…one of the clearest distinctions between a true court of law and a lynching mob is that the court judges all without discrimination.
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.
U.S. journalist William Henry Chamberlain:
Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, American prosecutor in the Nürnberg trial, ex-Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and others hailed the war crimes trials as a new and higher development in international law. It seems improbable that this will be the verdict of impartial history. For both the underlying conception of the trials (that victors are qualified to be impartial judges of vanquished) and many of the methods employed in conducting prosecutions and extracting confessions run counter to all established principles of western justice and international law…
The real case against “victors’ justice” is…the serious injury which the trials inflicted upon civilized standards of impartial judicial procedure and moral consistency. This injury may be found in the following points.
- There was no pretense of enforcing responsibility before the law. Only Germans were punished, in many cases for actions which were also committed by soldiers and citizens of one or all of the victorious powers. But one of the clearest distinctions between a true court of law and a lynching mob is that the court judges all without discrimination.
- The very important principle that judges and juries should have no personal interest or prejudice in the cases with which they are concerned was not and could not be upheld in trials of defeated enemies by their conquerors.
- This defect of the trials was aggravated because a considerable number of American citizens of recent origin, political or racial refugees from Nazi Germany, took part in the investigations and police actions which accompanied the prosecutions. The desire of some of these individuals for vengeance was human and understandable. But this desire should not have been satisfied through American courts.
- The evidence on which some of the verdicts were based was tainted by the use of brutality and chicanery in extorting confessions.
- The trials set a dangerous precedent in violation of the well-known principles of national and international law. One of these is that there should be no ex post facto punishment. The other is that military officials and civilian officials should not be held responsible for carrying out orders received from high authorities. Under this last precedent, every military and naval officer who takes part in working out war plans could be indicted and executed as a “promoter of aggressive wars,” if his country should be defeated.
- The proscription of the vanquished by the victors is unpleasantly reminiscent of the practices of 20 centuries ago, when captured rulers were strangled after being led in Roman triumphs. The war-crimes trials were hailed and justified as war deterrents. But it seems far more probable that the only effect will be to turn future wars into bitter-end struggles of mutual extermination. There has never been a war in history in which the victors did not consider the vanquished “guilty.”
One of the counts in the Nürnberg indictment was the planning and waging of wars of aggression. It is now a matter of public historical record, and it was a fact well known to the Nürnberg prosecutors and judges, that the Soviet Union was an active partner in Hitler’s scheme for attacking and partitioning Poland, to say nothing of its acts of aggression against the Baltic states and Finland. So, if the punishment of aggressive war was the purpose of the trials, the place of the Soviet representatives was in the dock with the accused, not on the bench with the judges. In view of the different treatment meted out to Nazi aggression and to Soviet aggression, the assumption seems justified that the Germans were punished not because they waged aggressive war, but because they waged it unsuccessfully.
Source: Chamberlain, William Henry, America’s Second Crusade, Chicago: Regnery, 1950, pp. 339-341.
Continuing from Germany’s Incredible Courage: How Hitler’s Invasion Surprised Stalin, this series of articles explores the staggering scale of preparations by the Soviet Union from 1927 to build the greatest offensive army ever known. The Soviet 5 Year Plans were effective for this purpose and implemented with barbaric cruelty.