The winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his series in the New York Times on the "Star Wars" missile defense program, Wayne Biddle here investigates a question that has long haunted the U.S. effort in the space race: How active was German rocket engineer Wernher von Braun in the Nazi Party and in the use of slave labor? And how much did the Truman administration cover up to make von Braun clean enough for the postwar U.S. missile program? Biddle finds in von Braun a blinkered opportunist who could only apply tunnel vision to his meteoric career, which stands as an archetype for many 20th-century technologists who thrived under regimes of military secrecy and unlimited money.
"Biddle's primary purpose is to debunk the view—created at least in part, Biddle believes, by von Braun himself—that he was merely a pawn in the Nazi regime whose work on the V-2 weaponry was secondary in his own mind to his goal of building rockets to send humankind into space. While much of von Braun's role in the Nazi Party is shrouded in darkness, the facts and circumstantial inferences that Biddle finds convincingly contradict von Braun's self-exoneration regarding his wartime work. Biddle offers damning evidence—including testimony by slave laborers that puts von Braun inside the V-2 factory and well aware of, and participating in, the brutal treatment of the workers. Biddle also criticizes the U.S. space program for its embrace of von Braun despite his documented membership in Hitler's SS corps."—Publishers Weekly