The Ghosts of Nuremberg
by Michael Gaddy
a small percentage of Americans would still be able to remember,
with any clarity, the trials in Nuremberg, Germany at the close
of WWII. The civilized world, led by the United States, moved quickly
to bring the criminals of WWII to trial. With America resorting
to an aggressive war against Iraq, the ghosts of Nuremberg must
surely be stirring about.
was a time in this country when the Golden Rule actually had meaning.
We were quick to criticize those who would attack another sovereign
nation without provocation. We used to call those who were
attacked and were fighting to defend their country from such aggression,
freedom fighters, or at least rebels. Now that we are the aggressor
nation, those labels have been changed to "insurgents, militants"
or "dead-enders," but that was before God
started dictating our foreign policy, using George W. Bush as his
spokesperson. It sure changes things when "the big guy"
is on your side. I really cannot see why Bush and company bothered
with all those lies about WMDs and al-Qaeda connections. Perhaps
the democrats would not accept divine intervention.
to the ghosts of Nuremberg: the trials began in November of 1945.
The Chief Prosecutor, Robert Jackson, on leave from the U.S. Supreme
Court, began the proceedings against twenty-one of Adolf Hitler's
top lieutenants, including Herman Goering, Wilhelm Keitel and Rudolph
Hess, who stood accused by the world's first international tribunal
of masterminding horrific crimes. Among the charges listed in the
long indictment were crimes against humanity and crimes against
crime against the peace was a brand new charge, never before seen
in international law. American prosecutors, led by Justice Jackson,
had a more sweeping view of justice in mind. They saw the supreme
crime at Nuremberg not in any specific act of Nazi mass killing,
nor in the construction of the death camps like Auschwitz. For American
prosecutors, the supreme crime was a completely new criminal charge:
waging aggressive war, or the crime against peace.
though Winston Churchill, Henry Morgenthau and Cordell Hull advocated
summary executions of those accused, and Stalin suggested that Nazis
should stand trial with a presumption of guilt, and that judges
presiding over their trials should concern themselves with determining
the degree of punishment, Jackson, with the full support of President
Truman, advocated that Nazi leaders be tried, but that they be subject
to a fair trial. Individuals political and military leaders were
to be held accountable by an international authority for atrocities
committed in the name of the State.
should be noted, opposition to the trials came from some heavy hitters
in the American establishment. Chief Justice Harlan Stone of the
United States Supreme Court and Justice William O. Douglas condemned
the trial. The trials also drew political fire from Senator Robert
A. Taft, a powerful politician and presidential candidate.
of this opposition, the trials were held and precedent was set.
Case law, the pundits call it.
Jackson would tell this court that the aim of Nuremberg was not
to merely punish the crimes of Nazi Germany: "The wrongs which we
seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant
and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being
ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated."
Jackson said, "Any resort to (aggressive) war, any kind of war is
a resort to means that are inherently criminal as means. War inevitably
is a course of killings, assaults, deprivations of liberty and destruction
prosecution would hold subsequent trials, for it was felt the criminal
acts went far beyond the government and the military. Prosecutors
thought that one trial of 21 Nazi leaders did not adequately address
criminal guilt in Germany. The prosecution stated, "It was felt
that we had to bring in the industrialists, who built the concentration
camps in order to have cheap labor for their war machine. The generals,
who had the power to stop Hitler and chose not to, the doctors,
who conducted medical experiments for example, were to be portrayed
so the world could see precisely how it was that a civilized country
like Germany could resort to such barbarism."
prosecutors felt the military/industrial complex of Germany was
complicit in the conduct of the war, not just the military and its
Taylor would take over for Jackson, who returned to his duties on
the Supreme Court, as Chief Prosecutor in the trial of the German
industrialists. In his opening statement at the trial, Taylor said:
"One does not build a stupendous war machine in a fit of passion,
Or an Auschwitz factory during a passing spasm of brutality. There
will be no mistaking the ruthless purposefulness with which the
defendants marked on the course of conduct. That purpose was to
turn the German nation into a military machine and build it into
an engine of destruction so terrifyingly formidable that Germany
could impose her will and dominion on Europe."
civilized nations of the world in 1945 saw that it took an entire
country to commit the crime of "aggressive" war. One man,
acting with the authority as leader, could not be the only culpable
person in such a criminal endeavor. The enemy could not be transformed
into some "sub-human" species without the help of the
entire nation. Whether overtly or covertly, everyone was involved.
it any wonder that the United States, led by George W. Bush, has
said that we no longer believe in the role such as that taken by
this country at Nuremberg. Bush says that no American soldier should
ever face trial in anything but a U.S. court. Is it not hypocritical
for the United States to stand in judgment of anyone, in any country,
for any offense, if that is our position? Can we sentence citizens
of Iraq to die for the sins of Saddam, by American bombs and missiles,
and be accountable to no one? Would we have allowed the Germans
to try their leaders and soldiers at the end of the war? And we
think people hate us because we are free!
Ferencz, a member of the prosecution at Nuremberg, strongly disagrees
with the position taken by Bush: "What the United States is saying
is that we don't want the rule of law. I think that is dangerous,
very dangerous, because we cannot lay down a law for the United
States and not for the rest of the world. That doesn't fly. Justice
Jackson made that clear at Nuremberg. Law must apply to everyone
equally or it's not law at all. Those who are pushing the other
view have a misguided idea of what law is all about. They also have
a misguided conception of how to safeguard the welfare and justice
and rights for citizens everywhere."
much respect does anyone have for a hypocrite, and how much are
we the people, responsible for the death and destruction in Iraq
would happen if we no longer were the "superpower?" How
would we defend our aggressive war in a Nuremberg-type scenario?
Does might really make right? The ghosts of Nuremberg say no!
Gaddy [send him mail], an
Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Beirut, lives in the Four
Corners area of the American Southwest.