Friend and foe

Tales of ques­tion­able al­lies book­end Se­cond World War

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Barry Craig

APESSIMIST is some­one who sneezes and thinks it’s a pan­demic. Any­one who tack­les these two books may feel equally dis­heart­ened. For if Op­er­a­tion Pa­per­clip and The Pope and Mus­solini are gauges of hu­man con­duct, then it can be ar­gued we live in the worst of all worlds: where evil con­quers good, no­body is to be trusted, things are sel­dom what they seem, cheaters al­ways pros­per, the guilty go free, rogues out­num­ber the right­eous and, there­fore, an an­tiop­ti­mistic view of mankind is both hon­est and cor­rect. But be­fore rush­ing out to buy moodal­ter­ing drugs, con­sider this: These two vet­eran, award-win­ning authors are very good, and the true sto­ries they tell are made even more mag­netic and com­pelling by their skill and schol­ar­ship. These books are worth read­ing. First in this ar­rest­ing duo is Op­er­a­tion Pa­per­clip: The Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Pro­gram that Brought Nazi Sci­en­tists to Amer­ica. Set for re­lease on Tues­day (Feb. 11), its mes­sage is clear: while war can screw up your day, it can make an even blood­ier mess of your prin­ci­ples. An­nie Ja­cob­sen’s tale is about a re­pul­sive gallery of Nazis, in­clud­ing well-known Ger­man rocket sci­en­tist Wern­her von Braun and his fel­low geeks, and how and why the Amer­i­cans brought them to the U.S. to work af­ter the Se­cond World War in­stead of lock­ing them up for­ever for war crimes. Pa­per­clip also deals with even more hideous Nazis, in­clud­ing one found guilty of mass mur­der and slav­ery, as well as doc­tors un­de­ni­ably in­volved in one way or an­other in bar­baric and mur­der­ous med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments on con­cen­tra­tion-camp in­mates. These vil­lains were also fer­ried to the U.S. in se­cret to work for the govern­ment on all kinds of mil­i­tary projects, in­clud­ing chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons. It’s easy to imagine how Amer­i­cans, par­tic­u­larly those who served (or lost some­one who served) in the war, would have re­acted had he or she been told that 1,600 of Hitler’s tech­nol­o­gists were wel­comed in the U.S. and put on the govern­ment pay­roll over 10 post­war years. Adding in­sult to in­jury, the vet­er­ans who were home from over­seas and pay­ing taxes — peo­ple who had risked their lives to help de­feat these ras­cals — were now con­tribut­ing to their pay pack­ets. No won­der the U.S. so zeal­ously guarded Pa­per­clip from pub­lic dis­clo­sure. Dur­ing the Se­cond World War, von Braun worked for the Nazis to de­velop the ter­ri­fy­ing V-2 rocket that killed men, women and chil­dren by the thou­sands, a clear vi­o­la­tion of the Geneva Con­ven­tion gov­ern­ing con­duct in war. Without him this wicked, in­dis­crim­i­nate Nazi weapon would never have been cre­ated. He ac­cepted the use of slave labour to do his work, and thou­sands died do­ing it. So why were von Braun and his cronies lav­ishly courted and brought state­side to work? The an­swer is sim­ple: the U.S. wanted their brains. Many still ar­gue that bar­gain with the devil was worth it in or­der to ward off the post­war Soviet ex­pan­sion­ist threat and outdo them in weapons de­vel­op­ment and the space race. (In later years, by the magic of pub­lic re­la­tions, von Braun be­came openly ac­cepted as a kind of san­i­tized Dr. Strangelove.) Mean­while, through­out Ja­cob­sen’s tale two ques­tions keep com­ing to mind: Is it moral­ity or leg­is­la­tion that de­ter­mines who is right and wrong in war, or is it the win­ners who ar­bi­trar­ily de­cide? And do ben­e­fi­cial con­tri­bu­tions to a win­ning democ­racy can­cel out any pre­ced­ing con­tri­bu­tions to a los­ing dic­ta­tor­ship? Pa­per­clip will help read­ers make up their own minds. The Pope and Mus­solini is a pre­war tale, telling how a Ro­man Catholic pon­tiff and a vain and am­bi­tious politi­cian helped each other to achieve their goals, then went cold on each other in the end. Like Pa­per­clip it, too, is the story of moral ex­pe­di­ency. Kertzer’s book cov­ers the pe­riod from 1922 to 1939, de­tail­ing the re­la­tion­ship of Ital­ian dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini and Pope Pius XI. They ex­er­cised an in­ter­est­ing if cyn­i­cal quid pro quo: The church played an im­por­tant role in bring­ing the Fas­cists to power and sup­port­ing them, while Mus­solini, among other things, agreed to make the Vat­i­can in Rome a city-state and the small­est na­tion in the world that it re­mains today. Ac­cord­ing to Kertzer, the church’s of­fi­cial ver­sion of what went on be­tween the two men — that the church fought tooth-and­nail against the Fas­cists — is a fa­ble. His seven years of archival in­ves­ti­ga­tion, says Kertzer, un­veiled over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence that the re­v­erse of the church’s ver­sion of events is the un­bri­dled truth. Even more in­ter­est­ing is the dis­clo­sure that Car­di­nal Eu­ge­nio Pa­celli, a close con­fi­dant of the pope, did Mus­solini’s bid­ding, ig­nor­ing Pius’s last in­ten­tion be­fore he died to pub­licly ex­pose the Ital­ian leader as a Hitler stooge and anti-Semite. At the re­quest of Mus­solini, the car­di­nal erased all ev­i­dence of the ru­inous speech the pope had been about to give that might have de­stroyed il Duce. With world war just over the hori­zon, guess who be­came pon­tiff three weeks later? Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill said that in war the most im­por­tant truths are pro­tected by a “bodyguard of lies.” There’s no war in Pa­per­clip or in The Pope, but there are body­guards. There al­ways are. Barry Craig is a re­tired jour­nal­ist and for­mer

in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter liv­ing in Win­nipeg.


In this Sept. 28, 1938, photo, Ital­ian dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini (left) Adolf Hitler take a ride be­fore a con­fer­ence in Mu­nich, Ger­many.

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