Biddle, Wayne, "Science, Morality and the V-2," New York Times, 2 October 1992, p. A31.

 

Biddle, Wayne, "Science, Morality and the V-2," New York Times, 2 October 1992, p. A31.

"(Washington) - After Hitler watched his first rocket-engine test, in March 1939, he raised a
glass of mineral water and barked, "Es was doch gewaltig," which more or less meant, "That was
something else!"

"His tour guide that day, a 27-year old military researcher names Wernher von Braun - Junker
scion, quintessential Aryan and rather crazed about space travel for a grown-up - spent several
hours trying to explain the basics of rocketry to the unimpressed Fuhrer, who did not feel the
need for anything so futuristic in order to conquer Europe.

"When they met again four years later at Wolfsschanze, Hitler's headquarters, the Third Reich
required a wonder weapon. Von Braun brought along a movie of a missile he was perfecting that
could carry one ton of TNT across the English Channel. Hitler ordered 12,000 of them.

"Around 6,000 V-2's were eventually built, at an average cost of about $18,000 each (some
20,000 slaves died to make this bargain rate possible). More than 500 hit London, killing more
than 2,700 civilians. They did not save Hitler's hide, but they later guaranteed von Braun's safe
passage across the Atlantic, where he found wonder weapon work again under the auspices of the
U.S. Army From then on, the moon's unblemished days were numbered.

"When marking the legacy of Wernher von Braun, as officials of the German Government and
aerospace industry hoped to do tomorrow to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the V-2's first
successful launch, historians fall into two groups: those who applaud him as a space pioneer and
those who condemn him as a Nazi. The delicate fact that he was both has not tended to knit the
two groups together.

"During the glory days of the American space program, von Braun was such a celebrity that it
may surprise many Americans to learn that he held the rank of major in the SS. The twin peaks of
his career would seem to be mutually exclusive, yet he thrived until his death in 1977 as few
technologists could ever hope to do.

"Historians continue to plumb his innocence or guilt, just as they ponder whether the Manhattan
Project's physicists, who created the atomic bomb, were saints or sinners. By intellectual
tradition, scientists are inclined to divorce their profession from whatever dark social forces
surround it, through modern catastrophes must made this seem awfully naive to laymen.

"Von Braun always maintained that the Wehrmacht was just a "golden cow" he had milked for
the sake of scientific advancement, an evidently acceptable excuse to his American colleagues.
He was also fond of quoting Oswald Spengler, the Weimar-era reactionary modernist who
preached that "his knows only the success which turns the law of the stronger into the law of all."

"This ever-seductive credo may explain the furor that arose in Britain as word spread of the V-2
commemoration, ultimately forcing the German Government to cancel its participation. German
nationalism is again causing anxiety in Europe, as neo-Nazi rioting aggravates relations already
strained by cracks in the Maastricht treaty.

"Some Germans may welcome the idea of celebrating the V-2 as an expression of rejuvenated
confidence. Others may find it a well-meaning attempt to come to terms with the past. Many
more may see it as simply tactless. But everyone must admit that planning a high-profile
celebration of anything associated with Nazism would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
There will no doubt be more, and Germany's neighbors will feel compelled to decide whether it's
a sign of national health or sickness.

"As for Wernher von Braun, perhaps he is trapped forever between Wolfsschanze and the moon,
much the way his homeland is caught between the past and the future."