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Did General Alfred Jodl Deserve to Hang?

Beginning with his great-grandfather,
Alfred Jodl's male progenitors had all been military professionals. Jodl received his officers commission in 1910, a good 14 years before anyone even heard of Adolf Hitler. Jodl, who was Chief of the General Staff at the time, did not even meet Hitler personally until September 3, 1939, the day that Australia, Britain, France, and New Zealand declared war on Germany, officially beginning WW2.

Jodl was indicted on all four Counts, but the Prosecutors concentrated their efforts on Crimes against Peace and War Crimes. They considered Jodl to be "the actual planner of the war, and responsible in large measure for the strategy and conduct of operations." Jodl's defense was 1) that he was just following Hitler's orders, 2) he was not a politician and could not be held responsible for any decisions, 3) claimed that his staff and planning work left him no time for other matters, and 4) that his signature on so many reprehensible orders were mere formalities; just a rubber stamp for Hitler's personal decisions. Further, he maintained that 5) he "often tried to obstruct certain measures by delay, which occasionally proved successful." The Tribunal bought none of it and he was found guilty on all four Counts.

Here is how an eye-witnesses to the Trial viewed Jodl:

From Justice at Nuremberg by Robert E. Conot:

With his haggard face and drawn mouth, he [Jodl] looked like a man who had never smiled in his life, but had survived on a diet of bitter persimmons. Unquestionably brilliant, his intelligence manifested itself in an irritating superciliousness. Militant, cynical, and outspoken, he had a proclivity for self-righteous rationalization . . . . It was Jodl's contention that his task in preparing the plans for all Hitler's aggressions had been purely technical; but he effectively destroyed his own defense, by exhibiting an impressive knowledge of the diplomatic and political ramifications of the actions, which he attempted to justify . . . .

Each Nazi aggression had entangled Jodl further in the strands of his own complicity. His most irritating and irrational contention was that Barbarossa had been 'undeniably a purely preventive war'--an assertion based on nothing but Hitler's paranoid fear that Stalin, who had shown himself his match for ruthlessness and opportunism, might some day attack or threaten to attack the Reich, when it was fully engaged with Britain . . . . Again, as in the case of so many defendants, the court was confronted with the puzzle: Was Jodl telling the truth now, when he said he had lied to Hitler; or had he meant what he said to Hitler, and was lying now; or, quite likely, had been so corrupted by a system in which mendacity was part of life, and hypocrisy a pervasive force, that he could not himself separate honest declarations from dissimulations?

Here is how Telford Taylor, another eye-witnesses, put it:

From The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials by Telford Taylor:

Jodl did not meet Hitler until September 1939, at the beginning of the war. From then until near its end, except for a few short gaps, Jodl reported on the military situation at all the daily staff conferences, and was frequently involved in colloquy, and not infrequently controversy, with the Fuehrer. It cannot have been a very happy life . . . .

The relationship remained impersonal and, as time went on, increasingly frosty. Within these limits, however, it is safe to say that during the war Jodl saw and talked with Hitler, more than any other Nuremberg defendant [did]. It is, no doubt, the military and businesslike character of the Fuehrer-Jodl relation, together with Jodl's capital sentence, that has made his conviction more controversial than any other. Especially in comparison to Keitel's dismal weakness, the picture of an exceptionally able officer doing a necessary and difficult military task, and standing by his guns in the face of Hitler's criticism is appealing, particularly to military people, who see him as 'just doing the job he was told to do' . . . .

Jodl was well represented. His head counsel, Professor Dr Franz Exner, and supporting counsel, Professor Dr Hermann Jahrreiss, were both excellent: the first a specialist in criminal law, and the second in international law. Exner was a Jodl family friend, and rapport between client and counsel was good. Dr von der Lippe wrote: 'The Jodl defense team was especially ceremonious, because both professors wore violet university robes, and Frau Jahrreiss (assisting the lawyers) completed the color symphony with a violet gown' . . . .

It was becoming increasingly apparent that Jodl would press his points beyond reason, and decline to acknowledge fault in any actions of his own. Some problems he brushed away by labeling them a 'political' matter, which were none of his business . . . . But Jodl made several comments to Dr Gilbert, that he would never have made in court. He had decided that Hitler's asserted fear of a Russian attack was feigned, simply to get the generals to go along with a war that he wanted. Jodl [had also] come to the conclusion that none of the wars Hitler had brought about were really necessary from the German standpoint.

French judge Henri Donnedieu de Vabres protested vehemently against Jodl's conviction. Judge de Vabres was of the opinion that it was a miscarriage of justice for Jodl to be convicted because he had never joined the Nazi Party. However, the other three judges were unanimous that he should hang, and de Vabres--who voted against the Death Penalty in almost every case, while voting against the acquittals as well--was overruled.

On February 28, 1953, Jodl was posthumously exonerated by a German de-Nazification court, which sited de Vabres' dissenting view as justification, while ignoring the majority view. The major impetus for overturning the ruling seems to have been so that his confiscated property could be returned to his widow.

Jodl's conviction was the most controversial at the time, and continues to be so to this day. But it is difficult to see how it could be considered that Jodl did not deserve his Death Sentence. Anyone reviewing the entirety of the evidence against him is hard pressed to make a substantive case that the Tribunal was wrong in their judgement. The fact is that Jodl was 'in the loop' on some of the most vile and reprehensible orders issued by Hitler's HQ.

Even ignoring the first two Counts, Jodl's guilt concerning War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity is obvious. His mark is on the Commando Order, calling for the execution of Allied soldiers engaged in Commando raids and/or sabotage, even if they were in uniform. He signed the Commissar Order, attached to his Case Barbarossa directive, which allowed for the summary execution of Soviet Commissar's--political officers embedded in Red Army units--for no other reason than that they were commissar's, propagaters of Communist ideology and thus deserving death.

Even if Jodl had signed, initialed, or passed on no further orders than these two--and the fact is that he had his hand in many, many more--these two orders in themselves led to the deaths of countless soldiers engaged in lawful actions. They were both clear violations of the Geneva Convention, and documents in Jodl's own hand were presented as evidence proving that Jodl knew this to be the case.

Many of the military observers at the Trial were of the opinion that Jodl had a hopeless task, and were sympathetic to his just-following-orders defense. Any military man who had ever had the misfortune to be under the command of a headstrong and unreasonable commander--which is most--related to Jodl's dilemma of having to deal with one Adolf Hitler on a daily basis. They tended to accept at face value his claim that he was a moderating influence on Hitler, and only accepted Hitler's outrageous orders so that he could remain in a position where it was possible to positively moderate such orders.

Jodl talked him out of denouncing the Geneva Convention, he tells us, but was forced to do so using arguments that Hitler would accept. While it is difficult to know exactly what is in the mind of another, it seems to me to be clear from the evidence and testimony that what Jodl was in effect doing was assisting Hitler in finding ways to circumvent the Convention while avoiding the counterproductive consequences of a formal denunciation. Those who desire to exonerate Jodl of guilt accept Jodl's motivation for his actions, and there is perhaps enough ambiguity in the evidence to maintain such a view, but just barely.

The problematic aspect of this view is that it tacitly accepts the just-following-orders defense, but with an attempting-to-modify said orders qualifier. This qualifier, to my mind and that of three-quarters of the judges, was just not sufficient to exonerate him from then propagating those unlawful and cruel orders.

While one can certainly commiserate with Jodl's difficult position, it is a bit of a stretch to accept his claims that he continued in that prestigious position purely for idealistic reasons. I find it hard to imagine that, had I been in Jodl's place, I'd have been able to justify continued obedience to such a fellow as Hitler. Did Jodl tell himself that the order he had just signed, though it would lead directly to the deaths of many lawful combatants, would have been worse had he not managed to talk Hitler into accepting the second bloodiest option as opposed to the first? Either way, innocents were killed and Jodl's signature was on the order that allowed it. Protestations of good intent seem insufficient to mitigate this unavoidable reality.

Conclusion: For his signatures on of the Commando Order and Commissar Order alone, Jodl was guilty of War Crimes and deserved his Death Sentence.
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