Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 8, No. 12. September 19, 1945
Judgement for the War Criminals
Judgement for the War Criminals
Fears have often been expressed that all those suspected of having aided the Nazis will be indiscriminately punished. Such fears have not materialised, if we are to judge from the evidence thus far available, particularly in Italy, Belgium, and France. There have been very few cases in which suspects have been murdered without proof of their guilt, or innocent parties punished along with the guilty. Quite the contrary: it is now clear that fears of too great leniency toward the war criminals are more than justified. In Italy and in Belgium, as well as in France—though to a lesser degree—the present regimes have not treated the war criminals With a severity consonant with the people's sense of justice. In Belgium and above all in Italy the British military administrators have played an influential role in staying the hand of justice. Yet severity is politically necessary if these countries are to be purged of fascism.
Moreover, another dangerous phenomenon has come to pass: the "small fry" among the war criminals are more likely to be punished than the "big shots." In Italy and Belgium there were bankers, industrialists, and large landowners who were accomplices of Nazi Germany, who helped the Nazi war effort. Yet because of their social and business connections, they find it all too easy to get a hearing from the existing regimes and to win "international" sympathy. These tendencies represent a many-sided danger. They prevent the uprooting of fascism and the building of stable democracies.
Some will say that there is hardly any danger of a "soft" treatment when it comes to judging the German and Japanese war criminals. But this new book by Sheldon Glueck, Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at Harvard University, should open everyone's eyes to the very real dangers that exist.*
He writes: "It is still not certain that most Axis malefactors will suffer punishment for their misdeeds. True, there have been numerous solemn pronouncements by leaders of the United Nations that retribution stalks close upon the heels of the Nazi and Japanese war criminals. But similar official pronouncements were made during the first World War; and thus far only Russia has acted as well as spoken. A tangle of misguided public opinions and outworn but still sacrosanct legal technicalities could easily bedevil the plan to punish those leading Axis war criminals who survive. . . . Unfortunately the programme for coping with war criminals (particularly the German) has to be developed in an atmosphere of still divided opinions."
Professor Glueck passes in review the arguments of those who are opposed to punishing the war criminals. First of all, there are the "perpetual sceptics" who do not believe that crimes were committed because "human beings simply don't do such things," and who dismiss all reports of atrocities as "propaganda." Then there are those who admit that terrible crimes were committed but who advocate sweeping forgiveness, branding those who call for revenge as blood-thirsty and un-Christian sadists. Finally there are those who wish to leave the Nazis and Fascists unpunished, thus supposedly obligating them to behave decently in the future. Glueck correctly analyses this point of view as nothing but a continuation of the old appeasement policy. He is also aware of the possibility that certain influential bankers and businessmen of the United Nations who have interests in the German cartels and friendly relations with the top German industrialists will do everything they can to save their colleagues necks. An old proverb has it: "One crow doesn't pluck out the eyes of fellow crows."
Professor Glueck refutes those who declare all Germans and Japanese equally guilty, and who advocate the execution without trial of the top criminals, to make it impossible for them to use court trials as propaganda sounding boards. He characterises mass executions without trial as a contradiction of civilised concepts of law, and fears that many who fought against Nazism and Japanese militarism would be the innocent victims of such executions.
The problem of setting up an international court for punishing war criminals is a vital one. The United Nations have agreed that war criminals are to be brought to trial at the scene of their crimes. But there are tens of thousands of German and Japanese war criminals who have committed their crimes against the United Nations in Germany and Japan, and not only those who have tortured and murdered war prisoners and slave labourers on German and Japanese soil.
Who is going to bring them to trial? They have committed crimes against all the peoples. Would it not be fitting to have them tried before the juridicial representatives of all the peoples in an international court of law? Thus runs Professor Glueck's extremely cogent argument.
To be sure, those who fear that such an international court would bog down in a maze of legalistic technicalities, the net result of which would be to let the war criminals go scot-free for the rest of their lives, will oppose its creation. They will find themselves preferring indiscriminate executions to the orderly processes of law. They will prefer to see the innocent condemned if, by so doing, they are sure that the guilty also receive their deserts.
Such a situation would of course be tragic. It would be proof that the United Nations are incapable of uniting in the prosecution of mass murderers and slayers of children. Justice and law will become objects of contempt and cynical scorn all over the world. Professors of law, judges, and lawyers will find themselves members of the most despised profession in the postwar world. Jurisprudence will be defined as the science that succeeds in prosecuting AI Capone for non-payment of income taxes instead of for gangsterism and murder.
Professor Glueck's work is an auspicious event in American and international jurisprudence. It should be widely read.
Wore her skirt
A trifle curt.
She acquired a healthy tan
—Not to mention a man.
* War Criminals: Their Prosecution and Punishment, by Sheldon Glueck. Knopf, $3.