Reconsidering the Nuremberg Trials

Published: 1996-01-01

"It is the victors who write the history."
Patrick J. Buchanan

  1. "[The Nuremberg] war-crimes trials were based upon a complete disregard of sound legal precedents, principles and procedures. The court had no real jurisdiction over the accused or their offenses; it invented ex post facto crimes; it permitted the accusers to act as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners; and it admitted to the group of prosecutors those who had been guilty of crimes as numerous and atrocious as those with which the accused were charged. Hence, it is not surprising that these trials degraded international jurisprudence as never before in human experience."
    Professor Harry Elmer Barnes, Ph.D.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal,(Torrance: Institute for Historical Review, 1983) p.148\.
  2. "Unfortunately, humanity does not seem to have advanced beyond the motto, 'The winner is always right'."
    Lieutenant General Fahri Belen, Turkish Army
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 17\.
  3. "It is not right to bring to trial officers or men who have acted under orders from higher authority... The most brutal act of the War was the dropping of the Atom Bombs on Japan... I consider it wrong to try Admirals, Generals, and Air Marshals for carrying out definite orders from the highest authority...the Allies were far from guiltless and should have taken that into fuller consideration."
    Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Chatfield, P.C., G.C.B.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 7\.
  4. "I consider the War Trials as one of the more disgraceful manifestations of the past war hysteria."
    Vice Admiral, Richard H. Cruzen, U.S.N.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 39\.
  5. "No matter how many books are written or briefs filed, no matter how finely the lawyers analyzed it, the crime for which the Nazis were tried had never been formalized as a crime with the definiteness required by our legal standards, nor outlawed with a death penalty by the international community. By our standards that crime arose under an ex post facto law. Goering et al deserved severe punishment. But their guilt did not justify us in substituting power for principle."
    U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
    Kennedy, Profiles in Courage, (New York: Harper & Row, 1964),p.190\.
  6. "I think the Nuremberg trials are a black page in the history of the world...I discussed the legality of these trials with some of the lawyers and some of the judges who participated therein. They did not attempt to justify their action on any legal ground, but rested their position on the fact that in their opinion, the parties convicted were guilty...This action is contrary to the fundamental laws under which this country has lived for many hundreds of years, and I think cannot be justified by any line of reasoning. I think the Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann is exactly in the same category as the Nuremberg trials. As a lawyer, it has always been my view that a crime must be defined before you can be guilty of committing it. That has not occurred in either of the trials I refer to herein."
    Edgar N. Eisenhower, American Attorney, brother of President Dwight D.Eisenhower
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p.168\.
  7. "I was from the beginning very unhappy about the Nuremberg trials... the weak points of such trials are obvious: they are trials of the vanquished by the victors instead of by an impartial tribunal; furthermore the trials are only of the crimes committed by the vanquished, and the fact that the Katyn massacre of Polish officers was never properly investigated casts doubt on the conduct of such trials."
    T.S. Eliot, English poet and author
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 51\.
  8. "I shall always have doubts about the whole 'War Crimes Trials,' both in Germany and in Japan. I am unable to understand how one can try an officer for obeying orders or for doing his duty. It makes no difference what flag he fights under. To me, the War Crimes Trials of Nuremberg and elsewhere are one illustration of the greatest danger of our times: mass pressure based largely on little information and perilously close to mass hysteria."
    George B. Fowler, Ph.D., Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 111\.
  9. "My opinion always has been that the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials were acts of vengeance. War is a political and not a legal act, and if at the termination of a war, should it be considered that certain of the enemy's leaders are politically too dangerous to be left at large, then, as Napoleon was, they should be banished to some island. To bring them to trial under post facto law, concocted to convict them, is a piece of hideous hypocrisy and humbug."
    Major General J.F.C. Fuller, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p.43\.
  10. "This kangaroo court at Nuremburg was officially known as the 'International Military Tribunal.' That name is a libel on the military profession. The tribunal was not a military one in any sense. The only military men among the judges were the Russians.... At Nuremberg, mankind and our present civilization were on trial, with men whose own hands were bloody sitting on the judges' seats. One of the judges came from the country which committed the Katyn Forest massacre and produced an array of witnesses to swear at Nuremberg that the Germans had done it."
    Rear Admiral, U.S.N. Dan V. Gallery
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., pp.XXI-XXII\.
  11. "I am quite clear that any trial of defeated foes by their victors is a mistake and a precedent which should not be followed among what are commonly described as civilised nations."
    Dr. George Peabody Gooch, C.H., British historian and author.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed.,p.87\.
  12. "It was clear from the outset that a death sentence would be pronounced against me, as I have always regarded the trial as a purely political act by the victors, but I wanted to see this trial through for my people's sake and I did at least expect that I should not be denied a soldier's death. Before God, my country, and my conscience I feel myself free of the blame that an enemy tribunal has attached to me."
    Reichsmarschall Herman Göring
    David Irving, Göring: A Biography, (New York: William Morrow and Co.,1989) p.506\.
  13. "I may, and do, say that I have always regarded the Nuremberg prosecutions as a step backward in international law, and a precedent that will prove embarrassing, if not disastrous, in the future."
    Honorable Justice Learned Hand
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 1\.
  14. "I have a very long record of opposition to the holding of these trials, which began with speeches in the House of Lords during the war and has continued ever since."
    The Rt. Hon. Lord Hankey, P.C., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., LL.D\.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 50\.
  15. "The designation and definition by the London Charter of the so-called crimes with which the defendants were charged, after such so-called offenses were committed, clearly violated the well-established rule against ex post facto legislation in criminal matters. The generally accepted doctrine is expressed in the adage: "Nullum Crimen Sine Lege" - a person cannot be sentenced to punishment for a crime unless he had infringed a law in force at the time he committed the offense and unless that law prescribed the penalty. Courts in passing on this proposition had declared that: "It is to be observed that this maxim is not a limitation of sovereignty, but is a general principle of justice adhered to by all civilized nations."
    In my opinion, there was no legal justification for the trial, conviction or sentence of the so-called "war criminals" by the Nuremberg Tribunal. We have set a bad precedent. It should not be followed in the future\.
    William L. Hart, Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p.xx\.
  16. "The Nuremberg Trials... had been popular throughout the world and particularly in the United States. Equally popular was the sentence already announced by the high tribunal: death. But what kind of trial was this? ...The Constitution was not a collection of loosely given political promises subject to broad interpretation. It was not a list of pleasing platitudes to be set lightly aside when expediency required it. It was the foundation of the American system of law and justice and [Robert Taft] was repelled by the picture of his country discarding those Constitutional precepts in order to punish a vanquished enemy."
    U.S. President, John F. Kennedy
    John Kennedy, Profiles in Courage p.189-190\.
  17. "The war crimes trials were a reversion to the ancient practice of the savage extermination of a defeated enemy and particularly of its leaders. The precedent set by these trials will continue to plague their authors."
    Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, U.S.N.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 42\.
  18. "I could never accept the Nuremberg Trials as representing a fair and just procedure."
    Dr. Igor I. Sikorsky
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p.3\.
  19. "About this whole judgment there is the spirit of vengeance, and vengeance is seldom justice. The hanging of the eleven men convicted will be a blot on the American record which we shall long regret."
    U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft
    Kennedy, Profiles in Courage, p.191\.
  20. "I have always regarded the Nuremberg Trials as a travesty upon justice and the farce was made even more noisome with Russia participating as one of the judges."
    Charles Callan Tansill, Ph.D.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 47\.
  21. "To me the Nuremberg trials have always been totally inexcusable and a horrible travesty of justice. This is especially true when such trials are used to punish the men of the military services who were directing those services in time of war, and thus giving nothing more than an expression of the basic purposes of their whole adult life. In the execution of their wartime duties, these officers naturally carried out, to the letter, the orders and directions which they received from the head of their government\.
    If an officer... should ever, for one instant, consider disregard or disobedience to his government's orders, all cohesion in the military services would fail, from that moment, and the military services would fail in the one reason for their existence - the waging of successful war in the interests of their country."
    Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald, U.S.N.
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p.39\.
  22. "My conclusion is that the entire program of War Crimes Trials, either by International Courts, the members of which comprise those of the victorious nations, or by Military Courts of a single victor nation is basically without legal or moral authority... The fact remains that the victor nations in World War II, while still at fever heat of hatred for an enemy nation, found patriots of the enemy nation guilty for doing their patriotic duty. This is patently unlawful and immoral\.
    One of the most shameful incidents connected with the War Crimes Trials prosecutions has to do with the investigations and the preparation of the cases for trial. The records of trials which our Commission examined disclosed that a great majority of the official investigators, employed by the United States Government to secure evidence and to locate defendants, were persons with a preconceived dislike for these enemy aliens, and their conduct was such that they resorted to a number of illegal, unfair, and cruel methods and duress to secure confessions of guilt and to secure accusations by defendants against other defendants. In fact, in the Malmedy case, the only evidence before the court, upon which the convictions and sentences were based, consisted of the statements and testimony of the defendants themselves. The testimony of one defendant against another was secured by subterfuge, false promises of immunity, and by mock trials and threats."
    Honorable Edward Leroy Van Roden, President Judge
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p. 67\.
  23. "The Tribunal claimed in theory the right — it certainly had the power --to declare any act a war-crime. But it interpreted Article 6 of the Charter creating it, as excluding from its consideration any act committed by the victorious powers. As a consequence any act proved to have been committed by the victorious powers could not be declared by the Tribunal a war-crime. For this reason, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians which had indisputably been initiated by Great Britain was excluded from consideration as a war crime by the Tribunal."
    F.J.P. Veale, English jurist and author
    Thompson, and Strutz ed., p.146\.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): CODOH
Title: Reconsidering the Nuremberg Trials
Published: 1996-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Sept. 15, 2000, 7 p.m.
Last revision:
Comments: Selection of quotes from historians
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