You have an excellent magazine and I have enjoyed being a loyal reader for many years. The latest edition of your publication had an article on the V-2, which was of special interest to me because I am writing a book on the legacy of Wernher von Braun and the German Rocket Team. I did my MA Thesis in History on the von Braun Team in 2001 and I decided to revisit the subject this year.
Since I completed my Master’s Degree, a plethora of articles, books and documentaries have been produced discussing how we should reevaluate von Braun in light of his work for the German military in building the A-4/V-2. Mr. Tillman references this reality when he noted the civilian casualties from the V-2 in Britain and Western Europe. In my research I have found this issue doesn’t seem to bother the current critics of von Braun. They focus on the use of slave labor at the Mittelwerk (Mittelbau/Dora) as being his cardinal sin for which he should be judged as, at best, an amoral opportunist and, at worst, a Nazi war criminal who should have been imprisoned or executed.
This subject matter is still quite controversial for those I have interviewed who worked with the von Braun team in Huntsville. There are those who are passionate defenders of von Braun and his team and there are those who are very critical with strong negative opinions about the team. Rarely have I found a “moderate” opinion on this subject. This is one reason why I appreciated the even-handed manner in which Mr. Tillman discussed the V-2 as a weapon and as a preview in what was to come for the exploration of space.
I am still caught by surprise when I encounter strong emotional reactions to this subject 70 years after the war ended. Most of the American people are not aware of Operation Paperclip. The majority of those who have heard of Paperclip only know of it in connection to von Braun and his team. We haven’t had an open, informed public discussion about the ethics of bringing more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, technicians, etc., and their families to the U.S. after the war. One of the best books I have read on this subject is journalist Annie Jacobsen’s “Operation Paperclip” even if her opinion of von Braun is colored by the influence of noted critic Michael Neufeld. This is an issue I’m addressing in my book about how we arrive at a realistic and balanced judgement of von Braun and his team.
This is a subject that started in WWII but was heavily influenced by the political and strategic realities of the Cold War. Walter Boyne’s article, “Life Among the Nukes: A Cold War Warrior Remembers,” provided a personal perspective on how dangerous that era was as we faced the very real possibility of global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. It’s surreal to know we had almost 32,000 nuclear weapons (1966) while the Soviets built an astounding 55,000 by 1986. I’m not sure how we were able to survive the Cold War without annihilating all life on this planet but I am thankful.
I appreciate the time, effort and passion you put into each issue of Flight Journal. It is one of the few publications I get that I read from cover to cover and then reread again in the future. My special thanks to Mr. Tillman for writing about the V-2.
Robert Carver, New Orleans, LA
Wow! We love getting letters that broaden our understanding so much. Thanks. BD