Huntsville and "The Nazi Legacy"

January 28, 2001

By Karl Grossman

It is very appropriate that the 2001 U.S. National Conference of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power In Space will be held in Huntsville, Alabama. It is the site of the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal which is up to its neck in Star Wars work and sits alongside NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center which is developing a nuclear-propelled rocket for military and civilian operations.

But Huntsville is even more than one of the nerve centers of the U.S. program seeking to make space a war zone. It was at Huntsville between the 1940s and 50s that the U.S. space military program was born--largely concocted by former rocket scientists from Nazi Germany led by Werner von Braun.

It is a key place for us to see and thus better understand what we are up against. So if you can get to Huntsville for the National Space Organizing Conference and Protest between March 16 and 18, please, please do.

As Jack Manno, in his exceptional book, "Arming The Heavens: The Hidden Military Agenda for Space, 1945-1995," writes: "The space program of today has its roots deep in the strategy of world domination through global terror pursued by the Nazis in World War II. Many of the early space-war schemes were dreamt up by scientists working for the German military, scientists who brought their rockets and their ideas to America after the war."

Here, from "Arming The Heavens," are excerpts from its first chapter:

The Nazi Legacy

Werner von Braun was a guru of the cult of space: Engineers followed him from war to war, across national allegiances, from project to project. He oversaw the creation of the V-2 rockets that served as Hitler's Vengeance Weapons, of the U.S. Army's long-range ballistic missiles, and of the NASA Apollo spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon.

When he was sixteen, Von Braun joined the German Society for Space Travel.Soon Von Braun and the Society for Space Travel attracted the attention of Major General Walter Dornberger, a branch chief of the German Board of Ordinance.Dornberger became a frequent visit to the society's launch site and one day made an offer. If the society would make its rockets available to the German army, the society would receive financial support from the government and a real providing ground, as well...

The German military had a political and much less futuristic interest in rocketry. The Versailles Treaty ending World War I had placed limits on the kinds of activities the German military could pursue. Germany was forbidden to build offensive artillery. But the treaty said nothing about rockets, a loophole through which Germany might one day rearm without violating the terms of the treaty.

Of the members of the Society for Space Travel, General Dornberger was most impressed by the charismatic Von Braun, who at the age of twenty was already leader of the group. Dornberger successfully recruited Von Braun and put him in charge of rocket development for the Army, and most of the other members of the society soon followed.

In 1933 Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came to power and quickly began the remilitarization of the German state. The German army created a new division of modern rocket weapons, and Dornberger was put in charge.Young Von Braun rose rapidly in the new fascist order.

The German army established Von Braun at the Peenemunde rocket production and testing center, where he proceeded to develop large rockets for a German balistic missile.On March 27, 1939, Hitler came to Peenemunde for a personal tour and demonstration of the rockets under development. Von Braun and Dornberger showed the Fuhrer around, impressing him with the details of their rockets' capabilities, which, they informed him, could carry a missile from Peenemunde to London.

In October 1942, Peenemunde's A-5 ballistic missile was successfully fired at a test target 150miles away. The war in Europe was escalating on all fronts. Hitler decided on a strategy of organized terror from the sky and turned to the new pilotless aircraft his scientists had developed. The buzz bombs and ballistic missiles, which he renamed Vegeltunswaffe (vengeance weapons) 1 and 2 were to be aimed at his enemies' most populous cities. Forty thousand forced laborers from concentration camps and POW camps were put to work building the rockets, missiles, and launch pads.

The successful testing of the V-2 and Hitler's decision to give top priority to the V weapons endowed the missile scientists with a new respectability and sense of importance. Walter Dornberger was promoted to the highest rank, commissioner of the Third Reich.

The V-2, the first mature offspring of the alliance between rocket technology and the will to destruction, left nine thousand Londoners dead. But the war was coming to an end, and the V-2s could no longer influence the outcome. On April 30, 1945, Hitler died in his bunker. There would be no more vengeance weapons fired in the war. The rocket works at Peenemunde had been destroyed by Allied bombing, and the rocket scientists there decided to surrender en masse to the Americans.

Representatives of the U.S. Army, Army Air Corps, and Navy, along with representatives of the major military contractors, came to Germany to enlist these scientists in their particular service or corporation. Although Peenemunde and other German rocket factories were captured and appropriated by the Soviet army, most of the leading rocket scientists, prompted by the fear that the Russians would arrest them as war criminals, had already fled toward the advancing Americans.

Like a professional sports draft, the armed services competed with each other for the right to bring the Germans home. The U.S. Army was by far the most successful. Roger Toftoy, the head of technical intelligence for the Army in Europe, had been studying the V-2s from scraps and duds that landed in Europe. He was eager to recruit the men responsible. After the Peenemunde survivors surrendered to the American forces, they were turned over for interrogation to Richard Porter, who was in Germany representing the General Electric Corporation, which held the Army contract for the first long-range ballistic missile under development in the United States. Von Braun; his deputy, Eberhardt Rees; and 125 Peenemunde engineers, technicians, and managers were acquired by the Army.

Between the armed services and the private corporations, the United States eventually adopted nearly one thousand German military scientists, many of whom later rose to positions of power in the U.S. military, NASA, and the aerospace industry.

Von Braun and his V-2 colleagues arrived in Boston on September 20, 1945. There they received cover stories and false identification, then boarded trains to take them to New Mexico incognito in order to avoid arousing the anger of resentful Americans. At White Sands missile base, they began working on rockets for the U.S. Army. They soon launched the world's first two-stage rocket, using a salvaged V-2 as the first stage and a smaller booster rocket that fired when the first rocket burned out.

In 1949, with the beginning of the Korean War, the Army ordered Von Braun and his rocket team to the Army arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama. They were given the task for producing an intermediate-range ballistic missile to carry battlefield atomic weapons up to two hundred miles. The Germans produced a modified V-2 renamed the Redstone, the Army's first operational ballistic missile.

Soon after his success with the Redstone, Von Braun began to emerge as the most dynamic spokesman for America's budding space program.

The centerpiece of his space strategy was a permanently occupied space station in orbit a thousand miles above the earth, serviced regularly by a space shuttle with supplies from earth. According to Von Braun, the space station would serve as a platform both for astronomers to study the stars without suffering the distorting flicker caused by the earth's atmosphere, and as an observation point from which to watch over the earth.

Von Braun was an old hand at exaggerating the military potential of his ideas in order to tap the abundant reservoir of military largesse. In a speech before the American Rocket Society, he urged that immediate attention be given to developing his space station idea into workable plans for an impregnable space fortress. "Improvements of existing weapons, nuclear bombs, high speed bombers and conventional arms cannot keep the U.S. so strong the East will not dare to take the offensive. We need a new concept such as a space station.".

He took a slide show depicting his space station and shuttle combination to the Armed Forces Staff College in 1952 to describe how a space station could be used to launch atomic missiles toward the earth. It would be a perfect attack platform, because it could be defended from retaliation. Using antiballistic missiles from space, a station could both defend itself and thwart counterattack on ground territory by knocking enemy missiles out of the sky.

Von Braun was not alone among former members of the Germany military to take a strong public role in pushing America's military thinking toward space. Shortly after he came to the United States in 1947 as a consultant to the U.S. Air Force and adviser to the Department of Defense, Walter Dornberger wrote a planning paper for his new employers. He projected a system of hundreds of nuclear-armed satellites all orbiting at different altitudes and angles, each capable of reentering the atmosphere on command from earth to proceed to its target. The Air Force began early work on Dornberger's idea under the acronym NABS (Nuclear Armed Bombardment Satellites). As a variation on NABS, Dornberger also proposed an antiballistic-missile system in space in the form of hundreds of satellites, each armed with many small missiles. The missiles would be equipped with infrared homing devices and could be launched automatically from orbit. This concept was also taken under study by the Air Force in the 1950s. Labeled BAMBI (Ballistic Missile Boost Intercept), it was n idea that would reappear in the space-war dreams of the Reagan administration in 1983.

Before a congressional hearing in 1958, Dornberger insisted that America's top space priority ought to be to "conquer, occupy, keep, and utilize space between the earth and the moon." In an address to a National Missile Industry Conference, he.urged that more attention be given to space weaponry. "Gentlemen," he told the missile men. "I didn't come to this country to lose the Third World WarI lost two."

The work of Walter Dornberger and Wernher von Braun set an ambitious agenda for fielding a military space forces of the future: a manned space station as a command and reconnaisance post, an earth-to-space shuttle for logistics, space-to-earth bombardment satellites, maneuverable aerospace planes capable of performing both as spacecraft and as conventional aircraft, a space-based antiballistic missile system, and a variety of antisatellite weapons. By the mid-1950s this space armada had been thoroughly conceptualized and described; its eventual realization became and remained the ultimate goal of the most extreme space hawks throughout the following decades to the present time.

I quote some of this material (that Manno fully documents) in my new book (it should be out by March), "Weapons in Space," which also includes an interview with Manno. (Also, a new EnviroVideo documentary, "Star Wars Returns," will be out in March.)

In remarks at the national conference--part of a "Welcome to Huntsville" presentation--I will discuss these issues.

Von Braun, incidentally, transferred from the Army Redstone Arsenal after the creation of NASA and became director of the adjoining Marshall Space Flight Center for 10 years. Then he went to NASA Headquarters and became NASA deputy associate administrator.

Manno also writes in "Arming The Heavens," published in 1984: "The real tragedy of an arms race in space will not be so much the weapons that evolve--they can hardly be worse than what we already have--but that by extending and accelerating the arms race into the twenty-first century the chance will have been lost to move toward a secure and peaceful world. Even if militarists succeed in arming the heavens and gaining superiority over potential enemies, by the 2lst century the technology of terrorism--chemical, bacteriological, genetic, and psychological weapons and portable nuclear bombs--will prolong the anxiety of constant insecurity. Only by eliminating the sources of international tension through cooperation and common development can any kind of national security be achieved in the next century. Space, an intrinsically international environment, could provide the opportunity for the beginnings of such development."

In the interview with the very far-sighted Professor Manno, a long-time peace activist, in "Weapons in Space," he remarks that the scientists from Nazi Germany are an important "historical and technical link, and also an ideological link."

As to claims of space warfare being defensive -- from how Reagan characterized his Star Wars plan as a "shield" to the appellation "missile defense" today -- he remarked: "It's all a smokescreen. The aim is to put all the pieces together and have the capacity to carry out global warfare including weapons systems that reside in space." A new element behind Star Wars, he went on, is the development of a global economy and what is deemed a need by those promoting it to have "control over the process of globalization."

And speaking of that, but trying not to make this much longer, those in the Northeast of the U.S. might like to attend a "Teach-In:

Technology and Globalization"
to be held February 24-25
at Hunter College in New York City.
Bruce Gagnon, Jackie Cabasso, Bill Hartung and I will comprise a panel addressing what looks like will be a very, very big conference on "New Military Technology & Control From Space." The panel is described as focusing on "alarming new technologies" that would "enable the U.S. military to carry out its stated new goal to function as protector from space of global corporations and their investments." Also, Bruce and I will be conducting an extensive workshop at the "Teach-In" on this.

For further information, please go to the website of the Internationial Forum on Globalization It would be great to have a substantial representation of Global Network people at this conference.

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