something heroic. Sure, Socrates, Washington, Lincoln, Obama**, and even Lance Armstrong -- they all have their faults. But there are some who don't seem to be significantly tainted: e.g., Joan of Arc, Helen Keller, Lou Gehrig (now, there's a hero), Einstein (well, I guess his wife might not have agreed).

*Apparently, Speer was a strong supporter of WVB and his efforts. From Speer's book, "Inside the 3rd Reich" --

[Albert Speer told Adolf Hitler about the A-4 rocket, on 14h October, 1942. Hitler was excited by the news as he was convinced that he now had a weapon that would win the war.]

The A-4 is a measure that can decide the war. And what encouragement to the home front when we attack the English with it. This is the decisive weapon of the war, and what is more it can be produced with relatively small resources. Speer, you must push the A-4 as hard as you can! Whatever labour and materials they need must be supplied instantly. You know I was going to sign the decree for the tank program. But my conclusion now is: Change it around and phase it so that A-4 is put on a par with tank production. But in this project we can use only Germans. God help us if the enemy finds out about this business.

[Is it reasonable to think that WVB did not know how his creations would be used?] ** Included only to see if Riles is reading

PS: The facts of WVB are in some dispute, according to the interesting and seemingly balanced entry in wikipedia. What is not in dispute is that WVB personally selected slave laborers, was a member of the Nazi party and of the SS. To be sure, all under pain of unemployment or worse. Understandable? Yes. Heroic? I don't think so. But maybe there is reason to find WVB guilty of hypocrasy, not apoliticism. I refer to his statement:

"We knew that we had created a new means of warfare, and the question as to what nation, to what victorious nation we were willing to entrust this brainchild of ours was a moral decision more than anything else. We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.”

A moral decision? Please. More likely, a decision not to entrust himself to the tender mercies of the Red Army. More likely, a calculated decision to go where his talents would be in demand and well compensated.

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