Archive for January 16th, 2010

Two new books raise moral questions

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Von Braun and J.F.K.

Before a new round of Sunday reviews  comes out tomorrow, a few notable critiques from last week, both with a moral edge:

In the New York Times, David Holloway reviews Wayne Biddle’s Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race, a “deeply skeptical account” of the rocket scientist’s early career, here.

“Biddle argues that German rocketry was a form of technological Romanticism with strong cultural biddleconnections to right-wing politics.  The United States, like the Soviet Union, built on what Germany had done. Did it inherit more than the technology?”

Biddle has a overarching point that transcends its subject: “scientists and engineers, by claiming to be ‘apolitical,’ often escape being held to account for what they help to produce.  In other words, von Braun is an egregious example of a more general phenomenon.” It rather brings to mind the Book Haven’s recent post on Tintin and its creator, the Belgian artist Hergé.

Jefferson: "confidence in authority"

Jefferson: “confidence in authority”

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Jack Rakove reviews John Yoo’s  “deeply unsettling account” of the role of the presidency in our constitutional scheme, Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush, here.
“Given Yoo’s strong conservatism, it would be easy for liberals to dismiss Crisis and Command as one more venture in a hackneyed debate. That would be a big mistake.” Rakove calls the book “always provocative and thoughtful,” noting “though I disagree in key respects with his positions, his arguments merit attention and respect.”

Rakove concludes, “The presidents we admire possessed a pronounced confidence in their authority. … However much we celebrate the heroic presidents, Americans, as a people, have a stake in seeing the whole government achieve its potential.”