The Paperclip Conspiracy

The landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in July, 1969, is widely regarded as an unequivocal triumph of American science and technology. It mattered little that some of the most famous and revered names associated with American space craft, rockets, and missiles were not only German, but also names that had formerly appeared prominently on lists of Nazi party members, even including the notorious SS. Most prominent among them was Werner von Braun, whose last contribution to the German war effort, the V-2 bomb, might have changed the course of the struggle had it appeared a few months earlier--a little-remembered feat that prompted satirist Mort Sahl to suggest that the film based on von Braun’s life, “I Aim for the Stars,” should have been subtitled, “But Sometimes I Hit London.”

There is precious little humor otherwise to be gleaned from this sordid story, so simple in its outlines yet so much more damning than the Iran-Contra or Watergate scandals. The outlines and origins of the conspiracy, which the author notes is a charge easy to bring but, until recently, hard to document, are in fact familiar: German science and technology were so far superior to those of the Allies during the war that the outcome really was in doubt until quite late. The first third of Bower’s book convincingly details both German superiority and, more significantly, Allied awareness of its source: gifted leaders such as von Braun and their teams.

As the war...

(The entire section is 408 words.)