I have written previously about the important lesson my briliant, humanistic Japanese politics professor Hans Baerwald taught me: one just can’t really know the norms of a political system, or any system, unless observing that system under stress.
Today, Senator Christopher Dodd had an enlightening op-ed in the Los Angeles Times reminding us of how America acted during the Nuremberg trials — when America arguably was still under significant stress from the wars it had to fight on opposite sides of the planet.
SIXTY YEARS AGO today, at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany, the verdicts were read in a trial that will forever define the punishment of war criminals. One by one, the 22 top surviving Nazi officers of Adolf Hitler were sentenced. By the time the gavel sounded, three had been acquitted, seven sent to prison and 12 condemned to death.
One of the people in court that day was my father, 38-year-old attorney Thomas Dodd, who was the No. 2 prosecutor for the United States behind Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. My father always considered Nuremberg to be the most meaningful experience of his life.
My father wrote more than 400 letters to my mother from Nuremberg. Many are devoted to how much he missed his wife and children; others to the Nazis he had met.
But some of his harshest words were reserved for the Russians, who had little interest in a fair trial. In one letter, he tells the story of a toast offered by a visiting Soviet dignitary, who raised a glass and said: “May the road for these war criminals from the courthouse to the grave be a very short one.”
“I winced,” my father wrote, “and I could see that Judge [John J.] Parker, the American alternative, was certainly embarrassed.”
But of course, a quick trial that led to quick executions was the temptation. The world had seen a monstrous regime try to conquer the world. It had seen them take the lives of more than tens of millions of men, women and children.
Why not just give in to vengeance? Why not just shoot them, as Winston Churchill wanted to do? Why not just succumb to the law of power politics and impose our will without any regard to principle? Why not just give in to violence, which was certainly within our ability and, many argued, within our right?
Why not? Because the United States has always stood for something more.
I did applaud President Bush for emptying the secret prisons and black sites around the world of “darkness at noon” detainees. But that’s not enough.
Cheney-lite does not reflect what America stands for.
I have more to write on this subject — on another day.
— Steve Clemons