March 2, 2008

Truth and Reconciliation

by PG

From Freeman Dyson's excellent NYRB review of Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War, by Michael J. Neufeld:

The author of this book condemns von Braun for his collaboration with the SS, and condemns the United States government for covering up the evidence of his collaboration. Here I beg to differ with the author. War is an inherently immoral activity. Even the best of wars involves crimes and atrocities, and every citizen who takes part in war is to some extent collaborating with criminals. I should here declare my own interest in this debate. In my work for the RAF Bomber Command, I was collaborating with people who planned the destruction of Dresden in February 1945, a notorious calamity in which many thousands of innocent civilians were burned to death. If we had lost the war, those responsible might have been condemned as war criminals, and I might have been found guilty of collaborating with them.

After this declaration of personal involvement, let me state my conclusion. In my opinion, the moral imperative at the end of every war is reconciliation. Without reconciliation there can be no real peace. Reconciliation means amnesty. It is allowable to execute the worst war criminals, with or without a legal trial, provided that this is done quickly, while the passions of war are still raging. After the executions are done, there should be no more hunting for criminals and collaborators. In order to make a lasting peace, we must learn to live with our enemies and forgive their crimes. Amnesty means that we are all equal before the law. Amnesty is not easy and not fair, but it is a moral necessity, because the alternative is an unending cycle of hatred and revenge. South Africa has set us a good example, showing how it can be done.

In the end, I admire von Braun for using his God-given talents to achieve his visions, even when this required him to make a pact with the devil. He bent Hitler and Himmler to his purposes more than they bent him to theirs. And I admire the United States Army for giving him a second chance to pursue his dreams. In the end, the amnesty given to him by the United States did far more than a strict accounting of his misdeeds could have done to redeem his soul and to fulfill his destiny.

March 2, 2008 6:01 PM | TrackBack
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