Wernher von Braun was behind the creation of rockets in Germany but later came to America to help jump-start the space program which includes putting man on the moon. He faced numerous accusations of Nazi collaboration during his life and still does today. For example, a book recently published called, “The Dark Side of the Moon” makes an allegation.
Mike O’Hare reviewed the book for New Scientist…
“The consensus arose that he was as much an unwilling victim of the Nazi war machine as those killed by his V2 rockets. His cause was obviously aided when, after the war, he was headhunted by the “right side”, avoiding retribution in Europe by being deployed on the US’s space programme.
So it’s fascinating to read Wayne Biddle’s deconstruction of this aura of acceptability in Dark Side of the Moon. This is a man, Biddle points out, who was the son of a Prussian aristocrat, a prime candidate for the SS of which he was a member, and happy for slave labour to be used in his Nazi missile programme.”
Von Braun studied mechanical engineering at the University of Berlin. Albert Einstein was in contact with him by answering his questions in a letter. He had a PhD in physics by 1932. Rocket science was a strange concept back then, but Von Braun found the German army appealing because it had a unique small rocket development program under Walter Dornberger.
“Stuhlinger explains the army connection: “The situation of the young rocketeers was similar to that of the aviation pioneers when the airplane could only be developed because of military support” (Ordway, p. 24).”
In October 1942, the first successful rocket was launched. This got Hitler’s attention, and Nazi intrusion began to grow. After a very successful attack by the British in 1943, Hitler ordered production of the rocket underground. Himmler, who had visited the Peenemünde center the previous summer, tried to recruit von Braun but when it was rebuffed, the Gestapo arrested him in the middle of the night and was kept in jail for the next two weeks.
He was then tried in court by the Nazi regime where he was accused of not having any intend to use rockets for war rather for space travel only. He was also accused of spying and trying to escape. Hitler was convinced by others, the rocket science could not progress without its main scientist. Von Braun was then released. The Nazis gave him two choices, either cooperate or be shot. Yes, people were critical of his decision when faced with life or death and yes it was a mistake to cave in to the Nazis.
As far as Mike O’Hare from New Scientist, he presents lame evidence on Von Braun embracing Nazism which is more like guilt by association. The only reason why these liberals attack him is because he went to America where his work in peaceful conditions is still felt today. I say this because Nature one of the major science journals gives Qian Xuesen special treatment. He’s the one who learned to make rockets in the US, later on he went to China to help jump-start their program, let’s look at the difference this guy gets than what Von Braun had to endure.
Nature tried to give multiple attempts to exonerate Xuesen from any allegations of cooperation in communist ideology. Qian Xuesen did have an impact on America’s science program as well. However, Xuesen believed he had been wronged by America so he joined the communist party. By going to China where Mao was mass murdering people, about 77 million, Xuesen remained in good standing. He wasn’t arrested or threaten with violence.