Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann, Reinhard Wolf, eds. RaketenrÖÂ¼stung und internationale Sicherheit von 1942 bis heute. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004. 222 pp. EUR 58.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-515-08282-2.
Reviewed by Richard H. Beyler (History Department, Portland State University)
Published on H-German (October, 2005)
From Peenemünde to MAD and Beyond
As a genre of scholarly writing, volumes of collected conference essays are sometimes treated almost dismissively, a frequent complaint being that such books almost always lack the coherence one expects to find in a monograph. If internal coherence is the main measure of the worth of a book, then it must be said that this volume is unsuccessful. The essays are heterogeneous in discipline, content, and style: some essays are historical, some decidedly in the political science sphere; some are filled with technical details, some are more abstract or philosophical; some take argumentative stands, some function more as reports on the state of the art in rocket technology, and a few express personal reflections. However, as a representation of the way in which the science and technology of missiles has loomed over recent history--and over the immediate present--the very juxtaposition of the differing disciplinary and personal approaches is fascinating. Readers interested in summary histories of missile technology in various countries may find this a good reference. And the educated but non-expert reader will find here informative summaries of the rapidly changing history of strategic thinking in the missile age.
This volume had its origin as the proceedings of a conference at Greifswald and Peenemünde in 2002 on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the first successful test of the V-2 rocket. However, as the editors make clear in their foreword, the purpose of the conference was not commemoration, or still less celebration of this profoundly ambivalent event, but rather critical reflection on its historical consequences.
Though most of the essays in the book have a historical aspect to them, the first section contains seven specifically historical papers. Jens-Christian Wagner's paper "Zwangsarbeit für die Rakete" effectively challenges two common, but perhaps rather mythologized, accounts of German rocket production during World War II. It is erroneous, Wagner contends, to separate a supposedly "clean" research and test site at Peenemünde from the notorious abuses of prisoners at Mittelbau and other production sites. The authorities in charge at Peenemünde planned this use of forced labor, and indeed several hundred prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp were brought as workers to Peenemünde in 1943; only the British air-raid in August of that year stopped these numbers from growing. Conversely, however, Wagner challenges the interpretation that the use of slave labor at Mittelbau was the result of an advanced, albeit "barbaric" modernity. There was nothing at all "modern" about it, he contends: use of coerced labor if anything impeded technical advancements and, he implies, would have been quite untenable over a longer term.
Five of the papers deal with appropriations of German V-1 and V-2 technology by the victorious Allies. Michael J. Neufeld, writing on "Die Peenemünder Raketeningenieure und die Entwicklung ballistischer Raketen in den USA" also provides a cogent revision of a common historical picture. He cautions against attributing a too-dominant role in American rocketry to the "Huntsville group" of German engineers headed by Wernher von Braun, and points out the significance of economic considerations and--above all--rivalries among the Air Force, Navy, and Army to the course of American missile development. A brief summary by Holger Steinle, "Deutsche Raketenforscher im Dienste der Sowjetunion," and a longer paper by Matthias Uhl, "Von Peenemünde nach Kaputsin Jar," describe a deliberate and, on the whole quite successful, attempt by the Soviets to domesticate the rocket-building "know how" of German engineers by a kind of osmosis through shared work. Uhl stresses the argument that this project would not have succeeded without large-scale Soviet appropriation of physical plant through reparations. Jacques Villain provides a technically dense history of French rocket designs, originating yet again with the appropriation of German technical data--and technicians--in the closing days of the war. In contrast to Neufeld's description of developments in the United States, Villain sees rivalry among the French armed services and among the various contracting firms as a stimulus to innovation in the field. Beatrice Heuser's survey of the history of British missile development presents, in contrast to France's relatively successful effort to develop a nationally autonomous missile program, a story of technological and economic hurdles and increasing British dependence on buying, borrowing from, or coordinating with U.S. missile production.
The seventh essay, "Reminiszenzen aus drei Jahrzehnten Sicherheitspolitik" by Hans Apel, former West German finance minister (1974-78) and defense minister (1978-82), is apparently the transcript of Apel's talk at the conference, without the scholarly apparatus of footnotes and delivered in a chatty style, but all the more vivid for that. The "thirty years" of the title refer to the beginnings of Entspannungspolitik in 1972, in which Apel sees in long-term retrospect the origins of the solution to the problem of German unity. He points out the crucial symbolism of the Federal Republic's agreement with Poland over a boundary not even shared by the two states and the pragmatically significant growing influx of West German funds into the DDR's economy. Into this historical context Apel places the controversial decision by NATO to base American middle-range missiles in western Europe starting in 1983. He sees this move as the only viable option in response to a notable failure of vision by the Soviet Union. Apel recounts a 1978 meeting between Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Schmidt and the latter's house where--after members of the security detail were sent to fetch some vodka, found to be absent from Schmidt's cupboards--Schmidt urged Brezhnev to move Soviet SS-20 missiles behind the Urals, thereby putting them out of range of West German targets. Brezhnev declined to do so, passing by the Soviet Union's best chance (in Apel's view) to gain any favorable influence on German political opinion. By the mid-1980s, Gorbachev had abandoned Brezhnev's doctrine, primarily because the Soviet Union had become overstretched economically, while the United States in the Reagan era seemed to be moving towards a "fortress America" strategy based on anti-missile defense. In Apel's estimation, this relative pulling back of superpower attention from central Europe cleared the ground for Germany's relatively rapid unification. But Apel's conclusion comes with a twist: in the post-Cold War era, he contends, unified Germany is on its way to becoming an irrelevance in NATO--even as the relevance of NATO becomes more uncertain--unless Germany takes on more of the financial burden of military defense. Apel's paper thus goes beyond reminiscence and clearly becomes a work of political advocacy; obviously his argument could be debated, but the paper serves as an intriguing primary source from a key political actor.
The next two sections, "Strategie" and "Gegenwartsprobleme," though interesting on their own terms, contain papers that are for the most part only peripherally related to German history. Wilfried von Bredow and Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann survey the history of the various "arms control" agreements of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, and the terrifying logic of nuclear strategy which underwrote the negotiations, in terms accessible to the educated but non-expert reader. Reinhard Wolf's essay "Damoklesschwert oder 'Peacekeeper'--Machen strategische Raketen den Nuklearkrieg wahrscheinlicher?" gives a mixed answer to the question posed. The question focuses on how the technological properties of missiles change the nature of the threat posed by nuclear weapons. In contrast to other means of delivery--above all, bombers--missiles reach their targets very rapidly, cannot be "recalled" once set in motion, and (so far) cannot be reliably defended against. As is well known, the American and Soviet response to these conditions was the development of the potential for massive retaliation under any conceivable circumstances, the so-called mutually assured destruction (MAD) strategy, coupled with the tactical doctrine of "launch under attack." Wolf concludes that as long as both parties could be counted upon to act rationally, this strategy probably decreased the risk that a crisis situation would escalate into nuclear war; however, he also concludes that the strategy distinctly increased the risk of nuclear conflict arising out of error or misunderstanding. The section on "Gegenwartsprobleme" contains surveys by Klaus Arnhold on missile defense systems, by Götz Neuneck on rocket programs in China, Indian, Pakistan, and North Korea--all using designs ultimately derived, directly or indirectly, from the V-2--and by Markus Kaim on programs in several Middle Eastern states. An implication or directly stated conclusion of all the essays in sections two and three is that the strategic doctrines and philosophies of arms control developed during the Cold War, however well or poorly they may have functioned then, are largely ill-adapted to the post-1989 situation.
The fourth section of the book, "Pädagogik," starts with a reflection by Bernhard M. Hoppe, of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Ministry for Education, Science, and Culture, "Zur Problematik von Täter-Gedenkstätten," applied specifically to the long process of transforming the historical museum at the Peenemünde site, beginning in 1994, into an exhibit that goes beyond celebrating a technological "success story" to fostering an awareness of complexity and of Peenemünde's place in the history of the National Socialist era. The final essay, a biographical study by Andreas Pehnke of the educational reformer and anti-war novelist Wilhelm Lamszus, has ostensibly little to do with Peenemünde per se, but in a broader sense presents an example of critical responses to the more general problem that Peenemünde symbolizes: the apparently inextricable linkage of scientific knowledge and military power in the modern world.
Despite the heterogeneity of the essays, some common themes do emerge by the end. The ability to send enormously destructive weapons over vast distances--eventually, to anywhere on the earth's surface--within a few minutes has irrevocably changed our lived and imagined experience. But the specific manifestations of this general truth have changed dramatically with the end of the Cold War. Up through the 1980s, the properties of missiles--the sheer volume of annihilation they could deliver en masse coupled with the exceedingly small window of time involved in their launch--made them central to creating and maintaining a precarious yet seemingly unchallengeable balance of power between two rival blocs. For better or worse, a quasi-equilibrium between two comparably armed superpowers has been replaced by a much more fractured and fractious landscape of states armed with rockets, many of which also possess or strive to possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The monolithic anxiety connected with the prospect of an apparently certain "mutually assured destruction" has been replaced by a set of more diffuse but nonetheless profound anxieties: currently uncontrolled and possibly uncontrollable technological proliferation, a seemingly endless series of regional conflicts, the putatively incalculable actions of so-called "rogue states" and "non-state actors." As this review is being written, stories of U.S. negotiations with North Korea being thwarted by the parties' irreconcilable agendas and of Syrian rocket test debris landing in Turkey are in the headlines. Once again, the technological descendants of the rockets of Peenemünde are central to problems of international war and peace.
. I visited the Peenemünde museum in Spring, 1995. I would agree that, then at least, the exhibits could have used more critical-historical perspective. Because I have not been back since, however, I cannot comment on what subsequent changes have brought.
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Richard H. Beyler. Review of Stamm-Kuhlmann, Thomas; Wolf, Reinhard, eds., RaketenrÖÂ¼stung und internationale Sicherheit von 1942 bis heute.
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