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The Nuremberg game

(Rules may not apply
to your local empire)




The Establishment has always made much of the 1945-46 Nuremberg trial of the Nazi leadership as a model for bringing international criminals to justice. Ironically, the fundamental criminality of the Nazis, as presented at Nuremberg, can also be detected in the recent actions of the United States in her world-imperial role, which is so much lauded by the very same Establishment.

I can well imagine the conventional shocked reaction to that statement: Compare the United States to Nazi Germany? What ridiculous insanity! Where are the gas chambers, the human soap, the millions of bodies turned to ash? (Some people in various European democracies, currently incarcerated, have asked those very same questions regarding the Nazi crimes, but we won't pursue that.) The difficulty is that, unknown to most "educated" folk, the extermination of Jews was not the fundamental Nazi crime alleged at Nuremberg. Nor was it the murder of noncombatant gentiles as well as Jews. Rather, the major crime was the making of "aggressive war":

To initiate a war of aggression is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. — from the Declaration in the Judgment of the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, 1946. [1]

Critics of the Nuremberg Trial have been wont to charge that it simply dealt "victor's justice" to the vanquished — that the standards of judgment applied to the defeated Germans were not applied to the victorious Allies. And there is considerable evidence that that is true, especially with respect to launching an "aggressive war." For example, the Soviet Union attacked Poland and Finland. In fact, World War II itself was initiated by the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact, which turned over much of Eastern Europe to the tender mercies of Joseph Stalin and his commissars. However, the Trial's proponents emphasized the universal applicability of its principles. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief American prosecutor, solemnly asserted that "if certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us." [2]


In 1945, the United Nations affirmed the Nuremberg principle on warmaking. The UN Charter, in Chapter I, prohibits the "use of force" against a sovereign state when that state has not committed aggression on other states. [3]

In recent times, the United States was quick to apply the prohibition against initiating war in order to induce the United Nations to condemn the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and authorize the use of force to oust Iraqi forces from that emirate.

However, in 1999 the United States, under the auspicies of NATO, attacked Yugoslavia, which was not engaging in any external aggression but rather was trying to suppress an internal insurrection in Kosovo — an insurrection that had been fomented by the CIA. [4] Proponents of the U.S. attack tried to argue that Yugoslav brutality, which they called "genocide," justified a "humanitarian" war against Yugoslavia. Whether or not such an attack on a sovereign state was justified for such humanitarian reasons, it clearly violated both UN and Nuremberg principles. [5]

It became apparent that the United States would not be beholden to established principles applied to other countries but would arrogate to herself the right to determine moral and legal justifications for war. If the same principle had applied to Nazi Germany, she could have successfully claimed she was justified in attacking Poland because of that government's mistreatment of ethnic Germans or because of the unfair boundaries — involving loss of historic German territory — established by the Versailles Treaty imposed on Germany in violation of the Wilsonian principle of "national self-determination." Similarly, if "humanitarian" principles of justification were consistently observed, Islamic states could easily justify the armed liberation of the Palestinians from Israeli control. The Palestinians are at least as opposed to Israeli domination as the Albanian Kosovars were to Serbian control. Yet, while the United States went to war to liberate the ethnic Albanians, she provides weapons to the Israelis to subjugate the Palestinians. We might note also that the United States provides weapons to Turkey that assist the subjugation of the Kurds, who strive for greater freedom from their Turkish overlords.

At present, the United States is planning to attack Iraq because of the latter's alleged efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Proponents of a war on Iraq sometimes offer legal justification for it on the grounds that the United States would simply be carrying out a UN resolution. The cease-fire resolution passed by the Security Council to end the Gulf War in 1991 included the goal of the elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and all related production capabilities. Iraq has not fully complied with that resolution — though there is debate about the extent of Baghdad's violations. However, it does not appear that such violations would allow for the United States to enforce the resolution by making war on Iraq. The phrasing of the resolution seems to leave the responsibility for oversight and enforcement to the U.N. Security Council, not to individual countries. [6]

Neither the United States nor the international community would tolerate the unilateral enforcement of UN resolutions by countries other than the United States. Certainly any effort by Iran to invade Iraq, purportedly to enforce the UN resolution, would evoke vehement opposition. And certainly the United States would not consider it justifiable for Islamic states to enforce, by military means, the many UN resolutions that Israel ignores! No, it appears that the American position is that only the United States possesses the authority to unilaterally enforce UN resolutions.

But Washington is going even further, displaying chutzpah nonpareil with the new Bush/Paul Wolfowitz doctrine that declares the Empire's right to launch preemptive attacks on other countries deemed threatening. This doctrine justifies striking first, not simply to counter imminent aggression, but on the basis of nebulous intentions, alleged potential links to terrorist groups, and supposed plans to acquire weapons of mass destruction. [7] It is a doctrine without accountability to international law and represents the complete negation of the Nuremberg prohibition against initiating war. If what is good for the goose were still good for the gander, any power could make the same claim in attacking a weaker state in order to maintain its hegemony.


The Nuremberg principles have long been regarded as sacrosanct — they were applied to Nazi Germany and America's later enemies in a straightforward fashion with no ifs, ands, or buts. Nuremberg was to provide the basis for a peaceful, humane world. That America would, in recent years, flagrantly jettison those principles would seem to be of high significance. If they don't apply to the United States today, why should they have applied to Nazi Germany half a century ago? Perhaps we may now proceed to revise all those TV presentations about the "Good War." (That, of course, fallaciously assumes that it is still possible to apply logic to public affairs in modern America.)

But even the novel international principles that Washington now promulgates — "humanitarian" interventionism, unilateral enforcement of UN resolutions, pre-emptive war — still apply only to the United States, not to other countries. As Steven Miller, editor-in-chief of International Security, the preeminent American journal on global security issues, points out, "We've created a set of rules [for international relations], and one of the rules is that rules are for others." [8] Joe Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Genghis Khan would feel perfectly at home with that line of thinking.

August 7, 2002

© 2002 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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