The revelation by the media that the United States had employed hundreds of former Nazis in efforts to procure intelligence on the Soviet Union reveals a disturbing chapter in American history. As the New York Times reported today with an excerpt from author Eric Lichtblau's forthcoming book,The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men, the US government went to extraordinary lengths to recruit and protect former Nazis, at one time even stymieing a request from within the Justice Department for information on individuals with ties to Nazi Germany who were being protected by the FBI.
During the Cold War leaders in the West were justifiably afraid of the Soviet Union and what it might do as it attempted to spread its ideology and influence across the globe. The brutality of the Soviet military was no secret and it was clear that Soviet leaders were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to exercise control in Eastern Europe. It also appeared to many in the American political and military establishment at the time that there existed a credible threat of nuclear conflict, not to mention the chance of another land war in Europe. Taking into account, as well, the fear that Communism was spreading into Latin America and the perception that the ideology might be gaining adherents within the United States, it is not surprising that leaders in the American military and law enforcement would seek to use whatever (and whomever) they could to keep the country safe.
Despite this, the idea that the US would not only seek to employ former Nazis, but to protect them from capture and prosecution, is morally repugnant. I realize that in the world of national security ethical considerations are sometimes set aside in the name of protecting innocent lives. At the same time, for the United States, not merely another western democratic nation, but one that has consistently held itself up as a beacon of liberty and respect for human dignity, to have prevented these men from facing justice, is deeply disturbing.
I have not yet read Mr. Lichblau's book, but he has done the world a great service in exploring this sensitive issue. The leaders who gave these repugnant wretches the opportunity to reinvent themselves as heroes of the Cold War may have been misguided, but those they protected were inhuman. Many of them may have evaded justice in their own lifetimes, but they will not escape the judgment of history or those who read this new book - Mr. Lichtblau has seen to that, and for this alone the world owes him a significant debt of gratitutde.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.