Monday, January 12, 2015

The unseen fallout from WWII

I'm one of the people (please don't call us old fogies: I haven't cracked fifty yet) who didn't mind the History Channel's old nickname of "the Hitler Channel". I admit to an interest in — I'm not sure it warrants being called a "fascination with" — World War II. It began with my awe of big naval vessels, especially battleships, but over the years has come to encompass both the large-scale (the amazing logistical feat that was the Normandy landings) and the small (the fascinating story of how Emperor Hirohito's decision to surrender was almost subverted by fanatical junior military officers in the hours before his official announcement to the Japanese people).

World War II shaped the world in ways that reverberated long after the guns went silent. One of the least understood aspects of the postwar world is how and where former Nazi officers and officials who escaped prosecution by the Allies spent their time. The image of former Nazis taking refuge in South America is by now almost a cliché, but I didn't know that a number of ex-Nazis also settled in the Middle East. Nicholas Kulish wrote an absorbing account for the New York Times' Sunday Review that hints at just how much influence former Nazis might have had in the region. Arab hatred toward the new Jewish state of Israel likely resonated among some of the German expatriates.

Kulish's account obviously just scratches the surface of what looks to be a strange and little-known chapter of the postwar story, a chapter that I suspect needs to be better understood if we're to understand the world as it exists today.

(It wouldn't hurt if more Americans knew the prominent role a few ex-Nazis played in the United States' evolution into a world power after 1945, either. Werner von Braun, the best-known of the former Nazis who helped the U.S. after the war, merely made the least-embarrassing contribution to his adopted country: his rocketry research could be excused as having led to the Apollo missions. The contributions of far more infamous convicted criminals like Klaus Barbie remained shrouded in secrecy for decades, and became known in spite, not because, of the U.S. government. Barbie helped the nascent CIA infiltrate the Soviets, the Nazis having a lot more experience at anti-Communist intelligence-gathering than the Americans. After his work with the U.S. was exposed, the U.S. helped him flee Europe and disappear for nearly thirty years. No one knows how many more Klaus Barbies were on the U.S. payroll.)

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