The good works of bad men

Are you following me on Goodreads? If you’re not, you should be. If only because I bet you’ll be able to predict blog topics ahead of time.

For those of you not following me on Goodreads, I’ve been reading the memoirs of Homer Hickam. I started with Rocket Boys, which inspired the movie October Skies. Now I’m reading The Coalwood Way, book two.

Homer or ‘Sonny’ Hickam is a West Virginian boy who grew up as the son of a mine superintendent. He was a teenager when Sputnik was launched, and it affected him as much as it affected the rest of the country. He decided that he wanted to build rockets to go into space.

Sonny found a hero, as many of us do when we find our passion. He found Werner Von Braun, one of the scientists that sent us into space. One of the scientists that made it possible for one of my personal heroes, Buzz Aldrin, land on the moon.

Werner Von Braun was also a Nazi scientist, brought to America and given amnesty for his crimes as part of Operation Paper Clip along with many other Nazi scientists.

So, he’s a Nazi

But we might not have won the space race without him.

But he worked for Hitler.

But I have him to thank for inspiring America to reach for the stars.

Obviously, he’s a complex person, which brings me to today’s topic. We live every day with the good work of bad men.

Don’t believe me? Here’s another one you might know, but you might not. Do you know anyone who has to take insulin? With diabetes being the epidemic in America that it is, I bet you do. There’s a chance you yourself use insulin.

Did you know that insulin was invented by Nazi scientists? Did you know they horribly tortured people to create it?

I’m not saying this to defend Nazis. Since this has to be said these days, I really hate Nazis. They’re monsters in human form, and the horrors that they committed stagger the imagination. There is no forgiveness in my heart for these people.

But millions of lives have been saved as a direct result, and our whole country was inspired to reach for the stars, and that’s kind of a horrible legacy for two such great things!

This fact, that is inescapable, really bothers me. Do we value the good, no matter how we got it? Do we refuse to use the medical breakthroughs like insulin because of the blood on the hands of the men who created them? Do we spit on Buzz Aldrin’s feet because he rode in a rocket created by a Nazi scientist? (Don’t do that, he’s a great man and he also might punch you.) But, do we say that the ends justified the means, so it’s okay that these horrific things happened?

There’s no good and easy answer in this situation. I know that I’ve puzzled over it for years and I still don’t have a good answer. I honestly don’t think there is a good answer. It’s just an unrefutable fact that we all have to live with.

We live in a world where horrible men and women create good things.

Now, I didn’t tell you all that to make you feel bad. I sure as hell don’t think that anyone who needs insulin or is inspired by the space station should feel guilty about it. I told you this because it’s something we as writers need to understand about the world and the people who dwell within it.

There is no pure evil in this world, just like there is no pure good. These men were not doing what they did to be evil. In fact, Werner Von Braun never really wanted to work for the Nazis. He just wanted to work on rockets. He wanted to go into space and he worked with the people who could make that happen. I’m not saying he was a good man. He just wasn’t a pure evil one.

This is important to understand because if you want to write a realistic world, pure evil shouldn’t exist. If your antagonist is pure evil, you need a rewrite.

Because no one ever thinks they’re the bad guy. Everyone thinks what they’re doing is justified.

DaysAnd Other StoriesSeven pieces of short and flash fiction, showcasing the days of seven very different people. You will find a busy librarian, a lonely man with a guitar and a woman who finds a dream crashing in her brain.

Read it for free now.

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