After Germany’s defeat in WWII, the Nuremberg and later trials were organized primarily for political purposes rather than to dispense impartial justice. Wears War brings to you each week a quote from the many fine men and women who were openly appalled by the trials. All of these people were highly respected and prominent in their field, at least until they spoke out against the trials.
American Journalist William Henry Chamberlain:
International hypocrisy probably reached its highest point in the trials of thousands of Germans and Japanese for alleged war crimes. That some German and Japanese actions, and some actions of the victorious powers as well, went far beyond the somewhat elastic conception of the rules of civilized warfare cannot be denied. There would be a case for the impartial trial of all persons charged with such actions before a neutral tribunal.
But the International Tribunal, composed of American, British, French, and Soviet judges, which sat in judgment at Nuremberg and Tokyo, and the subsequent tribunals set up by the occupying powers in their respective zones, lacked the most elementary sanctions of a court of law. The prosecutors were also both judge and jury. There was no semblance of impartiality in these trials of the vanquished by the victors. Nor was there any pretense of punishment being meted out evenhandedly for all infractions of law and humanity. Only Germans and Japanese were brought to trial.
Most of the major offenses against the Nazis—plotting and waging aggressive war, forcible seizure of alien territory, impressment for slave labor, looting and undernourishment of the population in occupied countries, and mass murder of both soldiers and civilians—could be charged just as convincingly against one or all of the victorious powers.
For example, it was a matter of common knowledge at the time, and has since been proved by documentary evidence, that the Soviet invasion of Poland and the later occupation of the Baltic States were acts of premeditated aggression, concerted between Stalin and Hitler before they were put into effect.
As Montgomery Belgion says:
Altogether, it is clear that the “war crimes” of “murder, ill treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilization of occupied territory” is a “war crime” with which the victors may be reproached. The international military tribunal at Nuremberg pronounced 16 of the former German leaders guilty of a “war crime” of which the victorious powers—by whom the tribunal was set up and whom the judges represented—might likewise have been pronounced guilty.
American judges and publicists who participated in the postwar trials reluctantly revealed the fact that American officers and agents, in trying to force Germans to confess or produce damaging evidence, were guilty of all manner of ruthless brutalities which matched the worst of which the Nazis were accused.
The hypocrisy of the war-crimes trials is well illustrated by the case of the German, Admiral Erich Raeder, who was given a life sentence for plotting aggressive war, namely, helping to plan the Nazi invasion of Norway. Lord Hankey revealed some years back that the British were making identical plans at the same time. Winston Churchill admitted this to be a fact in his book, The Gathering Storm. Final confirmation has recently been offered by the publication of the first volume of the British Official History of the Second World War. This sets forth in detail the plan approved by the British War Council as early as February 6, 1940. It embraced the seizure of Narvik and the occupation by force of northern Norway and Sweden, even including the Swedish port of Lulea on the Baltic. Yet, despite the fact that the official British version admits that, on this matter, the British war leaders were as “guilty” as the Nazis, no one has raised his voice publicly in Britain or the United States to demand that Admiral Raeder be released. He continues to languish in the grim Spandau fortress prison, subjected one week out of every four to at least minor tortures and brutalities at the hands of the Russian guards.
Justice Robert Jackson and others associated with the Nuremberg trial have tried to present it as a high point in the development of international law and justice. But it was actually an all-time low point in the prostitution of the forms of law to purposes of political revenge.
Aside from the affront to equity, in that the accusers were guilty of the same crimes as the accused, the legal aspects of the postwar trials constituted an affront to the basic principles of jurisprudence and accepted legal practice. They were based on ex post facto law, a procedure which challenged the most sacred legal principles. Just as bad was the policy allowing the accusing nations also to provide the judges and juries. Hence, the trials were legal travesties. There were additional absurdities. Officers were punished for the deeds of soldiers, though they had no knowledge or responsibility for their actions. The reverse of this was also true—soldiers were punished merely for obeying orders. Especially preposterous was the trial and punishment of industrialists who were merely serving their government in a period of intense national emergency. This ridiculous extension of guilt and responsibility was recently protested in the United Nations meetings. Its dire implications for the future were tardily discerned.
Even more important than the travesties with respect to law and equity was the assurance that these trials make wars far more brutal and ruthless in the future. In all wars to come the losers will be regarded as the aggressors, no matter what the facts, and will be punished accordingly. Hence, no methods of wartime destruction, however horrible, can be spared to produce victory, at whatever human and material cost. The trials will, therefore, produce exactly the reverse of the results which were represented as their main justification.
Source: Chamberlain, William Henry, “The Bankruptcy of a Policy,” Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Newport Beach, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1993, pp. 533-536.