Saturday 24 August 2019

German-Americans helped to make the US truly great

Kevin Myers

OVER the coming weeks we shall be commemorating the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest technological feats ever: man's journey to the moon.

And in this country, the Irish ancestry of both the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, and of the module commander (and up to that point, the loneliest man in world history) Michael Collins will be very naturally remembered.

But there is an aspect to Neil Armstrong which is seldom remarked upon. Neil's father was Stephen Armstrong, and his mother was Viola Louise. But Stephen's middle-name was Koenig, and Viola's maiden name was Engel: yes, German- American. For it was the contribution of German-Americans that could arguably be said to have made the US truly great.

The command-service module which took the Apollo crew from Earth-orbit, and back home to splashdown, was built by the North American aircraft company. Sixty-five years ago, long-range P-51 fighters, made by the same North American company, were escorting US bombers in the destruction of the oil installations of the Third Reich. The man who founded the North American company, and who was the driving force behind the creation of the P-51, the most important fighter-aircraft of World War II, was German-American James Kindelberger, whose nickname "Dutch" had, in fact, originally been "Deutsch".

Most of the bombers the P-51s were accompanying were Boeing B-17s. The company which made them was founded by a German-American who was baptised Wilhelm Böing, but who later anglicised his name into William Boeing.

These B-17s were powered by Wright Cyclone engines. A formative engineer in the early days of Wright's business of aircraft-engine manufacture had been the German-American, Frederick Renscher. Having built the company up, he left it in 1925, and turned the machine-tool company of Pratt and Whitney into aero-engine makers. Their first engine, the Wasp, is the most manufactured plane-engine of all time. It powered the Liberators which were the other great US heavy bombers of World War II. A third bomber to lay waste to Germany's infrastructure was the Wright-powered Mitchell, which was also made by James Kindeleberger's North American company. Today, Pratt and Whitney is the world's largest aero-engine company, and North American and Wright are part of Boeing, together constituting the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world.

The American aircraft industry owes its origins, of course, to the Wright brothers. This belies their cultural origins. Their mother's maiden name was Koerner.

Their father was a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren of Christ, a largely German, Mennonite/Arminian sect in Ohio. Another Wright brother was called Otis, a pet name for Otto, while a fourth was called Reuchlin, an old German name.

Many of the main manufacturers of US foods which we now consume -- Kraft, Kellog, Hellman and Heinz -- are unmistakably German. The same is true of American beers -- Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, Miller and Anheuser-Busch's brews. And then consider the culinary products which the US has given the world: the frankfurter, also known as the wiener, respectively from Frankfurt and Vienna. There is of course the defining American dish, the hamburger.

There are also less tangible, yet nonetheless real, Germanic qualities about many Americans, namely, a punctilious regard for time, and a terrifying capacity for hard work. Yet paradoxically, despite their huge demographic input within the US (the largest self-declared ethnic group in the US) and perhaps because of their pioneer-culture of industrious honesty and plain-speaking, the Germans have had relatively little impact on American political life. (The "Brirish" stranglehold upon that has even continued into Barack Obama's presidency, through his mother, whose ancestry descends almost entirely from these two Brirish islands).

So there have only been a couple of clear German-American presidents -- Eisenhower and Hoover -- and the earlier career of the former indicates where German-Americans have been enduringly successful, the US armed forces. Hence, Pershing, Spaatz, Nimitz and Schwarzkopf.

THIS Germanness is cultural, not racial. The man who designed the North American-made module capsule that formed the vital lunar link 40 years ago was one Harrison Storms. He was trained in aeronautical engineering by Theodore von Karman. He, in turn, was a Hungarian Jew who had -- rather strangely -- Germanised his name from Tódor Kármán. In fact, von Karman was a product of the essentially Judaeo-Germanic civilisation of Mitteleuropa, which was destroyed by Hitler's myrmidons.

And one of the Third Reich's most diabolical scientists was to become the presiding genius of the Apollo moon-shot, though you are not likely to hear the name Wernher von Braun much in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, it can fairly be said that the global ambitions of the Third Reich and the USSR perished on the rocks of the Grossdeutschland that is the US.

kmyers@independent.ie

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