Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher Von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race Hardcover – 3 Nov 2009
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"[Biddle] assembles facts, omissions, or inconsistencies in von Braun's postwar accounts of the V-2 that cast doubt on von Braun's minimization of his knowledge about the concentration camp where the missile was constructed...A stern, prosecutorial portrait of the famous German American rocketeer." -- Gilbert Taylor
About the Author
Wayne Biddle won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times reporting on the "Star Wars" anti-missile project. He has written three nonfiction books and is a member of the writing seminars faculty at the Johns Hopkins University. He lives near Baltimore, Maryland.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book also shows how after the war the US Government turned a very blind eye to the Nazi activities of Von Braun and his boss, General Walter Dornberger. And not just the US government; at least one British learned institution honoured Von Braun in the early 1950s. The book makes clear how Von Brauns charisma, flare for self promotion and showmanship allowed him to exploit not only Hitler and Himmler but also three US Presidents.
Having said that, I found the book difficult to read for one overpowering reason, that is that the footnotes, instead of being more conevntionally simply referring to sources, are in numerous instances whole tracts of texts, often stretching to half a page.Read more ›
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Who knows for sure what happened or what is in the heart of a man? What is certain is that von Braun used both the German and US government to satisfy his desire to build rockets, but that is not news either. The Americans wanted to believe his innocence in WWII atrocities and Biddle claims this has been covered up; but seems to present no new evidence. What he does write are many snide comments and innuendos such as commenting on von Braun's arm cast, when he was captured, saying it resembled the `party salute'; he states Redstone Arsenal was well on its' way to resembling Peenemunde and then states Cape Canaveral shows a remarkable resemblance as well.
Biddle dismisses von Braun's arrest during the war as a lucky break...`no one has been inclined to shed light on the story`s factual basis or historical context', even stating the recollections of Albert Speer might not believed concerning this episode where von Braun claimed pressure to join the SS.
I found this book to be sadly lacking any new information and much of what is written becomes contradictory.
The first question is easy, obviously he to some extent knew what the Nazis were doing. The second, and the one this book focuses on, is the harder question to answer. Von Braun was always evasive, at times contradictory, and reluctant to talk about pre-1945.
The reasons may be: 1. He wanted to forget the horrors of the war, 2. He was ashamed that he couldn't or didn't change things at the time, or 3. He was more part of the Reich than he admitted. If #3 is true, perhaps he changed, and perhaps he didn't. He left virtually nothing to answer these questions. Ultimately, Biddle's book doesn't contain any smoking guns, and most of the circumstantial evidence is already known, but it does cause doubt.
Taken as a whole, Biddle's argument seems to point to Von Braun hiding things. But which of the three reasons were behind his evasiveness? Was it really #3? We may never know. However, our acceptance of thousands of Nazis, and the blackout of their pasts (some of which were problems), is a troubling part of our history. How did we choose which Nazis to prosecute and which to protect?
What many are looking for nowadays regarding Wernher von Braun, Peenemeunde, and NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center, is an in-depth technical history, more akin to Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Inside Technology) by Donald Mackenzie. But as a 'rocket scientist' myself who has developed weapons for my own country, the USA, the past 30+ years, I find Biddle's "j'accuse" without merit.
The author presents a fairly convincing case for the former, though frankly, that's fairly easy to do. Clearly, Von Braun knew what was going on at the Dora camp where most of the V2 production effort was going on. He was also clearly willing to use the military to advance his supposed interest in the peaceful use of rockets.
Much less convincing is the latter charge. The author's contempt for Von Braun is so great that any statement in praise of his brilliance is met with suspicion or downplayed. Part of the problem is that the author decides to end his story not long after Von Braun comes to the US. Certainly, the many still living people involved in the US Space Program who owe Von Braun no particular obligation could tell us exactly how great a genius he was or wasn't. Also peculiar in this, is the lack of focus on the actual development of the A4 (V2). The author takes great delight in telling us about the bumbling of the German rocket enthusiasts (including Von Braun) earlier efforts but doesn't talk much about how they eventually did succeed in delivering a working rocket that while not a great success as a weapon did succeed in becoming the basis of very successful weapons.
The author is further hindered by his own underlying sketicism toward science and technology (in the intro, he finds interest in Von Braun's US work "fetishtic" when of course, that's the whole reason he's still remembered at all). I suspect he has a leftist distrust of science and scientists, one can almost hear Keith Olbermann doing the book on tape and sneering at Von Braun's discussion of space travel.
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