I understand how and why it exists, and that there is little one can do to fix it, but the gap between academic historical knowledge and the popular understanding/interpretation of history is infuriating sometimes
For most of the last seventy years, the public at large has had a generally positive view of Wernher von Braun. It’s only in recent years, maybe the last decade, that information about his Nazi past has become more common knowledge, and he’s become a “controversial” figure. Not a villain, not an evil man, but someone whose legacy is “ultimately up to interpretation” in the public eye.
That’s, like… almost unbelievable. He isn’t complex. He isn’t complicated and enigmatic and mysterious. This is very clear to anyone who has spent any amount of time seriously studying the guy.
He was a Nazi and member of the SS. He played an active role in acquiring slave labors to work in his rocket factory, a hellish underground laboratory of death built inside a mountain. You literally could not come up with more evil circumstances if you tried.
He manipulated and duped the American military and government to escape punishment and get an incredible deal that allowed him to come to the U.S. and continue his work with no repercussions. All while laughing behind their backs. He felt no remorse or guilt or regret for his actions. No one held him accountable. He was arrogant, condescending, smug, slimy, immoral, opportunistic, infuriating. He was a talented engineer, but by no means irreplaceable – just a typically bright, run-of-the-mill guy. He also married a teenage girl half his age, if that factors into your opinion at all (and this is after the war, while he’s in the U.S.).
von Braun and the U.S. government worked very hard to shape and protect his image, to hide many of these facts from the public, so I can’t blame regular people for not knowing this stuff. But it is frustrating to see people, especially space fanatics, gloss over his past or idolize him as some brilliant engineer and American hero. He was laughing at America, he’d laugh at them. He enslaved human beings to build weapons to kill other human beings and he felt nothing. That isn’t “controversial.” That’s a staunch Nazi and that’s evil.
He created a weapon system that killed more people it than were its target.