Why does the United States Air Force, in their teaching materials provided to ICBM missile combat crew at Air Force Global Strike Command, present such a sympathetic portrayal of former Nazi scientist and SS officer Wernher von Braun, and why does the Air Force limit their discussion about Nazi involvement in the U.S. space program to “only one man,” von Braun?
The reason is simple, but shocking to many, as the history has been largely covered-up, or relegated to out-of-print history books: the U.S. missile program, and much of its military science program in the post-World War II period, was imported wholesale from the Nazis, including their leading scientists.
A jaw-dropping new article by Jason Leopold at Truthout discusses the use of Christian religious ideology in the teaching of the Air Force nuclear missile combat crew. As outrageous as that fact is, a further search of FOIA documents linked in the Truthout article shows that the reference to Von Braun in an Air Force slide presentation on “Ethics” is no anomaly. The documents include a revisionist history of the U.S. missile program, presented as a series of readings provided to students in the class that trains the operators of America’s nuclear missile arsenal.
According to Leopold, “The Air Force documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provided to Truthout by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a civil rights organization.”
(Disclosure: I have worked closely with Jason Leopold on a number of articles at Truthout, including on DoD human experimentation policies, the administration of drugs to Guantanamo detainees, the SERE-linked CIA/DoD torture program, and revelations surrounding DoD’s Joint Forces Intelligence Command’s aborted search for Osama bin Laden and intelligence about pre-9/11 attack planning that included the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.)
In one of the Air Force documents, titled “Space History,” “chapter one” of an “Air University Space Primer,” there is a brief discussion of the U.S. recruitment of Von Braun, who went on to become the director of the Development Operations Division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and later the head of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. The Air Force’s track record in covering-up their history with Nazis is on display at Von Braun’s biography at the Marshall Space Flight Center website, which mentions his involvement with the development of the V-2 rocket at Peenemünde in Germany.
The MSFC biography cites the use of “forced labor” at the factory, but never mentions that Nazi slave labor from the Dora concentration camp involved over 60,000 slave laborers, or that 20,000 of them — Jews, Russian prisoners, Poles, French partisans, and more, including an African-American U.S. soldier — died in the underground Mittelwerk V-2 rocket factory, where Von Braun was a key figure, some of them publicly hanged for “sabotage.” The site only notes, “Scholars are still reassessing his role in these controversial activities.”
According to the Air Force’s “Space History,” “German rocket development… between 1932 and 1945 involved only one man, Wernher von Braun.” The Air Force deletes from history Arthur Rudolph, the Operations Director and engineer at Mittelwerk, another key Nazi brought to the United States after World War II as part of a top secret program known as Operation Overcast, and later Operation Paperclip. As we shall see, he is only one figure among scores disappeared from the Air Force record, which presents Paperclip as primarily an operation to bring Von Braun and a few co-workers to America and save precious technology from falling into the hands of the Soviets. Moreover, outrageously, it is presented as a religious decision.
Arthur Rudolph and Operation Paperclip
According to a website that documents the history of the Dora concentration camp:
Faced with shortages of labor, Arthur Rudolph, the chief V–2 production engineer, in a memo of April 12, 1943, recommended that the missile program at Peenemünde adopt the exploitation of SS camp labor like that he saw at an aircraft factory. The first prisoners arrived at Peenemünde on June 17. Following the Royal Air Force bombing of the site, von Braun, technical director of the V–2 project, chaired a staff meeting on August 25 that recommended producing missiles underground with camp labor.
Rudolph became technical head of V–2 production at the underground Mittelwerk factory; he and von Braun requested that the SS provide more prisoners for V–2 production, most clearly in an August 15, 1944, memo in which von Braun described his trip to the Buchenwald concentration camp to select prison workers and arrange their transfer to Dora….
Despite the complicity of some engineers, the United States did not include the engineers in the 1947 Nordhausen trial or any other war crimes trials. As later US citizens, von Braun and Rudolph later earned awards for work on the Saturn V launch vehicle that took men to the moon.
By 1950, Rudolph, safe in the United States, became director of the Pershing Missile program at the Ordnance Guided Missile Center at Redstone Arsenal. Meanwhile, ignored was Rudolph’s interrogation file. After his capture his interrogator assessed Rudolph, a later recipient of the US Army’s Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, as documented in former CNN reporter Linda Hunt’s book, Secret Agenda – The United States Government, Nazi Scientists and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990 (large PDF): “100% NAZI, dangerous type, security threat… ! ! Suggest internment.” (Emphasis in original.)
Rudolph subsequently became the project director of the Saturn V rocket program.
But later, in the 1980s, an Office of Special Investigations investigation at the Department of Justice uncovered his Nazi connections and his role in the slave labor at Mittelwerk, and he fled the U.S. His case became a cause célèbre. The Germans held a bogus investigation, clearing Rudolph, and granting him German citizenship after his U.S. citizenship was taken from him.
Von Braun, of course, was famously a major Nazi figure, despite attempts to minimize his role under the Nazis. According to Hunt, Von Braun “had joined the SS at the personal behest of SS chief Heinrich Himmler and had risen to the rank of major.” He conspired with other major figures to withhold information from U.S. officers, so that the U.S. interrogator screening the rocket scientists for trustworthiness before they left Germany, judged granting these criminals security clearances was “an obvious absurdity.”
American officers in Europe were trying to locate V-2 rocket diagrams they believed were still hidden in Germany. When asked about the documents, von Braun told the Army he knew nothing about their location. Dornberger later told von Braun’s brother that Army officers didn’t trust von Braun and that officers had even told him that von Braun had lied to them. Von Braun then sent a map to his family in Europe showing the location of a burial place where sketches stuffed in a cigarette box were hidden. He told them to deliver the map to Dornberger’s wife, since the general still was being held in a British POW camp. The way this scheme was supposed to work, the documents then would be located and given to German scientists, who would turn them over to von Braun when they arrived in the United States under Paperclip.
U.S. officers reported that von Braun “apparently intended to use the location of certain hidden documents as a bargaining lever with U.S. officials.”
But, according to a Powerpoint presentation given to students in the Air Force rocket crew program, Von Braun is quoted as saying he and his colleagues gladly gave Nazi rocket documents to the U.S. “because we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.” (According to the Wikipedia webpage on Von Braun, he quote is attributed to an interview with Mike Wallace in a television biography of Von Braun in the late 1950s-early 1060s.)
The Air Force portrays Von Braun as “pressured” by the Nazis to work on their missile program. But the documentation shows Von Braun was an adamant Nazi, “joined the SS at the personal behest of SS chief Heinrich Himmler and had risen to the rank of major” (Hunt).
Rudolph and Von Braun were only part of the Mittelwerk Nazi rocket scientists transferred by Paperclip. General Walter Dornberger, the head of the entire V-2 program was also brought to the U.S. According to the Spartacus website, it was Dornberger who recruited Von Braun to the Nazi rocket program, and in 1937 took charge of the secret work at Peenemunde. The V-2 rocket became operational late in the war. From 1944-45, over 5,000 V-2s were fired on Britain. However, only 1,100 reached their target. These rockets killed 2,724 people and badly injured 6,000.”
The Atlas missile, the first U.S. ICMB missile, was based on modifications to the V-2 design.
Dornberger was interrogated by the British War Crimes Investigation Unit for the use of slave labor at Mittelwerk, and spent two years in internment in South Wales. But he was released under Paperclip and brought to the United States, where the Air Force used him in the development of guided missiles. He subsequently became a major figure at Bell Helicopters. According to his Wikipedia entry, which cites a 1957 Time magazine article, he also helped develop a surface-to-air missile for the Strategic Air Command.
Another Air Force recruited Nazi was V-2 rocket scientist Kurt Debus, who became the first director of the Kennedy Space Center in 1962, and was, according to Hunt, another “member of the SS, the SA, and two other Nazi groups.” He earlier worked as assistant technical director to von Braun at the Redstone Arsenal. Today, the the National Space Club of Florida presents an annual Debus Award “to recognize significant aerospace achievements in Florida.”
Tomorrow, Part Two considers the use of Nazi scientists brought to the U.S. as part of Operation Paperclip, expanding the coverage to those used in government military/intelligence programs other than rocket or space science, including the government mind control program known as MKULTRA.