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Response to Review no. 909

Thank you for your invitation to contribute to your journal. I am sorry that I cannot reply at length to every request, but I am grateful for your interest. May I comment briefly that Professor Laney seems to have spent considerable time contemplating my book, as well as others on the subject, for which any author ought express appreciation. Not all readers would be as generous in recommending the titles she footnotes (for example, the astronomer Tom Gehrels called the Stuhlinger/Ordway biography ‘Nazi propaganda’ in the review pages of Nature (1)). There is a degree of naiveté about her observations, however, that I fear would be immune even to the uncomplicated rebuttal they entail. Perhaps this is inevitable when a paradigm shift occurs in historical narratives, which she acknowledges in the first paragraph of her review. She finds my story jarring and I find her provincial. History is not physics – thank goodness – so this kind of disjunction may last an inordinate time. But the history profession for which Professor Laney presumes to speak unilaterally needs to account for its part in why Wernher von Braun was too often romanticized and why his co-operation with the Nazi regime was not as well-known as it should have been, to use Professor Laney’s words. When the United States government classified a large archive about his life for more than three decades after the Second World War, why did so many historians and journalists roll over? Sadly, the Cold War years were filled with such injustices of the record, of which von Braun’s case is of relatively minor import. In America, especially, there is perennial tension, often with political overtones, between triumphalist historians (and journalists) of science and technology and those who approach the field with a critical eye. I dare say that Professor Laney and I are on different sides in this regard. I might also venture, following Professor Gehrels’s lead, that her review amounts au fond to an unsavory kind of propaganda.

Notes

  1. Tom Gehrels, ‘Of truth and consequences’, Nature, 372 (December 1994), 511–2.Back to (1)