Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is for innocence

Stephen R. Donaldson in his book The Wounded Land puts forth the idea that innocence is powerless and that only the guilty have power because they're willing to do things that are bad to protect what is good. It is a curious restatement of the old adage: "The ends justify the means." But do they?

I'm reminded of Operation Overcast. It was later renamed Operation Paperclip and was undertaken by our government at the end of WWII. We snatched up German scientists and technicians  At first, the military was told not take scientists who were active Nazis, but that restriction was rapidly dropped because those active Nazis were too valuable. And we definitely didn't want the Russians to get them.

So we brought thousands of them to the United States. Many were given new names and new identities. And their crimes -- the use of slaves and outright murder of innocent people -- was quietly swept way. Supposedly, it was necessary so that we could maintain our superiority over the rapidly growing threat of the Soviet Union. I'd like to think the worst of them were punished after we got their information. And I'd like to think most of them were swept helplessly into the Nazi war machine and lived good lives after they came here.

But the fact remains that our government decided their crimes didn't matter as much as our nation's security. I wonder if the people who made that choice realized what they were doing. I wonder if it weighed on their conscience?  I wonder if the ends actually justified the means. And I wonder about the victims. How would they feel?

In all of this, they were the only ones who didn't have a voice. They were the innocent that someone was supposed to be bad to protect.


John Wiswell said...

When it reaches something like the scientific edge of a world superpower, there really isn't even a purely positive or negative fallout. Paperclip, for instance, gave us technology that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent foreign citizens who were simply caught on the peripheries of things we were able to undertake with our new technology. That face of things is too grotesque to me.

Stephen B. Bagley said...

The horror of it is overwhelming. The consequences of Paperclip are still with us today.