- What’s Nazi about Nazi Science? Recent Trends in the History of Science in Nazi Germany
Books under review:
Deichmann, Ute 2001. Flüchten, Mitmachen, Vergessen: Chemiker und Biochemiker in der NS-Zeit. Weinheim et al.: Wiley—VCH; Hausmann, Frank- Rutger (ed.) 2002. Die Rolle der Geisteswissenschaften im Dritten Reich 1933- 1945. Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag; Maier, Helmut (ed.) 2002. Rüstungsforschung im Nationalsozialismus: Organisation, Mobilisierung und Entgrenzung der Technikwissenschaften. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag; Proctor, Robert N. 1999. The Nazi War on Cancer. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press; Segal, Sanford L. 2003. Mathematicians under the Nazis. Princeton/ Oxford: Princeton University Press; Szöllösi-Janze, Margit (ed.) 2001. Science in the Third Reich. Oxford/New York: Berg.
In 1930, Ernst Jünger, the writer and prime literary propagandist of a future nationalist age dominated by a new type of man hard as steel, published a piece called "Kriegerische Mathematik" ("Martial Mathematics"). This title stood as a cipher for technology and its capability to "destroy traditional forms of warfare". In his brilliant description of the fundamental changes that technological and scientific progress had brought to military conflict in the Great War, he also makes note of the ramifications for society as a whole:
"[...] the Great War appears as an enormous fragment and each of the great industrial states contributed to this. Its fragmentary character is based on the fact that technology destroyed traditional forms of warfare. However, technology has only sketched out the new ways of conducting warfare, it has not made them actually come about. In this sense, what happened in the Great War reflects our way of life in general—the spirit of technology has destroyed [End Page 454] old relationships, but in terms of constructing a new order, it is still at the experimental stage."(Jünger 1930, 273)
The experience of the Great War prompted and promoted not only "nationalist" and "pacifist wartime experiences"—as amply described by Kurt Sontheimer (Sontheimer  1994)—but also a technologicalwartime experience: namely, the belief that technology had become crucial to shaping the imminent future. And this is what lay behind Jünger's and many of his contemporaries' conception of the way things were to be. In 1930, when he conjured up the vision of a new world, where war would be the business of scientists, engineers and mathematicians,he was not only very close to what was to be the face of future war, but also to what recent studies have identified as characteristic of the "Third Reich", and long before the outbreak of war: the integration of science and technology into Nazi war schemes long before 1939.
A vast amount of recent historical scholarship in the fields of science, technology, medicine and the humanities, has dealt with the roles the various disciplines played in research officially categorized as "important to the war effort" in World War II. This category had long been dismissed by historians as unable to show whether research was actually important to the war or not, a conclusion that drew on the post-war legitimising discourses of those involved, who, for a variety of motives, would or could not discuss the nature of their research activities during the war: it also accepts the testimony of disciples, whose arguments were based on what they learnt from their elders.1 Recent scholarship, however, has made abundantly clear that the classification "important to the war effort" ("kriegswichtig") was not just a veil or an easy cover-all that could be thrown over any kind of project—regardless of its substance—in order to, for example, simply procure...