Currently reading

Paul Hanley
A Month in the Country
Michael Holroyd, J.L. Carr
A Tale of the Dispossessed: A Novel
Laura Restrepo, Dolores M. Koch
Mesabi Pioneers
Jeffrey Smith, Russell Hill
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes
Jon Rothschild, Amin Maalouf
Island of a Thousand Mirrors
Nayomi Munaweera

German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie: Making Sense of the Nazi Past during the Civil Rights Era

German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie: Making Sense of the Nazi Past during the Civil Rights Era - Monique Laney I got a free copy of this book through Net Galley.

The subject of this book is somewhat specialized, something I hadn't thought of before but culturally and historically interesting as a microcosm of our ideas about race and nationality. It is, I believe, an adaptation of Laney's thesis, so it has an academic, rather dry tone that makes sure to cross t's and dot i's as far as the research is concerned, but does not make any of the interview subjects into characters. But the dry tone is my primary complaint, and the story was interesting enough to make up for it.

The U.S. government relocated german rocket scientists her after WWII because they had technical expertise and, importantly, were white. And they settled into their new Alabama home and fit right in to the segregated culture there. Both the government that employed them and the town officials who recognized the benefits of federal program dollars were eager to make the settling of these engineers and related folks successful. It worked, for the most part. And then in the 1980s, another branch of the government decided that maybe we had been too hasty to offer citizenship to people who might have been Nazi war criminals, and investigations into the past bewildered the community. The most famous case was the Rudolph 1984 case. I found the reactions to it from the people in Huntington interesting. They didn't have any more information than anyone else, but were sure that none of the Germans, no matter their elevated position in the Nazi war machine, had done anything bad that they weren't forced to do. No one had done anything wrong. They were sure of it. These are the good Nazis. Most distressingly, some told Laney that it was clear that a conspiracy of Jews in the US government were responsible for besmirching these upstanding gentlemen's names. That sounds, well, a whole lot like something a Nazi would say.

But those who simply argued that this was strange inconsistency, and unjust -- we brought them here knowing who they were, permitted them to work for us and contribute to our programs, and then after they are retired we decide to prosecute -- these did sound like reasonable people to me. We have not had to face the kind of anguished reflection on the Nazi past that Germany as a whole has, but this town in Alabama probably needs to. But time has passed. Is this something that will just slip into the past?

I think Laney's research will help us do some necessary thinking about these historical events and how they have helped shape us. The benefits of our national rocket program were certainly not limited to Rocket City, USA. It's an intriguing and important corner of our national identity.