Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I finished reading OPERATION PAPERCLIP: THE SECRET INTELLIGENCE PROGRAM THAT BROUGHT NAZI SCIENTISTS TO AMERICA by Annie Jacobsen last night. It took me awhile to get through because this was one of those books that I read aloud in its' entirety to my lovely wife Judy. We can both enjoy a book that way. I had previously read Jacobsen's AREA 51 a few years back (also aloud) and liked her work. This new book doesn't disappoint.

The first part of the book, which takes place as WWII is coming to an end, is full of the kind of stuff you would find in a 1940s pulp science fiction novel, except it's all true. The amazing arsenal of wonder weapons that Nazi Germany had developed (or were developing) was incredible. If Germany could have somehow put all of this advanced (and deadly) technology to work against the Allies, history might have taken a different turn. V-2 rockets, "buzz" bombs, biological weapons, nerve gas, weaponized plagues and diseases, the list goes on. The Third Reich employed a small army of scientists to develop these weapons and used countless slaves (taken from various concentration camps) to construct them.

But when Germany surrendered, the Allies, especially the United States, were still conducting war with Imperial Japan. In the spring of 1945, no one knew how long that conflict might possibly last and it was deemed imperative that the U.S. military take possession of as much of the Nazi weapons program as possible in the event the weapons were necessary to defeat Japan. This involved taking possession of not only the hardware itself but the plans and designs and the brains who conceived these things. A mad dash to capture as many German scientists as possible was under way.

Of course, the war with Japan ended in August, 1945 when the U.S. deployed two of our own wonder weapons. But even with the threat of Imperial Japan neutralized, there was still the danger posed by the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin, our once ally now become a deadly foe. The Soviets were also grabbing as many Nazi scientists as they could and the U.S. was forced to play keep up in this new arms race.

Many (if not all) of the captured German scientists had ties to the Nazi party. Many of them had the blood of innocents on their hands. Many were tried as war criminals at Nuremberg and some were sentenced to death. But many of the ones who weren't executed were given special visas to come to the United States where they were put to work on various projects including rockets, guided missiles, nerve gas, biological weapons, mind control drugs (including LSD) and other top secret endeavors. In short, the United States government, our armed forces and various intelligence agencies, made a deal with the devil to bring these men and their families to America, house them, feed and clothe them and put them to work under various government contracts.

The program was code named Operation Paperclip and for years, many of the documents and files pertaining to this program were classified. It's only been in recent years that the scope of the program has become known as various material has been declassified. There are still files that remain sealed and many that simply do not exist anymore.

Jacobsen does a great job tracing the careers of many of these scientists and doctors. Men like Werner Von Braun (the father of the American space program and a childhood hero of mine) are among the various characters covered in the book. Some men worked in the United States for the rest of their lives while a few of the more heinous ones were eventually deported.

The book raises the age old question: when does the end justify the means? Was the development of the U.S. space program, advances in aerospace medicine, the development of drugs and vaccines and other accomplishments, worth the price of paying some very bad men to do it while we collectively looked the other way? Jacobsen, and most of the sources quoted and interviewed in the book, say no. But the genie is long out of the bottle. The postwar landscape of the Cold War dictated a new kind of combat and the men involved in Operation Paperclip (both Americans and Germans) played a vital part in fighting that war.


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