The Propagander FAQ

Are There Any Lasting Effects From the Nuremberg Trials?

A careful, exhaustive study of the Nuremberg Trials and there results reveals much that was unjust, admittedly, but it also confirms some basic Truths that would otherwise have been tragically lost. The main Truth among them is The Holocaust.

The extent and intent of the Holocaust emerged from these Trials in a way that it certainly never would have without the nine month long presentation of all the evidence. This high-profile Trial--broadcast live daily on German radios, and covered extensively by the biggest names in the world Press--educated humanity on such things as anti-Semitism, Genocide, the dangers of the Fuehrer Principle, unchecked Nationalism, etc.. Any German listening--and its ratings made the OJ trial seem as if it were an ignored event--could not help but be shaken and moved by it. And, even though unbelieving Denial was rampant, there were many who learned, nonetheless, and these core repentant souls (the very young, usually) became the nucleus of a new Germany.

The Trial was ultimately the only relatively successful aspect of Denazification. While today's Germany is not without an evil undercurrent of racism (and is hardly alone in that respect), it is a veritable Golden Age compared to what preceded it. The Nuremberg Trial, I contend, was instrumental in whatever progress in rehabilitation was made in the immediate post-war German reality. If only for its educational aspects, the Trial was successful.

I believe that German author Werner Maser's summing up of the Trial is profound and worthy of note:

Werner Maser, from Nuremberg: A Nation on Trial: Despite all the criticism made of it in 1945 the Nuremberg Trial was essential and not only for the future of mankind. Before it the great developments in world politics had been personified by the men who became the wartime leaders--Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. These developments ended in the Second World War and were the subject of the victors' proceedings in Nuremberg. The very different ends which these men met was not unconnected with Nuremberg and its preparation from 1941 onwards. Hitler committed suicide in 1945. Mussolini had been shot without trial by his political opponents shortly before. The other leading figures of this period of history, though in some cases no less incriminated than Hitler and Mussolini, died in their beds as honored statesmen. If the problem revolved solely round these men as individuals and round the major war criminals sentenced in Nuremberg in 1946 as violators of international law, then the historian would merely be able to take note with some detachment of the double standards by which these men were judged.

But the historian cannot remain detached, not because of the fate of these men but because the authority of international law is still being flouted by statesmen, politicians and military men. Since Nuremberg and Tokyo the historian invariably feels himself bound to take up the cudgels on behalf of international law in face of the attitude of politicians who are the people least prepared to learn from history. The victors of 1945 took a revolutionary step and the historian must accept it. Nuremberg having happened, however, it is now the responsibility, not only of the victors of that time but even more of their heirs and of every other nation, to show, by their attitude to international law, what value history is to place on the victors' tribunal.

Another view, by a famed jurist:

Alan M. Dershowitz:

Forty-five years later, it is necessary to ask whether, on balance, the Nuremberg trials did more good than harm. By convicting and executing a tiny number of the most flagrant criminals, the Nuremberg court permitted the world to get on with business as usual . . . . Perhaps Henry Morgenthau was asking for too much, when he demanded that German industry and military capacity be destroyed "forever," and that Germany must be "reduced to a nation of farmers." But perhaps the Nuremberg tribunal asked for too little, when it implicitly expiated the guilt of thousands of hands-on murderers, by focusing culpability on a small number of leaders, who could never have carried out their wholesale slaughter, without the enthusiastic assistance of an army, both military and civilian, of retail butchers. The Nuremberg Trial was an example of both 'victor's justice' and of the possible beginning of a 'new legal order' of accountability. Trying the culprits was plainly preferable to simply killing them.

Since 1946, not much progress has been made, and the Promise of Nuremberg is largely unfulfilled (see Shawcross, above). During the Cold War, it was a matter of getting the US and the USSR to relinquish a certain degree of sovereignty, just enough to allow their own citizens to be under the jurisdiction of the World Court. Since the fall of the USSR, some token progress has been made, but a true international system of Nuremberg-style Justice will never be possible until the lone remaining superpower voluntarily allows itself to be judged. As long as only the war criminals of defeated nations are subject to international justice, such exercises will remain merely forums for victor's justice and will not be taken with the seriousness necessary.

The problem, of course, is that the US is in too strong of a position, and is still too prone to consider itself a law unto itself, to contemplate the necessary steps. The 500-pound gorilla will not willingly give up its ability to take more than its share of bananas for the sake of international justice. After all, more than a few members of the previous US administration would likely at this moment be on trial for war crimes were such a system in place, and the current inhabitant of the White House would soon have some problems with his policy of unmanned drones, etc.

But, in the world as it is, there is something to be said for certain nations being able to do certain things that may, strictly speaking, be illegal. Certainly, a case could be made that the war against Iraq by the US was unlawful, but is the world better off, or worse off, without Saddam Hussein?

The first attempt at an institutionalized system to promote peace in the world occurred after WW1 with the League of Nations. The League was beset with problems from its inception, but its major flaw was that it was powerless. Without the participation of the US, and lacking any means to modify the sovereignty of the individual states, it was no more than a debating society. After WW2 yet another attempt was made at an international peacekeeping organization. While the track record of the United Nations is marginally better than that of the old League, it suffers from the same weaknesses, and can in no way be relied upon to be in any way effective in disputes between great powers.

Sir Hartley Shawcross, former Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom:

The point now is what effect this trial will have on the future course of history. In this I must confess to great disillusionment. During the trial we had close friendly relations with our Russian colleagues despite the fact that we raised violent objection to their inclusion of the Katyn massacre in the Indictment. We thought that we were on terms of confidence with the Russians and would keep them as friends. But when the trial was over they went back to Russia, we lost all contact with them. All attempts to gain touch with them again failed. This communist veto on normal relationships is a sad fact. Even sadder were the cynical violations of international [peace?] as created at Nuremberg which we have had to witness meanwhile, Korea, Hungary, Kashmir, Algeria, Congo, Vietnam. Our Nuremberg hope that we had made some contribution to transition to a peaceful world under the rule of law has not been fulfilled.

History has shown that the only time advances in such things occur is after global upheavals, and we will likely have to await the next one to make the next step. That is the way the world works.

Conclusion: The Nuremberg Trial brought the Holocaust to the attention of the world as no number of books written subsequent to the event could have hoped to do. The only reason that Denial is not even more prevalent--or even a dominant, political belief--is because that historic Trial put it all on record. Complain about the Trials' faults and failures--and there were many--all you want, but we should all acknowledge the crucial role it played in teaching us the lessons that that War had for us to learn. Unfortunately, short of these educational benefits derived from the Trial, the institutional response to the lessons of WW2 are nearly as ineffectual as those that were put in place after WW1. One can only conclude that similar results will ultimately occur.
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