Review – Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen

History is a funny thing – the more you know, the more you realise that you don’t know. Prior to reading this book, I considered that I was a reasonably well-read person on the ins and outs of World War 2, and I was aware on some level of the Operation Paperclip (originally named Operation Overcast) activities following the defeat of Germany in World War 2.

Undeterred by this, I was interested to learn more, particularly given that this was a recent title, rather than something written contemporaneously. From reading the book, it is now apparent that with the passage of years, and the declassification of many documents, more of the whole sordid story is coming to light.

I’m not going to lie, the deeper I got into this book, the madder I got. Not at the book, or the author, but at the actions of the US military, as depicted in these pages. It is somewhat difficult to maintain the moral highground, I feel, on the one hand trying many war criminals at Nuremberg, while recruiting, or attempting to recruit many many more, because they were useful, or could provide valuable skills for the US’s own war making.

Probably the most well-known, or most celebrated of the Operation Paperclip scientists recruited and brought to the US was Werner Von Braun, whose wartime V2 rockets essentially were the basis for America’s journey into space. One might look at his post-war achievements, and all that these brought to the US, and humanity generally, but it is hard to overlook the fact that he was a member of the SS, and worked in plants and factories which were responsible for the deaths of prisoners.

But Von Braun is only the beginning of the story, and there were many other scientists, and engineers who were spirited out of the country, or left to work in secret in country. People with horrendous, criminal track records, many of which were white-washed for the sake of military convenience.

I suppose looking back that the argument could be made, and is addressed by the author, that if they weren’t recruited by the US, then they would have been by Russia. And that they were doing the only expedient thing by doing this. Certainly there is some merit in preventing the other side from gaining access to the scientists and creators of such technology, but I can’t help feel more than a little anger at what was done, or overlooked, nonetheless.

Operation Paperclip is an excellently researched, up to date history book, and is very educational with respect to the conduct of war, and the conduct of peace. I certainly look forward to reading more books by this author.

5/5 stars

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