Remembering Wernher von Braun on his 100th Birthday: Blog Repost

I published a blog post on the National Air and Space Museum this morning on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wernher von Braun. For anyone who might be interested in  reading that post it is here. I wanted to introduce some balance to the heavily celebratory posts I have seen elsewhere. Comments?

This entry was posted in History, Personal, Space, World War II and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Remembering Wernher von Braun on his 100th Birthday: Blog Repost

  1. keithcowing says:

    I found your balance to be a refreshing alternative to the festive mood of quasi denial everyone seems to be in and made prominent mention of your post on


    • launiusr says:

      Keith, thanks so much. I was chagrined by the overtly celebratory discussion that I saw on-line yesterday. That drove me to write what I hope is a bit more balanced assessment. Certainly, Wernher von Braun was a truly important advocate for space exploration, as well as an effective and charismatic leader of several rocket programs. He also had a less positive side to his role as a rocketeer for Hitler’s Germany in developing the V-2 as a ballistic missile; a weapon that was built by concentration camp labor which the Nazis employed as a terror weapon. I don’t think that story should be left out of the discussion.


  2. mike shupp says:

    Perhaps I’ve hit the wrong websites, but all the stories I’ve seen about von Braun lately — or even in the last forty years — have given quite a bit of attention to his Nazi past, usually in a rather unbalanced fashion, jumping from his Peenemunde career to NASA as if there were nothing in between. And of course this ignores the 15 years he spent working for the US Army — a longer period then he spent working for the Wehrmacht — designing and building intermediate range ballistic missiles.

    There’s a more complicated story here than anyone is eager to tell, in other words, about a man who spent most of his life wishing to build spaceships but who could only approach that goal through building advanced weaponry. And the thing that makes horribly relevent is that several million other engineers in the Soviet Union and in the United States and elsewhere made the same choice in the course of the Cold War, but by the grace of God or the workings of chance escaped confrontation with the implications of their choice. (More or less — I still find myself reflecting wryly now and then that B-1 bomber, which got so much of my attention for three or four years, has been used so far only to kill thousands of Moslems rather than the millions of Soviet citizens it was supposed to incinerate in WW III.) Well, we were lucky. I’m not sure the Lord’s Recording Angels, if such there be, would put all of us down as innately more virtuous than von Braun and his associates; I’m not sure all the citizens of the nations which employed us rocket makers have automatically earned higher marks than every single soul which grew to adulthood within the Third Reich. Let me suggest von Braun’s life should inspire in each of us an awareness of “The but for the Grace of God…” If nothing else, it should make us contemplate the moral complexities humans had to face during the 20th Century, and today.


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