Case Two: Operation Paperclip

While many German Scientists who committed atrocities in concentration camps were punished, others of varying responsibility for similar actions were pardoned (unofficially) through Operation Paperclip. This Operation apparently used over one thousand and five hundred German Scientists and engineers in order to help supply information and deny information from the Soviet Union. Officially, the operation excluded members of the Nazi Party, but unofficially President Truman and the Joint Intelligence Objective Agency falsified backgrounds and histories for scientists that had been Nazis. Once these records had been wiped the Germans essentially had permanent immunity as there was no connection between them and their past actions as Nazis. They were then given US security clearances and were entrusted with secrets and technologies. Recently, On March 31st of this year, PBS published a video on its website entitled “Remembering ‘Operation Paperclip’ when national security trumped ethical concern”. I would wholeheartedly agree that the American Government once again put ethics by the wayside in favor of what they thought to be national security. For me the key word is thought. There is no way the American Government could have or can ever be certain that pardoning past enemies and war criminals would help national security. One could even make the argument that America’s actions in Operation Paperclip and in response to Unit 731 exacerbated the issues of the Cold War and further antagonized Russia and other countries against us. Again using the idea of Deontological Ethics the actions of the JIOA were clearly not ethically permissible. To falsify records in itself is an immoral action but to knowingly ignore the history of war criminals in favor of potential advantages over the Soviets in the Cold war is a clear-cut violation of ethics in general. It is hard to justify even the outcome of Operation Paperclip under utilitarianism as the Operation was meant to produce military weapons that would cause harm. User “jbentham95” would have a hard time arguing that the greatest good could be achieved through producing weaponry… In short, I see Operation Paperclip as yet another example of a misplaced War Pardon, a category that is, in and of itself, ethically questionable.



One thought on “Case Two: Operation Paperclip

  1. I actually had heard of Operation Paperclip before… but this was still an interesting read, great work. I have to disagree with you on a few points, however. First of all, just because Operation Paperclip didn’t seem permissible under deontological ethics does not mean it wasn’t permissible. Deontological ethics are just one method of which there are many. I, personally, believe that one idea such as “the greatest good for the greatest many” or “universal rights” does not encompass all cases. I believe that one has to judge the ethics of something on multiple counts or ideas. Lets look at the ethics of Operation Paperclip in more detail and examine the facts. While some scientists were given new backgrounds and histories to allow them to participate in the program, they were each meticulously interviewed and questioned before gaining access to the country. Government spies and intelligence officers oversaw the entire operation so that national security remained of highest priority. By allowing German Scientists to work in the US our government was not violating any person’s autonomy, or free will. They also acted out of Beneficence in that they meant to protect the US from Russia. They didn’t cause pain and thus didn’t violate the principle of Nonmaleficence (Interestingly if they had unilaterally punished all German Scientists they would have run awry of Virtue Ethics and certainly would have punished more than one innocent man). Lastly, the Operation Paperclip even partially upheld the principle of Justice! Now I know what you may be thinking, “how is it just that criminals get a chance at a blank slate!?” I certainly agree that this idea violates part of the principle, but the destruction of identities never was part of Operation Paperclip’s main agenda it was simple something that occurred alongside the Operation without sanction. The Operation itself was giving German’s a chance at a new life, as many scientists were indeed innocent of having been members of the Nazi Party.

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