The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials

Although he has no doubt about the importance and the necessity of the Nuremberg trials, Telford Taylor provides a searching and often highly critical anatomy of the conduct of the judges and of the lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense.

Taylor gives full marks to Robert Jackson, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who provided the eloquent rationale for the trials and set in motion the plans for Nuremberg, even though Jackson, in Taylor’s account, is viewed as an inept administrator and a surprisingly rash personality — prone to arbitrary actions that threatened to undermine the impartial judicial principles he aimed to establish in international law for the trying of war crimes cases.

Similarly, the prosecution often overstated its cases, arguing for conviction of at least one defendant on the flimsiest of rationales, Taylor concludes, while the judges (somewhat less than a distinguished panel of jurists) did not always exercise due care in determining some of the capital sentences.

Taylor is embarrassed by the inclusion of Russian prosecutors and judges because the Russians collaborated with the Nazis in invading Poland and then waged aggressive war against Finland, yet he argues that excluding the Russians would have seriously compromised the authority of the trials. On the whole, he finds that justice was served and that Nuremberg affirmed a standard of morality and international law that has endured and contributed significantly to how wars have been viewed in the last forty-five years, including the actions of the United States in Korea and Vietnam, which prompt him to conclude: “The laws of war do not apply only to the suspected criminals of vanquished nations. There is no moral or legal basis for immunizing victorious nations from scrutiny.”