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Was America's Top Rocketeer a Communist Spy? The FBI Thought So 165

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the spying-as-a-hobby dept.
New submitter IMissAlexChilton (3748631) writes Frank Malina masterfully led the World War II effort to build U.S. rockets for jet-assisted takeoff and guided missiles. As described in IEEE Spectrum, Malina's motley crew of engineers and enthusiasts (including occultist Jack Parsons) founded the Jet Propulsion Lab and made critical breakthroughs in solid fuels, hypergolics, and high-altitude sounding rockets, laying the groundwork for NASA's future successes. And yet, under suspicion by the Feds at the war's end, Malina gave up his research career, and his team's efforts sank into obscurity. Taking his place: the former Nazi Wernher von Braun. Read "Frank Malina: America's Forgotten Rocketeer". Includes cool vintage footage of early JPL rocket tests.
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Was America's Top Rocketeer a Communist Spy? The FBI Thought So

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  • by thrich81 (1357561) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @10:45PM (#47579047)

    von Braun didn't take anyone's place -- he created his own place in Huntsville. The work on rockets on the West Coast and other places in the US continued with little affect by von Braun. For example the Navy's Vanguard project which was supposed to launch the USA's first satellite was a parallel effort to the Army's efforts at Hunstville. And the Air Force developed the Atlas and Titan missiles in other parallel efforts. It just happened that when NASA needed big rockets for Apollo, the Saturn series developed by von Braun's team were the most suitable. Notably, precursors to Apollo, the manned orbital Mercury and Gemini missions, were launched on those Air Force derived boosters. The sentence in the summary is BS. And by all accounts, von Braun was agnostic towards the Nazis, neither a supporter nor a resister, disinterested in politics, but navigating the system he found himself by the time it was too late to get out -- yeah, I know it is more complicated than that, but I don't have a thesis to write here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2014 @10:54PM (#47579081)

    You should look up who is China's "Father of Rockets".
    Hint: just like Malina, except he was ethnic Chinese and decided to go to Communist China instead of giving up his career.

    Suspecting your top talent of being a spy, what a great way to kickstart advancement programs for your enemies!

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday August 01, 2014 @12:01AM (#47579249)

    The V2 ... was not a success during the war

    That is an understatement. The V2 had no significant military effect, but consumed enormous resources to develop, manufacture, and deploy. Freeman Dyson once described the V2 program as "almost as good as if Hitler had adopted a policy of unilateral disarmament."

  • by jafac (1449) on Friday August 01, 2014 @12:50AM (#47579393) Homepage

    There's actually a long story behind this, and Von Braun was actually arrested because Hitler suspected he was a traitor. Von Braun was a visionary who just loved rockets and wanted to land on the moon and colonize space. The Nazis were a funding means-to-an-end for his rocketry studies. After the Nazis tried to arrest him and his team, he escaped with some equipment and top scientists to defect to the allies.

    So no, it's not at all accurate to speculate that Von Braun was a Nazi or into that whole ideology.

    He used his expertise to con the Nazis into paying for his very expensive hobby.
    Then he came to the USA, and played the same con on Congress to fund his continued work here. Congress thought they were getting ICBMs to wave at the Russians. Von Braun was getting a moon landing, and who gives a shit about politics.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Friday August 01, 2014 @02:47AM (#47579637)

    And the witches McCarthy were far more dangerous and worthy of being hunted

    Ah yes, like that dangerous playwright who was offered a way out if his wife, Marilyn Monroe, agreed to be photographed with McCarthy for political promotional material. That was one part of the witch hunt, in that case more accurately called a shakedown.

    It was an utterly worthless grab at power by an immoral, corrupt and ultimately cowardly man who wanted to skew the political playing field in his direction when opposed by a large number of far more worthy candidates for President from both parties. It's just as well that he bit off more than he could chew by getting a lot of special favors for one of his friends in the military and then attempting to prove that General Marshall (of the Marshall plan and a lot of other things, such as running a big chunk of WWII) was a communist. His stupid stunt meant to send him into the White House was exposed for what it was - a power grab by a man who had achieved very little in his life attempting to drag down others who had and make himself look bigger.

    So do you think he had a list of spies like he said he did? Why didn't he hand them over then? Wouldn't it be a bit like treason to have a list of foreign spies and not hand it over to law enforcement?

  • by radtea (464814) on Friday August 01, 2014 @03:32AM (#47579763)

    Then he came to the USA, and played the same con on Congress to fund his continued work here.

    So in your view von Braun was an amoral, self-agrandizing liar who was willing to actively engage in the selection of slave labour working in death camps to build rockets that killed thousands of strangers just so he could play with cool toys? Because that's what you're describing.

    I say "self-agrandizing" because everything that von Braun wanted to do would have been done without him, without the 12000 dead slave labourers, without the 9000 dead British civilians.

    I've had some pretty extreme scientific and technical ambitions in my time, but have somehow been able to realize many of them without killing people, and have given up the rest because: killing people. So I'm willing to pass judgment on von Braun in this respect: if he faced a choice between following his dreams and not killing people I'd have to say the latter is the far better choice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2014 @04:30AM (#47579917)

    The problem is people like you keep mixing up Communism - an economic system - with the Soviet political system. It's about the same as claiming that capitalism is a government like the United States. The Soviet political system was corrupt as any seat of power will be.

  • by jandersen (462034) on Friday August 01, 2014 @07:17AM (#47580233)

    Is it not possible to be a Communist - even in America - without automatically being a spy or traitor? In most of the world 'communist' means 'somebody whose political views align with Communism'; well, more or less. If it is possible to be Christian, Jew, Muslim, ... and still be a patriotic American, is it not possible to be a Communist, patriotic American? Or course it is.

    'Communism' is, put simply, the idea that means of production should not be owned by any individual, but should belong to the community. Not the state - the community, whatever that means. Equating the state with the community is a highly artificial idea. Please note that communism in this sense does not mean that people can't have property, it just means that the means of production are owned by everybody - like in a cooperative, really. Or a family - and if anything is being touted as American these days, it is 'family values'; so communism is at the core of what it means to be American.

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach