BOOK REVIEW: Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen

operation_paperclipReview of: Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America by Annie Jacobsen

Genre: Nonfiction, Historical

In the aftermath of World War Two, the Allied powers struggled to decide what to do with the scientists and doctors behind some of the Third Reich’s most powerful war secrets.  With the threat of atomic war already looming on the horizon, many US officials felt that the need for their insight into innovative war technologies far outweighed the horrors they had perpetrated, and Operation Paperclip was born.  Operation Paperclip was a secret program that recruited, hired, and then smuggled to America the top tier of scientists from the Third Reich.  Some of them had stood trial and been charged at Nuremberg.  Others were charged with murder and using slave labor.  They had nearly all been involved in the uppermost levels of decision making, and were fully responsible for the many horrors of the concentration camps.  Even so, they were smuggled to the US.  Their pasts were collectively buried, and they assumed roles in the American science and medical fields. They became leaders in the field, and their contributions may have helped America to win the Cold War.

Constructed from interviews with family members, and information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Operation Paperclip is a first look into some previously unknown and controversial government programs.

Operation Paperclip was very eye opening for me.  Call me naive, but I had this grand idea of what the United States was like after the end of the Second World War.  We had won, succeeded in defeating one of the world’s most evil dictators, and freed hundreds of thousands of people.  Somehow, I imagined that our purposes as the war concluded were completely noble.  The politicians and officials back then couldn’t be the same corrupt, lying idiots we have today!  Or could they?  So much of this book was completely horrifying to me.  The way the US officials shamelessly cut corners and lied about what they were actually doing just made me sick.

Of course, the speculation is that perhaps they simply did what they had to do to insure that we remained in an offensive position for the Cold War.  I don’t know.  I am not a tactician or war analyst.  Without a doubt, the Nazi scientists accomplished a great deal so far as scientific and medical advances go.  I just cannot reconcile that with knowledge that the seeds of their great “accomplishments” were fertilized in the blood of the concentration camps.  The amount of taxpayer money that was spent to “recruit” these people is appalling.  Furthermore, I feel that the great majority of the American population, especially back in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s, when all this was happening, would have agreed with me.  And THAT is why certain officials felt the need to lock away everything that they could regarding this.  Lies upon lies upon lies.

As unpleasant as it can be to have ones illusions shattered, I think it is especially important to read books like this.  Knowing the past is the only chance we have to avoid repeats of history. For that reason, I think everybody should read this book.  Whether you particularly like history or not, you should know what our government is capable of, and doubtless still doing.

I wouldn’t say I loved this book–that seems too frivolous–but I have a deep, deep respect for it, and for the author who pulled all the pieces of the story together so skillfully.  5 out of 5 stars.