Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

A stillborn Sieg Heil

by Rob - May 17th, 2020.
Filed under: Oppenheimer Alternative, Tube Alloys.

Each year, July 16 marks the anniversaries of two of the defining moments in the entire history of Homo sapiens, both of which are still within living memory for some.

For this year, 2020, July 16 is the fifty-first anniversary of the day on which human beings first embarked on a voyage to another world, with the launch of Apollo 11.

And that same day this year is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the world’s first atomic-bomb explosion, the Trinity test, conducted near Alamogordo, New Mexico. As I put it in The Oppenheimer Alternative — which comes out in just sixteen days and is available for pre-order now: “For the first time, humans were doing what only the stars themselves had previously wrought, converting matter directly into energy, Einstein’s E=mc2 graduating from mere textbook formula into a devastating weapon.” Indeed, it’s this platinum anniversary that the release of my novel is timed to coincide with.

The ostensible reason for developing the atomic bomb was to defeat the Nazis. But, as I say in my novel, “In the end, conventional troops pressing in on Berlin — and maybe, Oppie mused, Hitler having learned of Mussolini’s corpse being strung up by its ankles and stoned and spat upon by those who had suffered under his regime — had moved Der Führer to accomplish with a single bullet what Oppie’s multi-million-dollar gadget was supposed to do: end the war in Europe.”

Of course, after the war, key Nazis were tried at Nuremberg; indeed, Oppenheimer’s best friend, Haakon Chevalier, was one of the translators at those trials. But some Nazis were given a free pass on their atrocities because the knowledge they possessed was deemed useful to the victors. And so Wernher von Braun, an S.S. officer, whose V-2 rockets, which had devastated London, had been built by slave labor, was able to surrender to the Americans, along with the rest of his German rocketeers.

His war crimes were ignored, and he was put in charge of the development of the Saturn V, the rocket that took humans to the moon. And although J. Robert Oppenheimer is the main character in my book, Wernher von Braun also figures prominently; indeed, in a fictional meeting between the two men, I have von Braun draw parallels between them, saying they were both cut from the same cloth:

“Both of us the brains behind massive technological efforts. Each with his sometimes benighted military supervisor — you with Groves, me with Dornberger. Both now celebrated for our war-time accomplishments. And both with a larger purpose, science —” Von Braun stopped, but the lilt of his voice suggested he’d originally intended to utter more. Oppie suspected the rocketeer had halted before the words “Über alles” could pass his lips.

When von Braun had surrendered to the Americans, his arm, which had been broken in two places, was in a huge cast, stuck in a half-raised position. In the novel, I call it “a stillborn Sieg Heil.”

We’ve only recently learned just how dark von Braun’s past was. Here’s a real-life chapter-head epigraph from The Oppenheimer Alternative, which references the fact that his history had been classified secret by the U.S. government:

Not included among the dossiers is one for rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. It was never transferred to N.A.R.A.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

[Wernher von Braun]

Pictured: Wernher von Braun, with his arm in a cast,
surrendering to the Americans in May 1945.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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