A timely study of the world’s first great scientific-military-industrial complex.
Ideally, observes Cornwell (History/Cambridge Univ.; Hitler’s Pope, 2001, etc.), science is about the free exchange of ideas and information for the social good. Such qualities marked German science throughout the Enlightenment and into the 20th century. But even before the rise of the Nazi regime, German scientists were busy developing theories to prove the supposed superiority of their people—and, of course, perfecting plenty of death-dealing technologies. When Hitler came to power and pressed science and industry into the service of the state, many of those scientists, “notably doctors and anthropologists,” obliged—promulgating, among other things, a nationwide anti-smoking campaign in the bargain. Many other scientists fled, including some of the nation’s best physicists and chemists. To counter the brain drain, Cornwell writes, the renowned scientist Max Planck called on Hitler to plead “that certain Jewish scientists were worth nurturing for the benefit of the state”—which Hitler rejected, saying, “A Jew is a Jew.” Germany’s loss was the Allies’ gain in such critical areas as cryptography and, of course, the development of nuclear weaponry, which, Cornwell observes, Hitler was not much interested in anyway, in keeping with what Albert Speer remarked was his “antimodern” stance “in decisions on armaments.” Anti-modern in most other aspects of science, Hitler nonetheless kept legions of scientists busy, forging strong links among the Reich’s death and labor camps and Germany’s universities, research facilities, and hospitals. Cornwell’s account is mainly straightforward, and he rightly points out how pseudo-science came to dominate pure science as the Third Reich evolved. Ever the controversialist, he closes with a rhetorical likening of modern politicized and militarized science to that practiced under Hitler’s regime—save that, he writes, scientists in those days could emigrate, whereas today “in the globalized domains of science and technology there are no oases of irresponsible purity into which a scientist can retreat.”
A lucid survey synthesizing a broad range of historical research.