From Charles I to Charles Taylor
7 Nuremberg: Making War Illegal
The Nuremberg trial is the central reference point for late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century political trials. It has been elevated by historical memory to the status of supreme paradigm of how the universal laws of humanity can and should prevail over the arbitrary commands of a tyrannical head of state. Indeed, Nuremberg is probably the most famous criminal trial in history. The moral Manichaeism which is never far below the surface in political trials erupts in all its sharpness in the case of Nuremberg, as the victorious Allies cemented their victory – and confirmed their moral superiority – with the trial and execution of the leading Nazis.
However, Nuremberg was in fact only the most famous of a whole swathe of trials of heads of state and government conducted in Europe and the Far East in the immediate aftermath of World War II. A large number of the chapters in this book is devoted to those trials, partly because the account is chronological and so many of the trials of heads of state in history did take place after World War II, but partly too because the historical account shows that Nuremberg cannot be dissociated from them. The context may force us to reassess that great trial. While Nuremberg’s reputation as a moral reference point persists, other trials in postwar Europe, especially those conducted almost simultaneously by the incoming Communists in Eastern Europe, were deeply intertwined with it. Yet even though those trials were conducted on the basis...
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