Willkommen auf dem Mond : American Pragmatism and Moon landing

buzz aldrin and the flag

July 20, 2017: DC. My good friend Joan who knew Michael Collins, the senior pilot and the command module pilot of Apollo 11, was giving a tour of the national cathedral in Washington DC where there is a moon rock on display. During one of her tours a young marine asked – What is a moon rock? She replied – Maybe I suppose a rock from the moon!!

48 years ago today mankind took a giant step forward. 1969 was a year to remember I suppose (I don’t because I was not yet born!). Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Woodstock music festival in upstate New York took place a few weeks later, and Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village became the focal point of the gay rights moment.

Apollo 11 travelled 240,000 miles in 76 hours. The next day, Eagle, the LM (Lunar Module), began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. it touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Neil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas:  “The Eagle has landed.” Archibald MacLeish a three time Pulitzer prize winner wrote a poem for the New York times.

The phrase ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ was also made famous by British writer Jack Higgins. The thriller novel is set during World War II and first published in 1975. It sold millions of copies. I had heard of the book in India, but never had heard what Armstrong had said  about the LM in India!

What has this all has to do with American Pragmatism?

Prof. Raymond Pfeiffer gives a very nice succinct definition of pragmatism. According to him Pragmatism was originally a thesis that the meaning of an idea can be found by attention to its practical consequences.

What has that to do with moon landing? Why, Operation Paperclip of course!

According to Annie Jacobsen (2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the book The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency) book Operation Paperclip: “The Secret Intelligence Program to Bring Nazi Scientists to America. “Operation Paperclip was a secret program of the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians, such as Wernher von Braun and his V-2 rocket team, were recruited in post-Nazi Germany and taken to the U.S. for government employment, at the end of World War II; many were members and some were leaders of the Nazi Party.”

According to Wendy Lower – “Among the trophies of the Second World War captured by Allied intelligence agents were Nazi scientists and their research on biological and chemical weapons. In a classified memorandum titled “Exploitation of German Scientists in Science and Technology in the United States,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff described these men as “chosen, rare minds whose continuing intellectual productivity we wish to use.” Such intellectual spoils were not to fall into Soviet hands. In 1945, Operation Overcast (renamed Operation Paperclip for the paper clips attached to the dossiers of the most “troublesome cases”) began. More than 1,600 Germans were secretly recruited to develop armaments “at a feverish and paranoid pace that came to define the Cold War.”

“The New York Times, Newsweek and other media outlets exposed Paperclip as early as December 1946. Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rabbi Steven Wise publicly opposed the program, and according to a Gallup poll, most Americans at the time considered it a “bad” idea.”

“Jacobsen tracks 21 of these Nazi scientists and technicians. Eight of her subjects had worked directly with Hitler, Himmler or Göring; 15 were active Nazi Party members; 10 served in paramilitary squads like the SA and SS; and six were tried at Nuremberg. A few familiar figures pop up, including several pioneers in space exploration — Wernher von Braun, Hubertus Strughold, Walter Dornberger and Arthur Rudolph.”

I love America. I am so happy that we welcomed the Nazis and used them well. We defeated who knows what known and unknown enemies with their knowledge. And we landed on the moon!

That is American Pragmatism. – The side which has the most Nazis wins the moon race! And of course don’t forget 100 billion dollars spent on the total missions cost in today’s dollars (400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion in 1960s monies)

As I was just finishing this, my good friend Brian (a wonderful raconteur and an avid historian) texted tome me after I asked him about the aforementioned issue. He wrote, “Yes. At the end of the war both the Americans and the Soviets scrambled to capture Nazis who could help in what would become the Cold War, especially intelligence agents and scientists. The Americans ended up getting the most important German rocket scientist, Werner Von Braun, and his work was the basis for the US rockets. There was a good BBC docudrama about this on Netflix, but I am not sure if out is still there. Thanks for responding!”

We should at least make a good movie of it!

Happy exploring my friends!

Three days and three nights we journeyed, steered by farthest stars, climbed outward, crossed the invisible tide-rip where the floating dust, falls one way or the other in the void between, followed that other down, encountered cold, faced death, unfathomable emptiness. ……We stand here in the dusk, the cold, the silence, and here, as at the first of time, we lift our heads. – Voyage To The Moon – Archibald MacLeish

PS: the New York times has a photo of Walter Cronkite holding up John Noble’s Wilford’s front page article on the moon landing, titled ‘Men Walk on Moon’. Archibald’s Poem appeared in the latter pages


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