Jacobsen, Annie. “Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America”, Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
America’s Secret Programs
The world was in quite a state after World War II and the American government faced a lot of decisions including those about the fate of the Third Reich. There were some scientific minds in Germany who were the brains behind the Nazi war machine. Thus began what came to be known as Operation Paperclip—a long, covert project to bring Hitler’s scientists and their families to the United States. Many of these men had been accused of war crimes while others were tried at Nuremberg. One was convicted of mass murder and slavery yet these very men were also directly responsible for major advances in rocketry, medical treatments, and the U.S. space program. Was American a participant in moral outrage with Operation Paperclip and did it help this country in the Cold War?
Author Annie Jacobsen drew on exclusive interviews with dozens of Paperclip family members, colleagues, and interrogators, and with access to German archival documents (including previously unseen papers made available by direct descendants of the Third Reich’s ranking members), files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and dossiers discovered in government archives and at Harvard University “to follow more than a dozen German scientists through their postwar lives and into a startling, complex, nefarious, and jealously guarded government secret of the twentieth century”. She gives us a controversial look at a government program and we see how shady our government can be in the name of national security.
Jacobsen exposes the government both critically and comprehensively as she shows what happened, that it happened and she puts everything into proper perspective. We read about the lies and the deceit of a period of history that is often overlooked. There are “passages of immorality, duplicity and deception, as well as some decency and lots of high drama. How Dr. Strangelove came to America and thrived, told in graphic detail.”
Under Operation Paperclip, more than a thousand Nazis were brought to America right after the War. They then “helped develop rockets, the NASA program, chemical and biological weapons, aviation and space medicine and many other weapons of mass destruction. The Joint Chiefs of Staff requested that they be brought here and government officials who endorsed the program believed that by letting them come to the United States they prevented their going to the Soviet Union. Most who came were accused of war crimes and/or found guilty at Nuremberg but America wanted them to work for this country and their terrible pasts just did not seem to matter. Opposition to the program began to gain momentum with the scientific elite of this country. Albert Einstein publicly denounced the program and even write to the President, Harry Truman saying that he and his group, “hold these individuals to be potentially dangerous…Their former eminence as Nazi Party members and supporters raises the issue of their fitness to become American citizens and hold key positions in American industrial, scientific and educational institutions”.
Operation Paperclip devolved into a US government-sanctioned safe harbor for “more than a hundred SS thugs and cold killers”. Werner Von Braun, for example, today has a performing arts center named after him near the rocket center in Huntsville, Alabama but who during the war showed little concern for the thousands of concentration camp workers who built his rockets in the death mills of the underground mines called the Mittelwerks. Rather than stand trial for his inhumanity, von Braun was brought to American and treated like a celebrity, his horrific past notwithstanding”.
Jacobsen gives us name after name and with great detail shows us the rationalizations for bringing these scientists/murderers into this country. The result is that this is a troubling book in its honesty and it is a warning for those who believe that national security forgives the past or even that the national interest is more important than morality. Indeed, it is just the opposite.